The Creative Hub, The Storey Meeting House Lane Lancaster, LA1 1TH

Working Internationally, Sustainably

25th July 2023 by Lauren Randall

There’s no doubt that ITD has benefitted enormously from making work with international partners and touring our productions across the world, and has enjoyed great relationships with international venues, festivals and promoters. Often with the support of the British Council, we’ve made projects in Italy, Greece and Singapore, and toured productions and delivered creative learning projects in Europe, and as far as Lebanon, Brazil, Taiwan and Chile. We have always found it an inspiring experience to meet artists and audiences wherever we’ve visited.

But as our work develops, so does our awareness of our responsibilities. We are committed to improving our environmental sustainability; to measuring and monitoring our carbon footprint and to taking measures to reduce our impact. How then to reconcile this with the positive and rewarding experiences we have had, and hope to have and bring to others, whilst visiting other parts of the world?

International travel is a significant contributory factor to the company’s carbon footprint*. In 2018/19, when we took our production of Nocturnes to Hong Kong and Indonesia, and produced Heart of Darkness in Italy, travel (flights) accounted for 80% of our measured carbon footprint which was 37 tonnes C02e that year. In 2019/20, when the company toured two theatre productions, but mostly in the UK, and delivered a video-mapping project in Belfast, travel still accounted for 80% of our measured carbon footprint, but that year it was down to 13 tonnes C02e.

Heart of Darkness, which travelled to Italy in 2019. Photo Credit: Ed Waring.

And of course, the difference was even starker the following year, when no-one was going anywhere! In 2021/22, as we started to emerge from the pandemic, we completed a reasonably short tour of Dracula: The Untold Story to UK venues, plus a week in Switzerland. Here, travel accounted for significantly less (47%) of our measured carbon footprint. Certainly, the ability to measure our impact (we’ve used Julie’s Bicycle Green Tools) has made us sit up and pay attention, and to test new ways of reaching audiences.

Late last year, we had a discussion with our board about the pros and cons of international working, looking at the stark facts of their environmental impact, which resulted in the creation of a checklist, a set of considerations, for any international projects we had on the horizon.

We took some time to think about and to note the reasons why we might elect to work internationally, but also the considerations of the environmental cost. We then let this inform our decision-making.

Fundamentally, we believe that dialogue between countries should be free, and that we should be embracing dialogue and expression wherever we go. Moreover, we believe it is incumbent upon us to reach out and make international connections across the post-Brexit landscape. We certainly recognise the wider world benefits of the exchange of ideas, promoting the love and discussion of arts and culture, through valuable cultural or educational exchange. We also know that the nature of most of our work means that it is best seen live; we have made great online versions of our work, and developed some new projects made with the sole intention of online distribution during the pandemic, but our hearts are in the live experience, and we know this is where we can make a real impact.

A workshop with artists in Indonesia for our show Nocturnes, 2018. Photo Credit: Annisa Fauzia

As a result of this thinking, we’ve committed to a process ahead of making any decisions about international projects: on each occasion an international project is offered, we will consider the environmental impact of the project and, with the support of our board members, weigh the benefits of the project to make a decision as to whether the trip is justifiable. We will investigate the opportunities to deliver additional creative engagement whilst there: education / engagement / artist development wraparound activities. If an international project is greenlit, we will consider all travel options: can we get there by road / rail? How do we minimise travel: number of personnel, freight, number of flights? We will seek and record additional opportunities whilst on the trip: artist development, making new connections with venues, engagement with communities outside of performances, and, in the spirit of shared learning and exchange of ideas, we will develop conversations with international partners around sustainable measures for the future.

Recently, we delivered The City Off the Map, or La ciudad fuera del mapa,  a project which took some of our team to Cali, Colombia. With the checklist in hand, we looked at the significant development opportunities the project offered – to deliver an exciting digital installation which could be exhibited both in Cali and in the UK, working with new partners and engaging with new communities of people to learn from them, share ideas and make work. The project itself was about off-grid communities and sustainable cities. We minimised flights – only 2 of the ITD team travelled – with the rest of the team working remotely. We engaged local artists in Cali to deliver the work on the ground when we weren’t physically there. During the time that our artists were in Colombia, they worked alongside the Cali-based artists, students and members of the community. They delivered talks, took part in events and debates, and met with a wider community of makers. The installation will be shipped back to the UK this autumn and shared again here, with our local community and partners in Lancaster.

How much international travelling we will do in the future remains to be seen. Our thinking has certainly resulted in a step-change, and our commitments will ensure that we hold ourselves accountable, that we put sustainability at the forefront of our planning, alongside the development of the work we make.

*Between 2018 – 2023 we measured the impact of our theatre productions, touring and company travel. From 2023 onwards, we will measure the impact of all projects.

Julie Brown, ITD Executive Director

Building ‘The City Off the Map’ in Cali, Colombia, 2023. Photo Credit: ITD

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