National Rural Tour Forum Exploration into the environmental impacts, practices and carbon footprint of Rural Touring.
In Partnership With Julie’s Bicycle. May 2023
Project Aims & Objectives
An exploration to see what data is submitted, see what is missing, and see which methodologies we can use to get the data we need to tell our story successfully.
To see if there is a way we can calculate a carbon footprint approximation.
To have the knowledge evidence and tools to use to make a case for our sustainability.
Explore the proximities of a green charter and methods of increasing our sustainability and environmental responsibility response.
From the survey we can see that schemes, artists, and venues across the NRTF are enthusiastic and willing to do more to lessen their environmental impact, however, they are facing a number of challenges which is making this more difficult and highlighting the need for broader local partnerships and infrastructure.
The majority of schemes (69%) are enthusiastic to engage with artists, venues and audiences more on sustainability issues. Others, (31%) would like some more guidance in how to do this effectively.
38% of schemes have their own sustainability policy, others are in the process of developing one and some need more support with this.
Mostly, artists travel to shows in petrol/diesel vans or cars (81%).
Almost all artists reuse and recycle, sets, props & costumes after a show run and many source materials sustainably (81%).
100% of artists surveyed try to avoid single-use plastic when on a rural tour.
Venues try to recycle as much as they can (74%).
47% provide clearly signposted bins to encourage recycling.
42% of venues have implemented a sustainable initiative from improving recycling rates to replacing lighting with LED bulbs and installing solar panels or air source heating systems.
The main challenges for schemes in improving the environmental sustainability of their work are limited time and capacity, financial considerations and the limitations of venues’ ability to engage.
The main challenges for artists are around travelling to rural touring performances – mainly there are issues around accessibility of rural locations by public transport, the cost of electric vehicles (EVs), difficulties finding EV charging points in rural areas and the time it takes to charge them.
The main challenges for venues are around waste and recycling, as small community venues with small teams, do not have the capacity to sort and separate waste.
There are also difficulties around audiences knowing where to recycle waste even with clearly signposted bins available. Additionally, the local authority recycling provision isn’t available to recycle all of the forms of waste that the venue has to handle. Knowing how to access funding for energy efficiency improvements was another significant challenge.
Barriers to Sustainability in Rural Touring
Respondents reiterated difficulties travelling to rural venues using public transport.
Venues have their own challenges such as issues around waste management which schemes have no control over.
Tours are spread out with artists performing one show and staying in an area for one night. This means that the impact of artist travel is relatively high due to the large amount of travel required.
Reported difficulties in effectively recycling waste in rural areas due to local authority provisions.
Schemes have reduced the energy use in their office buildings, monitor artists and audience travel and planted trees, knowledge sharing with other organisations and advocated for all to take sustainable action.
Artists are beginning to use electric vehicles and sustainable materials for productions, develop environmental responsibility statements and are exploring ways to engage audiences.
Venues are ensuring to use of plastic-free and recyclable materials only, one venue has installed an air source heat pump, one venue has installed solar panels, and many venues are working to efficiently recycle waste and install LED lighting and double glazing.
Respondents reported that in rural areas many audience members walk to venues and if driving, travel less than 4 miles. This indicates the impact of audience travel for rural touring is relatively low compared to if audience members were to travel to city performances instead.
Data was collected via an online environmental survey and responses were gathered between October 2022 and January 2023, from rural touring schemes, artists, and venues. The aim of the survey was to gain a greater understanding of environmental action already being considered in rural touring as well as any challenges being faced by the stakeholder groups and any additional support that can be offered to drive environmental improvement across the rural touring community.
The survey received a total of 43 responses from 13 Schemes, 11 Artists and 19 Venues.
Rural Touring Schemes are member organisations of the Rural Touring Forum. There is great variety among the different schemes, with the most widespread model being independent, not-for-profit companies, often with charitable status. All touring schemes work to support local people to promote the delivery of professional arts in community spaces.
The majority of schemes are Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisations with some schemes funded by Arts Council of Wales and others funded by local authorities, National Lottery and other trusts and foundations funding.
A number of schemes have an internal environmental policy or action plan but many of them don’t share this with their artists or venues.
Respondents also commented that data is gathered, and guidance is provided in a more informal way rather than including contract clauses and specific requirements about the environmental impact for artists and venues.
Schemes engagement with artists and venues on the sustainability of their practice
The majority of schemes (69%) are enthusiastic to begin to engage more with artists and venues on sustainability issues. Others would like to support artists and venues more with this work but are unsure where to start and feel that they need some more guidance to do this effectively. Some concerns were raised about how much influence schemes can actually have on artists and venue operations, where shows are booked as a one-off and the village hall is only used by the scheme twice a year.
“The venues are generally village halls and so we don’t have much influence on sustainability matters”
Some schemes use their own environmental policy to help to engage artists and venues by seeing the initiatives that the scheme has in place. Some do not currently have a focus on sustainability across all their work, but they are aiming to include this more thoroughly in future.
Generally, schemes don’t have a specific policy or contract clause which requires artists to adhere to certain sustainable actions. Some schemes are gathering data regarding artists’ travel miles and mode of transport as well as audience travel. Some schemes are planting trees for every event that they deliver to provide an environmental benefit through their work.
The three top challenges that schemes reported they face in trying to improve environmental impact were:
● Time/capacity considerations
● Financial considerations
● Engagement from venues (due to the challenges they face)
“Where we sit in the chain and our ability to influence – relating to the practicalities of how things actually work in reality”
Scheme sustainability achievements and successes
Although they do face challenges when implementing more sustainable practices, the survey highlighted that there are schemes that are very engaged in this work and have launched initiatives and made improvements.
“Changes to our own building to improve energy efficiency”
“Monitoring artists travel and planting a tree for every event”
“Sharing resources with local arts organisations / buying second-hand equipment & office furniture / supporting local traders”
“Internal progress on energy/waste / transport – a commitment to advocating for best practice”
“Clearly communicating sustainability measures through blog posts / supporting environmental campaigns on social media like #GreatBigGreenWeek”
“The CLASH (Climate and Sustainability Hive) task force in organisation” “Programming work in the heart of the community”
Schemes perceptions of rural vs urban sustainability challenges
Overall, schemes that responded to the survey are of the opinion that there are more challenges associated with improving the environmental sustainability of rural touring than of the urban equivalent.
The main difficulty respondents stated they face is the lack of accessible public transport. This affects both artists and audiences as the majority must travel in petrol or diesel vans or cars. There is also limited infrastructure for charging electric vehicles and currently, these are unaffordable and inaccessible to many. However, this impact may be lessened somewhat due to the limited number of rural touring events and that these events happen in the heart of the community with audiences travelling short distances and often walking to attend. This prevents them from having to travel further to local towns and cities.
One of the schemes highlighted that their furthest venue is an hour’s drive, but this would be a 12-hour return journey using public transport, which isn’t a feasible option for artists.
Schemes have additional challenges in working with third-party partners such as libraries and village halls which have their own environmental challenges, for example, older buildings which the scheme has no ability to control or influence and venues themselves do not have the funds to make environmental improvements.
Accommodation for artists is much more expensive in rural areas, so they often have to travel to nearby towns and cities for cheaper accommodation after shows. This increases their travel distance and associated emissions.
The majority of rural touring artists are small companies or individuals where between 1 and 7 people will be travelling with an overall average of 3 people. Most artists are travelling in petrol or diesel cars or vans to get to rural venues. Some companies are starting to try electric vans and one artist surveyed said that they use trains to get to their shows. Touring artists are travelling a variety of distances to attend shows, from 150 to 700 miles with an average of 400 miles.
“We always lease or hire Euro 6 low emissions van – which is a combination of Ad Blue and diesel – most with stop/start technology for zero idling in traffic. As soon as an electric van with long range is available to hire, we will convert!” “We try to book our tours so that they limit travel, we follow a route and don’t shoot about. We always limit travel to less than two hours from Marsden or our boat to avoid having to book extra digs and to limit the environmental impact of hotels and B&Bs”
The majority of artists (82%) would need accommodation after a show and would stay in a local hotel or B&B. Some artists would also stay in accommodation organised by the promoter depending on the distance needed to travel for the show.
Transportation of sets, props, costumes, technical equipment
The amount of equipment needed to be transported often long distances for rural touring performances will have an impact on the modes of transport which could be used by rural touring artists. For example, transporting a large amount of set materials, props, costumes and sound equipment on a train would add difficulties to an artist’s journey.
There were quite a variety of answers from this question with a fairly equal result between artist’s travelling with limited equipment and some travelling with quite a large amount of set, props & costumes.
Respondents were also asked to provide some more information on the specifics of the equipment that they need for a show:
“PA, instruments (guitars, keyboard), props, set”
“In the last touring season, we leased a larger van, which held both sets, puppets and costumes – this saved on storage unloads, wages and additional trips”
“Sometimes staging is required which involves use of a trailer”
The majority of artists are trying to consider the environment and reduce their impact as much as they can, but some are having difficulty with how to effectively do this.
“I recycle and buy second-hand where possible. I take the minimum amount of equipment as possible.”
“As a rule, we aim to use 60-70% recycled wood and materials for any new shows”
“Try to but time constraints don’t help”
“We also try to source locally and ethically”
A number of artists reported that they always use energy-efficient equipment, a few reported that they sometimes think about the energy efficiency of their equipment and some artists reported that they were unsure, or they hadn’t really thought about it.
• Always – 55%
• Sometimes – 27%
• No 9% (1 respondent)
• Unsure 9% (1 respondent)
Artist sustainability practices on tour
All the responses to the statements on sustainable behaviours and actions were rated quite highly with the majority of artists regularly achieving the action. The statement with the highest responses of consideration from artists was avoiding single-use plastics, which 100% of respondents said they always do. Reusing or recycling sets, props and costumes was second highest with all the respondents either always or sometimes considering this. Next was ensuring the use of low-energy equipment as although 81% reported that they did this, some artists weren’t sure if they did and some rarely considered this. Finally, 73% said that they always or sometimes eat a vegetarian or vegan diet whilst on tour but 27% rarely would.
As a vegetarian or vegan diet with fewer animal products is better for the environment, it is good to see that almost half (45%) of the respondents rarely or never struggle to find these food options on a rural tour. Often there are fewer vegetarian or vegan food options available in rural areas compared to larger towns or cities which can have a wider variety of shops and food offerings.
Artist sustainability achievements and successes
Artists highlighted some of the sustainability achievements they were proud of, showing that there is engagement and interest from artists to improve the environmental impact of their work.
“We were able tour to 12 villages and towns in 2022 with a big cast of 7-9 people. We managed to use solely electric vehicles and sustainable materials.”
“Created an environmental responsibility statement this year”
“Venue provide food not takeaways. All travel together”
“Our programme is a free single sheet of A4 paper which also doubles as a prop used by audience members”
“In Arbor at the end of the show, we give out to the audience, UK native tree seeds to take home and plant. In Buzz, we give out wildflower seeds suitable for bees to take home and plant.”
Artist challenges to improving the environmental sustainability of rural touring
Overwhelmingly the responses from artists around their challenges for improving the sustainability of their rural touring were due to difficulties with transport in rural areas.
Many artists wanted to use electric vehicles, but stated a range of barriers to adopting them, including cost of purchase and leasing, a lack of charging points and time to charge vehicles.
“The biggest challenge for us is getting to remote locations where there aren’t train stations within walking distance and having to use additional taxis or multiple trips. Where possible we try to all travel in a van, but due to cast locations and touring locations and the van only having 3 seats this can sometimes be tricky to navigate.”
“We’d like to purchase and use an electric vehicle but the costs and miles they can currently travel is not enough for Mikron. We’d like to look at using an alternative to diesel to power our boat. Recycling on tour is hard.”
“Transport. While we prioritise presenting our work locally, we need to tour nationally for the economic and creative viability of our work.”
Artists experiences of barriers to sustainable touring in rural settings vs urban equivalents
The responses for barriers to environmental sustainability in rural touring compared to touring in an urban area were quite mixed, with some stating how rural touring may be more sustainable than the urban equivalent. Again, the main issue which was raised was around travelling and the lack of public transport in rural areas.
“The nature of rural touring is travelling venue-to-venue and not staying for more than one evening usually, which in itself is harder to sustain than potentially having a run in an urban area – however, the smaller venues, village and community halls are more likely to be sustainable venues, using less energy, less resource and being more able to be mindful of waste, recycling etc than larger organisations might be.”
“As an artist, sometimes yes. However, I know audiences are more likely to be local and travel smaller distances.”
“No, a lot of rural venues we visit, are more sustainable than urban equivalent – a lot of rural venues are zero plastic, no single use, etc – the urban equivalents are usually surrounded by quick eateries, single-use, non-recyclable eateries. A lot of rural events are also local and independent vendors, which we prefer to trade with. The only issue sometimes as mentioned above is getting to the rural venues if by train.”
“Yes, again transport is the greatest barrier. Even the lightest touring production, designed with care and craftiness will need a vehicle to transport it – along with our cast and tech team! Public transport in rural areas is completely unsuitable for this (where it still exists!)”
The majority of the venues who took part in the survey were smaller with a capacity of 50100 people, a few venues had a capacity of up to 200 people and one venue had a much larger capacity of 250 to 300 people. Most venues only had indoor space, but a few held performances indoors and outdoors. Most of the venues only host a few rural touring performances each year with an average of 3. Generally, audiences attending rural touring performances are from the local community and villages, many travelling on foot and within 4 miles. The maximum distance that audiences are travelling for rural touring performances is 20 miles.
The survey highlighted that within rural touring venues, there is a lot of good practice around catering waste. With many venues use washable and reusable glasses and cups and provide home-cooked food or homemade snacks from the promoter.
“Drinks served from bar – all reusable glasses”
“We use glasses or plastic glasses, all of which we wash and reuse”
“Homemade snacks from promoter/ licensed bar and hot drinks”
The majority of venues try to recycle as much waste as possible.
Waste management barriers and challenges faced by venues
An interesting finding from this question was that some venues have very little waste to recycle due to not serving any packaged food and others have too much waste and have great difficulty in recycling it. Logistical issues were highlighted around recycling single use, soft plastics and where and how to do so. As well as local authority provision for recycling and the availability of recycling services from the venue. Difficulties from promoters were also highlighted as they have little control over the recycling arrangements at the venue.
“Places to recycle soft plastic”
“There was nowhere to recycle single use plastic but now we take this to the Coop”
“We don’t run the venue, so hire it on a per-show basis. Therefore, we’re not in control of the recycling arrangements. We have to take away our recycling to be done at home.”
“Cost of commercial waste collection”
“Lack of recycling collection services from the venue”
“The hall only has one part-time paid employee, therefore monitoring any recycling scheme is difficult”
Venues use of signage for separating waste
Whilst 47% of venues do provide clear signage to support correct segregation of waste and recycling, around 37% don’t provide signage or carry out a manual segregation process themselves.
Additional comments under ‘other’:
● “We do it ourselves”
● “We collect all and do it ourselves”
Existing Sustainable Practice and Initiatives by Venues- Energy Management
58% of venues reported that they have implemented some sort of sustainability initiative or project.
Additional comments provided here highlighted that some venues have replaced all lighting with energy saving LED bulbs. Three respondents commented that their venue has solar panels for energy generation. One venue reported that they have installed an air source heat pump. However, others mentioned challenges around where to find funds for energy efficiency surveys and installations.
“Available funds to look at an energy survey and look at how we can make improvements and become more sustainable are just not there.”
“If village halls could get grants to install solar arrays, they could generate power when they are not being used.”
18 out of 19 venues surveyed said that they never need to use a generator to provide power for outdoor performances. The one venue that said they sometimes need to use a generator said when they did, they would use a diesel generator.
Venue sustainability achievements
Venues had put into place a number of initiatives to improve their sustainability, including: “We use no plastic or non-recyclable materials”
“We raised the money to purchase a set of glasses which we take with us to our venues, as a sustainable option rather than plastic.”
“The air-sourced heat pump heating/ventilation system”
“Taking home and sorting all waste for recycling and home composting”
“By holding events in the village, we have avoided the local people having to travel at least 10 miles to the nearest venue.”
“Electricity generated via solar panels”
“Recycling waste from shows”
“Apart from the lighting we have installed double glazing throughout the building.”
The survey results highlight a broad overview of sustainable practices across the rural touring network. With insights and opinions from those working within the schemes, as artists delivering rural touring performances and from venues. A clearer picture has been gathered of the issues, challenges and barriers being faced by those within the rural touring network, in relation to implementing improved sustainability in their practice and operations.
Limits to the availability of low-carbon transport options and infrastructure in rural areas is one of the biggest barriers to reducing the impact of artist travel. Electric vans remain unaffordable or do not have the longer ranges required to meet the distance needs of rural touring.
“We need a coordinated campaign to improve public transport in rural areas. Our train infrastructure in the urban north is also rubbish (Avanti). So cars are the default. OR, we need evidence to invest in more rural touring so as to keep our audiences local to venues but have an increased offer so they travel less. We also work in peri urban libraries where the urban bus system is equally poor after 6 pm. Moving artists around, not audiences is the best way to reduce a fuel footprint.” Scheme respondent
The unavailability of low-carbon and public transport options also highlights the vital role that rural arts organisations play in providing more opportunities for people to access culture. In environmental terms, the impacts of audience travel to city centres may be reduced by the provision of local arts and cultural performances in rural areas, and equally, rural touring also provides positive well-being and social impacts in sometimes isolated localities, and a forum to bring local communities together.
“Rural touring has provided the village community with a huge range of accessible and affordable entertainment and the modest surplus made is used to support the village infrastructure.” “….a survey about the benefits of rural touring to mental health and well-being of communities has national importance post Covid19 and (given) the current (levels of) fuel poverty.”
Additionally, insight has also been gained into the will and ambition of members of the network to be able to do more and we have seen that there is a great interest and engagement with sustainability issues. Many venues, schemes and artists have started to take positive steps in addressing their impacts. Opportunities exist to further understand and address the impacts of rural touring. A shared commitment to collecting touring data, further training, and support to build environmental capacity in the network and knowledge sharing of different approaches could build a strong basis and framework to drive collective action across the rural touring community.