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Inside the Royal Albert Hall’s sustainability push

The Royal Albert Hall’s Lucy Noble and Neal Hockley have detailed the historic London venue’s sustainability focus in a new interview with IQ.

The Hall’s sustainability group meets quarterly to co-ordinate activities geared towards reducing the RAH’s environmental impact as part of plans to make the building as eco-friendly as possible.

Since 2016, work has been ongoing to change all the lighting in the 5,500-cap auditorium to LED, which has cut electricity usage by two-thirds in the completed areas. However, modernising the beloved Grade I listed Victorian building is not without its challenges.

“There are constraints with the structure of the building being 152 years old now and, because of the listing, not being able to change some of the key features,” explains building project engineer Hockley. “It would be nice to put modern insulation into walls and things like that, which we can’t do, and it would be lovely to get rid of the glass roof because of all the heat gains that come through from that, but obviously that would have massive implications.

“It is a challenge, but it is possible to work with it. We’re running a new filter system, which is far more efficient. We have seen electrical consumption reduce through that and the LED rollout as well. The EU directive to get rid of halogen lighting has driven everyone to try and work to LED. But obviously it’s a large auditorium, and I’m told red is the hardest colour to light against because of the colour rendering. It’s taken us quite a while to get to this point.”

Through various efficiency measures, the Hall has managed to keep emissions at 2019 levels, month-on-month, despite major projects such as new chillers to cool the auditorium.

It has also invested in a £900,000 upgrade of its ventilation system in response to the pandemic, opting to use EC rather than belt-driven fans due to being less harmful to the environment. The VAV (variable air volume) units respond to the CO2 in the air, so can tell when a room is not being used, with the fan speed being turned down automatically. Previously, they would run 24 hours a day.

“When we do a project, at the heart of it is efficiency and trying to reduce our carbon as much as we can”

“At the moment it’s on full speed because of Covid, but eventually we will see the electricity consumption drop, because it can sense the pressure and then the fan speed reduces,” adds Hockley. “It’s just an example that when we do a project, at the heart of it is efficiency and trying to reduce our carbon as much as we can.”

The venue’s artistic director Lucy Noble is one of the speakers at this year’s Green Events & Innovations Conference (GEI), the leading gathering for sustainability at live events. Presented by A Greener Festival (AGF) in partnership with the International Live Music Conference (ILMC), the 14th edition of GEI will take place at the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington, London on Friday 29 April.

Noble, who is also chair of the UK’s National Arenas Association (NAA), reveals the RAH is introducing a green rider for promoters, encouraging them to use the venue’s own PA and lights; bring cups or bottles to refill from the coolers, or use Harrogate Spring Water if bottles are needed; and dispose of any show-related waste via the recycling companies listed in the rider.

“You wouldn’t believe how much wastage there is in terms of food, single use plastics, etc, so this is trying to combat that and I think most people are up for that now,” she tells IQ. “We will soon get rid of plastic front-of-house. We haven’t had plastic straws, forks and knives for many years, it’s all wooden now, and we try to use sustainable suppliers.

“We work with Harrogate Water, who are moving to a bottle that is 100% made from recycled materials and is 100% recyclable. People sometimes look at plastic and think it’s the big evil, but if you work with plastic that is from a recycled nature it can actually be really good. Harrogate Water is already operating on a net zero basis and we try to work with companies with strong sustainability credentials.”

“We will put a carbon management plan together over the course of this year”

Hockley, who has worked for the RAH since 2016, is in the process of putting together a carbon management plan for the venue, including key performance indicators (KPIs) around achieving net-zero carbon.

“We will put that plan together over this year,” he says. “It’s bringing items that the Hall is doing already under one document, if you like, with KPIs so that we can benchmark where we are every year. So with our energy, we’ve benchmarked a year, but there are other things that we need to benchmark as well and that plan will bring everything together and demonstrate how we are going to get to net zero.”

The venue has also brought audio in-house, dramatically reducing the number of lorries travelling to and from the Hall, with the majority of shows now using its audio rig. In addition, it plans to integrate a power monitoring system where any member of staff can log in and check the amount of power being used on a show-specific basis, allowing them to monitor the emissions created by a single show and work with the promoter to cut them.

Tonight (25 March) sees the continuation of the Teenage Cancer Trust charity concert series at the Hall with a concert by The Who, followed by Liam Gallagher (26 March) and Ed Sheeran (27 March).


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