Audience travel and carbon offset

Audience travel and carbon offset


Caroline Aston, the Audience Insight Manager at Chichester Festival Theatre takes us through their work to reduce their carbon footprint and engage their audiences in the process.

Chichester Festival Theatre

Chichester Festival Theatre is situated in West Sussex on the south coast. We have two venues, the 1300 seat Festival Theatre and the smaller Minerva Theatre with a capacity of just over 300 and we also run a busy programme of community and outreach activities, including a large Youth Theatre with members from across the county. Environmental sustainability is one of our core values and we are working to ensure it is considered in everything we do.

As an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation, we use Julie’s Bicycle Creative Green tools to calculate our carbon footprint and report and monitor our environmental impact. In 2019/20, business travel, waste, water, fleet travel and energy added up to the equivalent of 375 tonnes of CO2. We identified that our reporting of Audience Travel was only reflecting survey responders and when scaled up to estimate our full audiences, our carbon footprint could potentially increase by up to 800%.

Using this scaling up, we calculated that in 2019/20 an estimated 3263 tonnes of CO2e was expended by our audiences making their way to the Theatre, equating to 90% of our overall carbon footprint.

We knew this was something we had to address, and we had to bring our audiences along with us. We need them to come to the Theatre as the lifeline of our business - we can, and do, suggest that they use more environmentally friendly forms of transport, but when many of our audiences live in rural areas, public transport is thin on the ground and there are often no direct trains after a performance finish time, changing habits is difficult.

Calculating Audience Travel

There is no pinpoint accurate way to calculate this; some of our audiences walk or take public transport, some may have electric cars and others may have 30-year-old diesel cars. If we tried to calculate the exact figure, we would get into the realms of analysis paralysis, and over-analysing would see us lost in numbers without delivering any change. We just needed to start somewhere and allow for adjustment.

We use Spektrix and utilised their auto-tags to add drive time to our booker records. Setting the tags up initially was a bit of a task, but once they’re in place they make everything easier! We worked out the average round trip distance within each of the drive time segments and then multiplied that by the number of visits from bookers within that segment for the year. To get the CO2e figure, we used the US Environmental Protection Agency’s figure of 2481 miles emitting the equivalent of 1 tonne of CO2 to calculate the figure of 3263 tonnes for 2019/20.

Getting audiences interested

Encouraging audiences to take responsibility for offsetting the carbon footprint of their journey to the Theatre as part of their ticket purchase was integral to this project. So how do you get audiences interested? Start by planting trees! Trees are tangible; people feel they have done something useful and can visualise planting a tree, but that’s not enough. A tree won’t have a significant impact for 20-30 years, so it was really important that we worked alongside a company that invests in verified carbon offsetting projects in addition to recognised tree planting projects.

After some research, we partnered with Bristol-based social enterprise, Ecologi, who work with Eden Reforestation to plant forests in Madagascar, Nicaragua and Mozambique, as well as supporting some UK planting projects. They fund climate change solutions around the world that are verified through Verra Carbon Standard and Gold Standard for Global Goals.

These projects range from producing electricity from solar energy in Vietnam (where 65% is traditionally generated from fossil fuels) to providing cleaner cook stoves in Ghana and Zambia. Each international tree planted costs 24p, each tonne of carbon removed costs £9.45.

Making real and significant change

We are aware that offsetting and tree planting is not the whole answer – it can be seen as greenwashing, or an alternative to making the real and significant changes that are needed. But used in conjunction with other improvements we are making, it helps to address the impact of audience travel while we work on other solutions and encourage more sustainable methods of travel; and vitally, it also positions our environmental values in front of every person who buys a ticket, starting our communications with audiences.

How and where to message audiences

Chichester Festival Theatre's wild flower meadow accompanies how visitors canoffset their journey and plant trees for a £1 donation as part of theirticket purchase

We ask audiences to offset their trip to the Theatre at the point in the booking journey where we sell our supplementary items, such as programme and ice cream vouchers. We wanted to place the opportunity here rather than in the checkout for two reasons: it appears with each production booked (since they should consider offsetting every journey if purchasing for multiple events); and secondly, as we are a charity, to distance it from the donation ask in the checkout.

We have avoided the use of the words ‘donate’, ‘invest’ and ‘support’ when we talk about journey offsetting, partly because we don’t want audiences to think this is a donation to, or an alternative to a donation to CFT, but also because it is about them taking personal responsibility for their journey and its impact.

Deciding how much to charge

When deciding how much to charge, we wanted to keep the price point simple. We thought about adding different options based on distance, but felt this over-complicated the message. Having one affordable option of £1 felt more accessible while still having an appropriate level of impact. What does £1 buy? It offsets 55kg of CO2e, which is (based on the US EPA mentioned earlier) equivalent to a 130-mile trip in an average car and plants two international trees. This means that the offset portion more than covers an average audience journey and the trees are a bonus.

Results so far

Since we started this project a year ago, our audiences (and staff) have offset a total of 690 tonnes of CO2e. That’s equivalent to 529 flights to San Francisco and back, or driving around the earth 69 times, and we’ve planted just over 23,000 international trees. It’s small in relation to the overall impact of our audience travel, but it’s a start.
In the first year of this project, 7% of bookers have chosen to offset their journey. That may seem small, but it’s promising. As we move out of the pilot stage of this project we are looking at how we encourage our audiences to become more engaged with this initiative and evaluating the way in which we offset their journeys.

You can view CFT’s international offsetting and trees planted on their Ecologi Profile page and read more about their green initiatives and work on the CFT website.

Caroline Aston head and shoulders

Caroline Aston, Audience Insights Manager, Chichester Festival Theatre

Resource type: Case studies | Published: 2022