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Tobias Veit: "The guest performances are the problem"

Tobias Veit: "The guest performances are the problem"
Photo: © Franziska Sinn

Cultural institutions not only want to, they now have to face up to the ecological challenges of the day - and reduce their CO2 emissions. As part of a pilot project of the German Federal Cultural Foundation, the Schaubühne Berlin has for the first time drawn up a climate assessment of their carbon foot print. How does that work? We talked about it with Tobias Veit, director of Schaubühne Berlin.

INTERVIEW   Alison Winter


CCB Magazine: Mr. Veit. Last year, the Schaubühne took part in a pilot project on climate accounting alongside 19 other cultural institutions. Isn't such a climate assessment incredibly strenuous?

Tobias Veit: Yes, that's a tremendous amount of work to begin with, a lot of data that had to be distilled out everywhere. Our team did a great job and was justifiably proud.

CCB Magazine:How long does such a climate assessment take?

Tobias Veit:In total, that was four months. The first request came in September of last year. By the end of January this year, everything had already been collected and recorded. In retrospect, that was surprisingly fast.

CCB Magazine:How does such a climate assessment work?

Tobias Veit:CO2 emissions are recorded first and foremost. We prepared the analysis together with the environmental consultancy Arqum. Different areas are divided into three so-called scopes. Scope 1, for example, includes direct greenhouse gas emissions from combustion processes - stationary and mobile. Scope 2 contains indirect greenhouse gas emissions such as electricity or district heating. And Scope 3 contains all other indirect greenhouse gas emissions such as business travel, water consumption or waste management. At first, it is difficult to understand how water consumption or waste are linked to CO2 emissions because, unlike heating or exhaust gases from transportation, there seems to be no direct link. These indirect sources of emissions are therefore converted into CO2 equivalents, since the production of waste naturally consumes CO2, but this cannot be calculated as easily as for a combustion engine.

Most of the Schaubühne's CO2 emissions come from its guest performances. Not traveling, however, is not a solution, since guest performances mean cultural exchange. Nevertheless, a rethink and new collaborations are needed here

CCB Magazine:Where are the biggest problems at the Schaubühne, in which area is the CO2 consumption highest?

Tobias Veit:At the Schaubühne, Scope 3 emissions alone account for almost three quarters of all CO2 emissions. And within this scope, the guest performances are particularly significant at 85 percent. In short, the guest performances are the problem. That came as a surprise to us! But of course, we travel around the world, and 2019 in particular was associated with a high volume of guest performances. We were in Tokyo, Mexico, Europe, Asia... We flew four million miles.

CCB Magazine:What are the next steps? How can you save CO2 emissions as a theater?

Tobias Veit:There are three options: avoid, reduce and compensate. Let's deal directly with guest performances. Guest performances are cultural exchange, i.e. ultimately cultural understanding. This has a high value and should continue to have it, socially, politically and artistically. So not traveling is not the solution. However, the question of climate balance must always be considered. I.e. compensation is unavoidable, but at the same time there are many other ways to strengthen sustainability, such as traveling by train within Europe (even if travel time is working time and therefore guest performances become more expensive) or multiple stops in one country and not just a three-day guest performance in one city. Here a rethinking must take place, cooperations must be sought.

Top: Schaubühne from the outside. Photo: Gianmarco Bresadola. Below: Schaubühne from the inside. Photo: Siegfried Büker

CCB Magazine:One reason why the Schaubühne and many other theaters organize so many guest performances is money. No guest performances, no revenue. In the end, does culture simply have to cost more to be more sustainable?

Tobias Veit:That's what it boils down to. Ultimately, this is a dialog that we have to have with politicians. If the answer is that CO2 emissions are to be reduced, then that means in any case that it will cost more money. However, there is another point where politics could help us - and that is with compensation. That is the last measure that should be taken, but since we have to travel if cultural exchange is desired, we will have to take such measures. We ourselves, as theaters, are not allowed to make compensation payments. The law on grants does not allow that, because administratively it is a donation. Here, politics could give us a helping hand by law.

Politics must tie subsidies for theaters to ecological standards, and at the same time a pact must be concluded. Culture is a common good, and cultural institutions have a role model function in society

CCB Magazine:Compensating CO2 emissions, however, only postpones the problem. Are there other measures that the Schaubühne is taking to be more environmentally friendly?

Tobias Veit:Above all, it is important that we have created an awareness of the problem with the climate assessment, not only among the management, but also among our employees. A climate group has been set up in our company to gather ideas and make suggestions for measures to reduce CO2 emissions. The ideas are then proposed to us as a catalog of measures. For example, we came up with the idea of buying a couple of cargo bikes instead of a new car. The props and technical staff will soon be riding them around the city. Another example is the season booklets and monthly fanfolds, which are printed on recycled paper. And we will also pay more attention to such simple things as waste separation in the future. Once the awareness is there, there will be a different kind of pressure, not just on the management, but on each individual.

CCB Magazine:The Arts Council in England has managed to cut CO2 emissions in cultural institutions by 35 percent in six years by linking funding to compliance with ecological standards. Do we need something like that?

Tobias Veit:I think it's right for politicians to link subsidies to ecological standards, but at the same time it's also a pact that's being made. Culture is a common good, and cultural institutions have a role model function in society, if you will. So if cultural institutions show that the climate footprint can be reduced year after year, then there is a good chance that this can be communicated to the outside world with a certain impact.

CCB Magazine:Mr. Veit, thank you very much for the interview.

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