Pigfoot: Making Carbon-Neutral Theatre

In this blog post, Pigfoot talk about their journey into becoming the UK’s first carbon neutral theatre company.

Pigfoot are a multi-award winning, carbon-neutral theatre company dedicated to making collaborative theatre with and for those grappling with the climate and ecological crisis, led by Bea Udale-Smith and Hetty Hodgson. They’ve been recently commissioned as part of our Outside the Box artist scheme to create HOT IN HERE: a carbon-neutral dance party, a hopeful and multidisciplinary piece of ‘protest theatre’ powered by the energy generated by the performers’ collective bodies.

We’re Pigfoot- the first carbon-neutral theatre company in the UK. We make carbon-neutral theatre by generating our own electricity, often live on stage, and ensuring all production materials are borrowed, upcycled, or bought second-hand. You can find out lots more about how we make carbon neutral work here.

We’ve been making carbon-neutral theatre for over 3 years now, but there’s still a lot we haven’t thought about yet. For example, before schools moved back online, we were working in person with an incredible school in Camden, for our carbon-neutral dance-party, HOT IN HERE – which we’re developing through Camden People’s Theatre’s Outside the Box commission.

One week, we were looking at how to make carbon-neutral theatre, so we bought our bike and bike-generator¹ into the school we’re working in. We explained how, if one performer cycles, they can create enough energy to power our LED theatre lights – making our shows’ lighting carbon-neutral. Five minutes later, one of the students we were working with came up to us, and asked- “So, what happens if you’ve just eaten an avocado?”

For context, an average pack of just two avocados has a carbon footprint of 846.37g CO₂ (x). This is a pretty large footprint for food- you could make 40 cups of black tea or coffee for the same, or eat 5 bananas (x). So if a performer powers themselves up on avocados and Starbucks cappuccinos, is the energy they create less carbon-neutral than if their lunch was (for instance) a cup of three-bean soup and steamed veg?

We’re still thinking about this one. If anyone’s got any good recipes for low-emission lunches, please let us know.

Over the past few months, CPT’s Outside the Box commission has allowed us to begin developing a new form of carbon-neutral technology – dance-tiles, which convert the kinetic energy of a footstep into electricity. So, the more you dance, the more energy you create!

But developing this tech has brought its own challenges. Even though the finished product will generate electricity anytime you step on it, creating new technology isn’t very climate-friendly. To combat this, we’re buying whatever we can second-hand, and only buying new materials when we know we can re-use them. We’re also ordering items in bulk to reduce the amount of deliveries, and recording what’s delivered, from where, so we can carbon-offset the emissions.²

The reason we turned carbon-neutral is because we wanted to make shows about the climate, and not hurt the planet in the process. Pre-pandemic, the theatre industry in London has been shown to have a carbon footprint of
50,000 tonnes a year – roughly equivalent to driving a car 1.5 million times round the M25. And that’s without the carbon emissions caused by audience transport, which is an extra 35,000 tonnes in London – a relatively low addition, compared to the impact of audience transport to theatres in rural areas with less public transport.

But now we’ve got another thing to reckon with: the carbon footprint of digital streaming! Worldwide, around 2-3% of all electricity used is consumed by data centres³; projections show this could rise up as high as 14% by 2040 (x).  Fancy watching Peaky Blinders? That’s the equivalent of driving from Birmingham to Manchester (x). Want to send an email? That’s 4g CO2- so you’ve only got 100 emails to go before you might as well give up and eat an avocado (x).

(If you’re interested in this stuff, we’d really recommend checking out Julie’s Bicycle 2020 report on sustainability in the digital age, Earth Speakr’s Sustainability Report, and the work of Fast Familiar.)

And then – even if you’ve got your head round all the stuff above (which we definitely haven’t) – there’s also the fact that the entire concept of a carbon footprint is a PR sham promoted and popularised by BP in 2004. The size of anyone’s “carbon footprint” wouldn’t matter, if the energy we were using was renewable, and justly distributed.

It’s easy to get lost in this stuff, as it’s hard to see what the simple solution is to UK society being built on a fossil fuels addiction, and on a global system of injustice which we perpetrated.

Through this project, we’ve had the opportunity to witness interviews taking place between young people in Camden, and young climate advocates from across the world. If you’re feeling lost in getting your head around carbon impacts, or just climate curious in general- we really recommend learning about, and supporting, some of the work taking place around the globe for climate justice.

There are many places you can start with this, such as following the work of the Re-Earth Initiative and Friday For Future’s Most Affect People and Area’s (MAPA) group, or checking out the incredible Mock COP-26, organised by young climate advocates around the world last year: https://www.mockcop.org/

In the next few weeks, we’ll also be sharing a bit on our website about all the advocates we’ve spoken to, including clips from their interviews, and where you can follow them on social media. Stay tuned! 


¹ A bike-generator converts the kinetic energy of a bike wheel into electricity. 

² Carbon offsetting is a way of compensating for your emissions by making an equivalent carbon dioxide saving elsewhere. There are a lot of issues with conventional offsetting- but there are alternatives. We recommend this Twitter thread as a good place to start. 

³ Data centres are buildings which hold computer systems and their associated components- the physical homes of the internet.