Over the past three years, the Finnish National Opera and Ballet in Helsinki has embarked on a novel project that is increasing creativity and sustainability in the performing arts. This initiative has not only transformed the production of iconic operas and ballets, including Don Giovanni, Carmen and Messa da Requiem, but it is also setting a powerful example for institutions across the cultural and economic spectrum seeking to enhance environmental sustainability and resource efficiency.
Sustainable innovation put into action in opera and ballet
At the heart of this effort by the Finnish National Opera and Ballet lies the creation of a digital replica, often referred to as a “digital twin”, of the main stage and auditorium, while incorporating remote access capabilities and seamlessly integrating stage operation systems. Known as the “XR Stage” project, it was initially conceived during the Covid-19 pandemic to streamline the opera production cycle, enabling early visualization of sets and content to expedite the timeline.
Yet, it has evolved into a platform capable of simulating entire productions, visualizing set changes and crafting lighting scenarios up to a year in advance. The advanced technology not only enhances efficiency but also promotes sustainability.
“Using this digital platform has made information sharing easier, reducing the need for travel and significantly decreasing the carbon footprint,” explains Hannu Järvensivu, the XR Stage project manager at the Finnish National Opera and Ballet. “Additionally, visualizing elements on a virtual stage has reduced the use of unnecessary physical materials, resulting in a 20% reduction in both work hours and materials compared to traditional methods.”
The project faced numerous challenges, principally around interoperability — the ability of the different systems to work together and exchange information in a way that allows them to function seamlessly. “Interoperability with external systems required some creative thinking and coding, as most of the protocols are not designed for that,” adds Hannu. To solve this challenge, the Finnish National Opera and Ballet developed systems to communicate with external entities, like a lighting console.
The XR Stage project has not gone unnoticed. It was the recipient of the 2022 Next Stage Grants awarded by FEDORA with the support of a private foundation. FEDORA is the European Circle of Philanthropists of Opera and Ballet, a non-profit organisation founded in 2013 under the presidency of Jérôme-François Zieseniss to support sustainable innovation in the performing arts. The Paris-based organisation’s Director, Edilia Gänz, an ESCP graduate, believes that sustainable innovation in arts and culture encompasses not only environmental concerns but also project longevity and financial feasibility.
“It considers every facet of the production, from initial concept and musical composition to costume production, sustainable set planning and construction, and even recycling. Furthermore, it extends to the delivery of the production, including its outreach to audiences,” she explains.
We spoke to Edilia Gänz to understand environmental sustainability in arts and culture, and what lessons companies from other industries can learn from the innovative approaches of opera houses to reducing their environmental impact and driving awareness and positive change.
Opera houses can be ambassadors of change. They are institutions that are a testament to time, and have been standing for 200 years or longer.Edilia Gänz
Evaluating carbon footprints: overcoming obstacles
She highlights environmental and social challenges addressed by sustainable innovation in the performing arts sector. “Many opera houses are presently evaluating their carbon footprint and introducing eco-friendly measures, both onstage and backstage,” she notes. “However, the process is complex, involving external experts and often the necessity of securing funding for carbon footprint assessments.”
Moreover, Edilia Gänz says the transition to sustainability is hindered by the absence of dedicated sustainability managers, a role that has only recently emerged: “Overall, it’s a lack of funding, knowledge and resources that are the main barriers to progress.”
Despite the challenges faced in transitioning to sustainability, Edilia Gänz acknowledges that many institutions, including opera houses, are eager to commit to this cause. Several have already made significant progress and are acting as role models for others to aspire to emulate.
The commitment to change has led to the creation of the “Next Stage” initiative. FEDORA has secured private as well as public funding that is reallocated to opera houses across Europe to drive transformation behind and beyond the stage, while also delivering together with expert partners trainings for emerging artists to promote sustainability management, inclusivity and digital transformation. A €250,000 allocation supports transformative projects aimed at addressing these pressing challenges.
The initiative extends beyond the Finnish National Opera and Ballet. Another project in Leipzig, Germany, has assessed costume departments to identify opportunities for material circularity in opera productions, contributing thus to a pilot for sustainable change and replication in this step of the opera and dance production value chain. At the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm, Sweden, old costumes were repurposed in a fashion show, underscoring the importance of recycling and upcycling while raising funds and promoting material reuse.
Many opera houses are presently evaluating their carbon footprint and introducing eco-friendly measures, both onstage and backstage.Edilia Gänz
Opera houses: ambassadors for change
Edilia Gänz believes that such sustainable innovation in arts and culture has the potential to be a driving force in broader societal awareness and action regarding environmental and social issues, given their deep-rooted presence in major cities across Europe and the world. As she emphasises: “Opera houses can be ambassadors of change. They are institutions that are a testament to time, and have been standing for 200 years or longer.”
Moreover, the principles and lessons learned from sustainable innovation in the arts and culture industry can be extended to other sectors of the economy. “For example, making sets more modular can offer insights into adaptability, turning them into different things, which can help other sectors like jewellery, inspiring use cases for how to wear pieces in different ways, repurposing the same items to extend their lifecycle,” Edilia Gänz says.
“Additionally, there are lessons on employer branding strategies as sustainability initiatives can help to attract the next generation of leaders eager to work on these topics in the field of the performing arts,” she adds. These use cases, along with the Finnish National Opera and Ballet’s and the other Next Stage Grant recipients’ pioneering efforts in sustainable innovation, may serve as an inspiring model for institutions across the globe, demonstrating how creativity and sustainability can harmoniously coexist, benefiting both the arts and the world at large.
License and Republishing
The Choice - Republishing rules
We publish under a Creative Commons license with the following characteristics Attribution/Sharealike.
- You may not make any changes to the articles published on our site, except for dates, locations (according to the news, if necessary), and your editorial policy. The content must be reproduced and represented by the licensee as published by The Choice, without any cuts, additions, insertions, reductions, alterations or any other modifications.If changes are planned in the text, they must be made in agreement with the author before publication.
- Please make sure to cite the authors of the articles, ideally at the beginning of your republication.
- It is mandatory to cite The Choice and include a link to its homepage or the URL of thearticle. Insertion of The Choice’s logo is highly recommended.
- The sale of our articles in a separate way, in their entirety or in extracts, is not allowed , but you can publish them on pages including advertisements.
- Please request permission before republishing any of the images or pictures contained in our articles. Some of them are not available for republishing without authorization and payment. Please check the terms available in the image caption. However, it is possible to remove images or pictures used by The Choice or replace them with your own.
- Systematic and/or complete republication of the articles and content available on The Choice is prohibited.
- Republishing The Choice articles on a site whose access is entirely available by payment or by subscription is prohibited.
- For websites where access to digital content is restricted by a paywall, republication of The Choice articles, in their entirety, must be on the open access portion of those sites.
- The Choice reserves the right to enter into separate written agreements for the republication of its articles, under the non-exclusive Creative Commons licenses and with the permission of the authors. Please contact The Choice if you are interested at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Extracts: It is recommended that after republishing the first few lines or a paragraph of an article, you indicate "The entire article is available on ESCP’s media, The Choice" with a link to the article.
Citations: Citations of articles written by authors from The Choice should include a link to the URL of the authors’ article.
Translations: Translations may be considered modifications under The Choice's Creative Commons license, therefore these are not permitted without the approval of the article's author.
Modifications: Modifications are not permitted under the Creative Commons license of The Choice. However, authors may be contacted for authorization, prior to any publication, where a modification is planned. Without express consent, The Choice is not bound by any changes made to its content when republished.
Authorized connections / copyright assignment forms: Their use is not necessary as long as the republishing rules of this article are respected.
Print: The Choice articles can be republished according to the rules mentioned above, without the need to include the view counter and links in a printed version.
If you choose this option, please send an image of the republished article to The Choice team so that the author can review it.
Podcasts and videos: Videos and podcasts whose copyrights belong to The Choice are also under a Creative Commons license. Therefore, the same republishing rules apply to them.