Is There Value In Being Green?

My wife, Holly Mulcahy, published an article at The Partial Observer in the beginning of this week which examines the value in orchestras going green. There are a number of worthwhile hurdles to the notion but at the same time I think there are equally worthwhile considerations…

I’m intrigued by the one comment posted to the article (at least the only one at the time this article is published) where the reader mentions he would rather an orchestra spend more time focusing on building an audience as opposed to finding ways to make orchestras literally less wasteful. As for me, I don’t see any real differences between the activities of becoming more environmentally friendly and audience development.

In fact, I think they could easily work hand-in-hand. For example, people in this business spend a good deal of time talking about attracting a new audience. At the same time, orchestras have an arguably self-centered "what can you do for me?" attitude that wears on donors after time.

Why not kill two birds with one stone and approach the problems with sincerity: reach out to environmental groups by letting them know you want to help their efforts and in turn, your organization needs advice on how to overcome some of the economic hurdles associated with becoming more environmental. I think there is some real potential here to attract a new layer of donors who may be interested in becoming more involved with classical music but that interest doesn’t trump their desire to become involved with environmental issues. This fits in well with a popular topic regular readers will likely remember from an article at beginning of May entitled Making Stronger Connections Through Sincerity where sincerity and intent are proven to be more worthwhile attributes than a sense of entitlement.

To me, it seems the real challenge of going green is associated with eliminating or drastically downsizing program books. Meaning, finding ways to replace lost earned income from program book advertisements. Exploring alternative efforts for advertising on website and/or newsletters and email messages seems to be a reasonable (and growing) option.

Another option could exist in imprinted advertising on napkins, plastic drink glasses etc. that are a common staple in any pre-concert and intermission scene; however, this option is limited to those ensembles with control over catering supplies. Nevertheless, I’m willing to bet that if orchestras could connect with those who are passionate environmentalists who also have experience solving the problems related to these issues, they could arrive at some remarkable solutions capable of making the organization greener and simultaneously grow their audience.

If nothing else, look at it this way:

reduced environmental impact x [increased audience + improved community relations + new influential board members] = bright future
maintain wasteful habits x [burry our heads in the sand + hope for the best + miss out on a worldwide social movement] = same old problems that continue to get worse.

Which one would you select?

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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2 thoughts on “Is There Value In Being Green?”

  1. Additional hurdles for the reduction of waste in program books, aside from reduced revenue due to a reduction in advertisers, is the fact that a big, fancy, expensive, wasteful program book says “we’re serious and professional” and is often used as an advertising tool to promote other concerts in the season or events in the venue.

    But maybe there are ways around these problems.

    First, I think using good paperstock can stand in for many pages printed on cheap paper or printed in glossy magazine style in terms of projecting seriousness and professionalism. A heavy bond paper or a light cardstock, in a light non-white color printed in black and white looks great.

    My impression is that advertising for the rest of the season in the program book is intended to work in two ways — first, people read through the program while they’re waiting in their seats. This can be replaced with a projection screen cycling through blurbs on upcoming concerts (this same screen can be used to replace ad revenue, as well). The second is that some people take home their programs and thus take home the advertising. Offering brochures in the lobby during intermission would allow people to opt in to the take-home advertising, which they would be primed for by the projection screen.

    In terms of ad revenue, another possibility is that some local businesses who are trying to brand themselves as environmentally friendly might be interested in paying more to be the sole sponsor listed in the new eco-friendly programs as sponsors of that environmentalist approach. “Our environmentally friendly programs are made possible by the generous support of Joe’s Honda, who reminds you to come in and test drive the new Civic Hybrid today.” The adbuyer gets the double-whammy of exclusivity in the program and an augmentation of green branding. This won’t replace all of the lost revenue, but as I’ve suggested, there are other places to pick more of it up.

    It’s also worth noting that the first few orchestras who go green will have a great PR hook for a little while.

    All of that having been said, while I do think there’s potential to modestly increase the donor base I doubt going green will have a meaningful effect on audience size. I doubt anybody is going to say “I didn’t go to the orchestra before, but now that they’re green I will.” People just don’t pick their entertainment on that basis. The brief period when the PR hook is in effect will raise the orchestra’s profile, which might pick up a few more audience members, but probably not many. On the other hand, going green may in fact prove lucrative, and that extra cash can be spent on things like advertising and reducing ticket prices, so there might be indirect benefits to audience size.

    I don’t disagree in the least that the glossy cardstock brochures and program books are used as a traditional benchmark for “success” and it is an issue organizations will have to deal with. I think that issue in particular is one that will need to be addressed on a multi-disciplinary scale and I hope the pendulum can move just far enough to place as much credibility toward being environmentally responsible as is currently associated with big spending on flashy print marketing.

    In the end, I think one of the driving factors will be what you touched on at the end of your comment: the marketing cost per ticket ratio. If going green can produce a better ratio than the current business average then a different type of green will be the ultimate motivator. ~ Drew McManus

  2. Some orchestras print ‘quarterly’ programs magazine-style, each containing 6-8 programs, and patrons are encouraged to return them at the end of a concert.

    There’s a danger that Going Green opens the door to a whole world of overstated claims, partial truths and hypocrisy. For example, air travel is one of the most harmful, if not the most harmful means of transportation. Are you listening, jet-set conductors? And who among the major orchestras will be the first to permanently forsake international tours for the sake of the atmosphere?

    Adopt online virtual auditions?

    Want to save the planet? Stay home.

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