Championing sustainability under the big top
When it arrives in Portland this month, Cirque Du Soleil brings more than its latest big-top tent show, called "Kurios — Cabinet of Curiosities."
It brings new environmental initiatives that will help the company cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Among other changes this year, Cirque has begun replacing its familiar yellow and blue tents with grey and white ones. Lighter tones reflect sunlight, reducing heat under the big top, and lessening energy consumption.
(Due to an unexpected delay, those new tents weren't ready in time for the Portand show.)
Also — for the first time for any large traveling show in Portland — the circus will connect directly to the city's utility grid rather than use generators to power the operation, says Jean-François Michaud, Cirque du Soleil's senior adviser for corporate social responsibility. This effort, done in five cities so far, has offset the release of approximately 2,000 tons of greenhouse gas — equivalent to emissions from 500 medium-size cars, Michaud says.
A synthesis of circus and street performance styles from around the world, each with its own central theme and storyline, Cirque du Soleil shows often play to astonished sold-out crowds.
It's new show focuses on "an inventor who defies the laws of time, space and dimension" to reinvent everything around him. Suddenly, his fantastical curio cabinet of otherworldly creations comes to life and is unleashed on the audience.
If skewing reality in the name of art is the French-Canadian circus company's raison d'être, community responsibility has been a natural outgrowth, Michaud says.
Founded by street performers, Cirque has long supported communities in need with programs like Cirque du Monde, designed to help young people at risk. Michaud says the company intuitively understood environment is an extension of community, and committed to being "agents of change."
The world's largest theatrical production, Cirque formally adopted its environmental policy about 11 years ago, focusing on sustainable development. The goal was to reduce their carbon footprint across all sectors, with water management, air quality, climate change, waste management and hazardous waste disposal initiatives.
In addition to a large contingent of writers, directors, designers and choreographers, the touring shows also include sustainability managers, who oversee efforts like recycling and composting.
For audience members accustomed to the throwaway culture of many traveling entertainment and sports venues, it's notable to see a preponderance of recyclable food and beverage containers and packaging. Food managers also make every effort to source food for the performers from local growers. And performers also do their part, using reusable cups and containers instead of disposables. Many also bring their bicycles on the road with them to use for transportation in the host city.
Michaud says the company also uses "green committees" to streamline communications between mobile teams for each touring show, to ensure adherence to their environmental policy. Several times a year, teleconferences are held between committee coordinators to share best practices and successful initiatives with the other shows.
At its corporate headquarters in Montreal, Cirque has made efforts since 2007 "to reduce energy consumption, facilitate recycling and composting, and manage water usage," Michaud says. This includes "recovering rainwater from the main building and parking area, then using it in toilets, and to water exterior grounds, gardens and a small orchard."
"We also have beehives on the terraces. Besides helping us raise employee awareness of their importance in the food chain, the bees help pollinate the orchard and a vegetable garden and help protect the biodiversity of the area," Michaud says. Located at the front of the building, the garden's harvest at times helps supplement staff meals at the cafeteria.