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Behind the Scenes with Jamie Saye

World Environment Day is the perfect time to find out more about Jamie Saye, Senior Technician at Opera North and champion of all things environmental.

Jamie chairs the Opera North Green Team, looks after sustainability and delivers the company’s Carbon Literacy Training. He is also the co-founder of Sustainable Arts in Leeds.

When do you think your passion for the environment started?

I’ve always had a love of nature and the outdoors, which probably started when my Granddad used to take me to his allotment when I was younger. I now have an allotment of my own, and return the favour when I get a chance to see him by delivering things he taught me how to grow!

Jamie Saye accepting 'Best Newcomer' on behalf of Opera North at Julie's Bicycle Creative Green Awards 2019

What is Carbon Literacy training and how did you become involved?

Carbon Literacy Training is the brainchild of The Carbon Literacy Project. It has the stated aim of giving participants “an awareness of the carbon costs and impacts of everyday activities and the ability and motivation to reduce emissions on an individual, community and organisational basis.” I qualified as a trainer with the trust in May 2019, and so far have carbon literacy trained around three quarters of Opera North’s full-time staff as well as other organisations in the city including Leeds 2023.

Has it inspired you to make any changes in the workplace?

Before the Howard Assembly Room closed for the current redevelopment project, we made the decision to swap the working lights from 400W high intensity discharge (HID) fixtures to 200W LED fixtures. When I initially approached my manager about it, I said they should pay for themselves within 2 years but, in actual fact, it only took around 11 months. We’ve also managed to cut the use of electrical tape by 95 percent.

Lighting in the Howard Assembly Room © Tom Arber

Tell us more about Sustainable Arts in Leeds

Sustainable Arts is a not-for-profit in Leeds which I founded with Phil Holdgate from ITV. SAIL encourages the arts and cultural organisations in Leeds to work together, sharing knowledge and best practice to lower the sector’s carbon footprint.

At the moment, we’re working with students from the University of Leeds to create a net zero carbon roadmap for the creative and cultural businesses in Leeds, and we’re planning on rolling out Carbon Literacy training across the whole sector.

How has the current crisis affected your job?

Like many people now, I’m working from home which means spending my life on Zoom and Microsoft Teams and trying to keep my cat off my keyboard!

I’ve also had to take all of the Carbon Literacy training online. This meant having to liaise with the Carbon Literacy Project in Manchester about how to deliver the training remotely in an engaging way (something they were still figuring out themselves!) and then rewriting the whole course to make it work on platforms that were new to me.

Cora Kirk as Tony, Tara Divina as Mary and Laura Prior as Harry with the Chorus of Opera North in Not Such Quiet Girls with a fully recycled set © Justin Slee

Do you think the outbreak of COVID-19 will have any lasting effect on the environment?

I think it’s far too early to say as I’ve seen reports in China that air pollution levels have gone straight back to where they were pre-lockdown and there’s a worry that the same happens in the UK when we go back to ‘business as usual’. Also, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases can stick around in the atmosphere for hundreds if not thousands of years, so any environmental impact of the lockdown will be negligible in the grand scheme of things.

Having said that, there have been some positive changes which I really hope endure, such as a sharp increase in the amount of active travel and exercise, with some cycle shops in the UK reporting that their sales tripled during the lockdown. There have also been reports of the UK cutting the amount of food waste it produces. If these can be kept up when things return to some sense of normality, the UK is in with a really good chance of meeting its ‘net zero by 2050’ ambitions.

Rothiemurchus © Garry Walker

Do you feel positive about the future?

The main thing that I have taken away from this whole crisis is just how fast everything can change. In the words of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to avoid the worst impacts of global warming we need “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” If we can achieve so much in 10 weeks in response to the outbreak of COVID-19, imagine what we can do in 10 years to respond to global warming and climate change.

What would be your top tip for going green?

A good start is to calculate your Carbon Footprint, as that will tell you where your biggest impacts are. Other easy changes are swapping to a renewable energy tariff, eating more vegetarian meals a week, and choosing food that is both seasonal and local.

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