Building Sustainable Cinemas for a Shared Future - ICTA Building Sustainable Cinemas for a Shared Future - ICTA

Building Sustainable Cinemas for a Shared Future

April 22, 2020

Carmen Slijpen, Depot Cinema.

Carmen Slijpen, Creative Director/Film Programmer at Depot Cinema in Lewes, UK, was one of a considerable delegation of non-US industry stakeholders who attended the January ICTA Los Angeles Seminar Series (LASS). Ms. Slijpen spoke on the final day of the seminar about her passion for the ‘green agenda,’ on ensuring environmental sustainability in the exhibition industry, and how she had combined the two in a cinema complex in southern England last year.

Specific to her beliefs, Slijpen began by citing United Nations and UNESCO guidance to obtaining a zero carbon footprint and protecting our biospheres, as cornerstones of her initiative. That dream, in tandem with business partner Robert Senior, became reality when they purchased the ‘shuttered’ Harvey’s Brewery in Lewes in 2013 and repurposed the site as an independent, three-screen movie theatre and restaurant. It opened to the public in May 2017 and was declared a carbon-neutral site in April 2019, fulfilling one of her goals for the Depot.

Her slide show showed the site prior to construction and then took the audience through a number of changes to make the complex a showcase for a thoughtful, sustainable commercial success.

Leading off with her cinema’s ‘living roof,’ replete with bees and butterflies, she detailed how planting grass and local plants and flowers helped insulate the restaurant and theatres below. Those, along with solar-heating panels, contributed to overall energy efficiency. The living roof also stops noise from entering the building and affecting performances. Local materials were used as often as possible, to support the community’s economic health. The living roof also serves as a visible testament to all that Depot Cinema not only talks the talk, but walks the walk, for the green movement.

Another source of pride and joy for her is the ground-source heat pump (GSHP), which is a major environmental breakthrough, “using a small amount of electricity to transfer a large amount of naturally-occurring heat from the ground into the building, it is designed to be a long-term investment,” spanning decades, said Slijpen. “This geothermal heating and cooling system is almost invisible and very safe, and eliminates the use of fossil fuels, which is why the UK government provided a grant towards it,” noted Slijpen.

These measures don’t affect the quality of the experience, and Slijpen said that customers’ only complaints are “when the sound is too loud or the room is too cold.” They appreciate the quality and environmental mitigation provided by the laser-light projection and LED room lighting provided in the auditoriums, both of which are very environmentally friendly. “I’m also a great fan of automating all our systems and services, as these controls monitor and adjust temperatures and activities to the goal of saving energy,” she noted. This is taken to what some may think an extreme, in that sensors in the washroom facilities dispense just enough water as is needed, and indeed the urinals are set to flush “every four uses, rather than one!”

The Depot site was specifically chosen for its proximity to the nearby train station, bus-service and easy-walking and cycling distances for movie-goers, which reflects Slijpen’s personal antipathy to travelling by car. There is no parking lot, with the former lot forming a green space for customers to relax in, adjacent to a cafe/restaurant that serves healthy, locally-produced and sourced seasonal food of high quality.

Related to the supply of food and beverages, “It’s very complex to think through our supply chains and then persuade our suppliers, who often don’t have a good knowledge of their products’ environmental impact themselves, to orient themselves to limit packaging and allow for recycling and re-use.” To those ends, no drinks are allowed or sold in single-use plastics. Tap water and other drinks, including alcoholic ones, can only be served in the customers’ or Depot’s reusable containers – the latter including recycled paper with cornstarch lids – and using paper straws. “We have to balance a lot – we tried ‘Fair Trade’ products but received customer complaints about the expense,” so she lessened that outlay.

Slijpen emphasized the need to focus on and clearly think through purchasing choices. “There are so many green-washed (i.e., false claims of sustainability) products on the market, one has to sort fact from fiction,” but she maintained the effort involved in weeding them out and going green is worth it. Overall, it’s a big challenge to deal with waste. She works with suppliers and the local government authorities, as well as her staff and customers, to reduce, re-use, and recycle (in that order), wherever possible.

“It may also seem quite unbelievable, but it’s true – and amazing – that in switching our cleaning products to those with an electro-chemical activation technology inside that transforms tap water and salt, which are harmless really, we are able to clean floors, tables and just about everything ecologically and safely.”

Her end-goal does not place the movies second to environmentalism. They walk hand in hand. “Films are stories that help us get to know ourselves, our friends and the world better, and I don’t believe that cinema is dead. In the UK, more films are released every year and for our part, our year-over-year ticket sales increased 10 percent” she noted. Along with the pride in being named by several groups as the ‘greenest cinema in the world,’ Slijpen also rejoiced in a healthy box-office, with her turnover (revenue) being over two million pounds in 2019. In November 2019, Depot won the Sussex county Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Award, which was fitting recognition for her business, her team and the community of Lewes.

Is she done? “Not at all” said Slijpen, “and in fact I now have one staffer – or ‘ambassador’ – who spends an entire day per week to get the green-cinema message out,” by revamping Depot Cinema’s website and policies, attending conferences and in general being an evangelist for the movement. Her cinema is 50-50, male – female balanced and is committed to the living-wage concept, as well. Long holidays, free and healthy lunches, and many benefits, including mental-health support, is a given for Depot employees.

She would like to see sustainability benchmarked in the UK cinema industry and she evidenced the hope that all of her staff would be trained in ‘carbon literacy’ by the summer of 2020, including her 18 full-time staff and 40 local volunteers. “The conversation should be a daily one, not stopping at home or at work,” maintained Slijpen.

For more details on Depot Cinema’s sustainability, corporate social responsibility and green endeavours, please visit

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