Image by Kevin Murray

From the time it was built half a century ago, the Sydney Opera House was intended to be a world leader not just in architecture and design, but in sustainability too.

Since appointing a dedicated sustainability director ten years ago, The Opera House has been working hard to reduce its footprint, achieving carbon neutrality in 2018 with the help of a wind and solar energy PPA.  

With its current goal of going carbon positive by 2023, the House is hoping to continue as a global leader in sustainability, this time by harnessing technology to track and improve its daily activities.

In 2019, the Opera House hired Honeywell to create a building management system that allows it to monitor and reduce energy, waste and water use. It also upgraded its pioneering original seawater cooling system, to improve efficiency through optimisation.

That same year, the Opera House became Australia’s first arts institution to sign up to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Currently, smart sensors placed throughout the building, including over 60 water metres and over 500 electrical metres, measure temperature and humidity, electrical and water consumption and indoor air quality. 

Additional data from lifts, emergency lighting system, UPS equipment, C-Bus system, stage machinery and weather services is also collected and monitored through a central operations centre.

Also feeding into the operations centre is ticket sales data, allowing the conditioning of venues ahead of performances, which is also used to inform baseline energy consumption.

As Opera House manager of environmental sustainability Emma Bombonato knows, “you can’t manage what you don’t monitor.”

“Being able to see our impacts on a monthly or even a daily basis has allowed our team to react to that and see what are the most significant areas for us to invest our effort and money into becoming more efficient.”

As well as maintaining air quality and energy efficiency, daily monitoring helped the Opera House reduce its water consumption by 30 per cent.

According to Ms Bombonato, “Sustainability has always been really important to the Sydney Opera House.”

“Danish architect Jorn Utzon was inspired by nature and it was really important to build the sustainability elements into the Opera House, including our sea water cooling system.”

As one of Australia’s most popular tourist destinations, the House welcomes over 11 million visitors a year, consuming 2500 households worth of electricity, 60 Olympic swimming pools worth of water and generating a significant amount of waste through food and beverage outlets.

On the road to going carbon positive by 2023, which Ms Bombonato believes is “the next logical step in global sustainability leadership,” the Opera House named Honeywell as its first Global Goals Partner.

Ms Bombonato encouraged other building managers to make their own net zero targets, saying the most important things were having comprehensive data, or at least a roadmap, to inform current emissions profiles and where to go. 

“I think the other part of it is also to think about ways that you can engage your staff, and surround yourself with a really great team,” she said. 

“Once staff understand what they need to achieve, and then most importantly why, then the how process starts to fall out of that really naturally.”

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