It is no secret that, here at Impakter, the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) form the core of Impakter’s ethos. The 17 goals emerged from the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations members in 2015.
The intersectional nature of the SDGs recognises the interconnections between issues such as environmental destruction, social deprivation and health conditions, creating a strong foundation for efficient and effective problem-solving and offering a hopeful and achievable vision for a sustainable future.
However, the formats in which they are visualised and communicated can often be a little dry, and so are ripe for innovative and creative application in ways that capture the public’s imagination. Happily, the Sustainable Development Goals have recently received a fresh interpretation this Earth Month under the bright (yet sustainable) lights of Broadway!
The Sustainable Development Goals on Broadway
Broadway actor, singer and Tony Award nominee, Anika Larsen, partnered with the philanthropic Broadway Gives Back podcast and the Broadway Green Alliance this Earth Month to create and host The Broadway Vlog to Save the Planet, which explores one SDG or Global Goal per episode in the context of Broadway.
The Broadway Gives Back Earth Month podcast series extends the vlog’s discussions of the Sustainable Development Goals into a longer form conversation with executive producer and co-host, Jan Friedlander Svendsen.
The vlog series leverages the theatre’s power of “show, don’t tell,” bringing in different members of the Broadway community – from stars of the stage (such as Vanessa Williams and Sierra Boggess), to professionals backstage – to demonstrate the many and varied ways in which Broadway is engaging with and attempting to fulfil the Sustainable Development Goals.
In the opening refrain of each episode, Anika emphasises how the SDGs can help us, as they have helped her go from being “helpless and hopeless to helpful and hopeful.” Each of the Sustainable Development Goals is firstly sung by Broadway actor and singer, Gregory Treco, before being broken down in more detail and then spoken about in the context of Broadway by each vlog episode’s guest, ending with suggestions of achievable things the average person can do to empower them to do, in Anna from Frozen’s lyrics, “The Next Right Thing.”
For example, Anika speaks with Natasha Katz, Tony and Olivier Award-winning lighting designer, about reducing the carbon footprint of Broadway lighting in the context of SDG 7, “Affordable and Clean Energy.”
And in another episode, she speaks to Broadway actor Telly Leung on SDG 11, “Sustainable Cities and Communities,” highlighting the importance of promoting social inclusivity through diverse representation in the arts.
In addition to the series, Anika also partnered with the Broadway Green Alliance to act as co-host and performer for the Broadway Celebrates Earth Day concert that took over Times Square on April 22, in synchronisation with the NYC Department of Transportation’s “Car-Free Earth Day.”
We 💚 the 🌎 especially our little Square of it! This #CarFreeEarthDay we hosted Broadway Celebrates Earth Day with favorite #Broadway Stars and aspiring high school performers for an inspiring concert in #TimesSquare 🌟 Thank you to our partners @BroadwayGreen and @NYC_DOT 💚 pic.twitter.com/zC8gCN8vuT
— Times Square (@TimesSquareNYC) April 22, 2023
An Interview With Anika Larsen
Impakter had the pleasure of speaking with Anika earlier this week about the inspiration behind her series, the work she does as a Green Captain (green theatre advocate) within the Broadway Green Alliance (BGA) and generally about the importance of optimism and hope in moving people to make meaningful progress towards fulfilling the SDGs and saving the planet.
The series does indeed live up to its promise of taking you from feeling “helpless and hopeless to helpful and hopeful”!
It’s a great way to bring people into quite a daunting conversation that is easy to check out of in the midst of a media cycle which can sometimes feel pessimistic and doom-laden. What motivated you to create this series?
Anika Larsen: It all shifted about a year ago where I read yet another New York Times article about the dire prognosis for the climate crisis. And I did what I think we all do, which is, I panicked.
I recycle. I drive a Prius. I take short showers. I vote for people who would pass green legislation. I simply don’t know what else to do. And then I turn and I attend to the thing that needs to be tended to in my day, and then it fades away into the background, Right? That’s what we all keep doing is our best, but we don’t know what else to do. I think the difference is now I have kids and I thought, I have to be able to look my boys in the eye and say, I really tried to save their planet, to fight for the planet.
That’s when I called my friend, who’s a professor of sustainability at SUNY New Paltz, Andrea Varga. She’s the one who got me hip to all of this because she has been so passionate about the Global Goals for years, and I’d heard her talking about them and I just wasn’t ready to delve deeper or to ask the next question. And so, I called her up and I said, okay, I’m ready. I got to do more. Where do I start? What do I do?
And she said, the lovely thing, [that] all anybody can do is what they can do where they are locally. But your local is Broadway. And Broadway gets attention. And I went, ding, ding, ding, ding, yes. How can I use this platform that I have? And also its storytelling capability. When the Broadway Podcast Network heard the idea, they immediately were like, “yes, we’ll do it.” Well, I mean, it was astonishing how quickly they jumped in because they believed in it. Nobody’s doing this because it is making anybody any money. Everybody’s doing it because they so passionately believe in it.
And so when Andrea started telling me about the framework of the global goals and what it actually meant, it really was the first time I felt like I could in any way get fired up and passionate about sustainability. Sustainability as recycling … it’s not exciting, but sustainability with a Capital S … that idea of the three pillars of the Global Goals: people, planet and prosperity, can get people fired up.
What was the process like to create this vlog series, and how did you come up with the format?
Anika Larsen: Well, you know, it’s funny because [music] is such a simple learning tool … Music helps us to remember things. So that wasn’t an intention when we were doing it. It was like, “It’s Broadway, we got to sing something.” And also this stuff is dense. How do you make it fun and entertaining?
When I actually called Gregory [Treco] I said to him, I want you to sing in every episode. And it’s very hard to explain. First of all, if you don’t know what the Global Goals are, that’s a whole paragraph to explain what that is […] We’re talking about hunger, and sanitation, but I swear we’re going to try and make it entertaining.
[Gregory] said: “You know, the thing about sustainability stuff, it’s either overwhelming or it’s boring.” And I said, “I know. For me too, I don’t want to read these articles either.” But that’s going to be the challenge of this – how do we overcome that?
It’s so hard to get people to click on climate content. But if somebody tells them – no, wait, it’s fun, it’s funny, you’re going to like it. Or it’s like, “Oh my God, it’s Vanessa Williams. Yeah, I love her!” Let’s do that. You know? So yeah. That was really the goal of it.
How did the public respond to the Earth Day concert in Times Square?
Anika Larsen: Last Saturday at the Earth Day concert in Times Square, I emceed the afternoon. And, you know, everybody was there all throughout the day; we talked about what you can be doing and how you can go to the activation table with the QR codes and you can sign a petition to help endangered species or, you know, weatherise your home for efficiency. And the one time people sort of whooped and hollered and got fired up was when I said that climate is it: in taking care of the planet, we’re taking care of each other. That got people excited.
And so the global goals are such a way in, right? You know, climate action may not be your thing. But reduced inequalities might be, you know, gender equality, quality education, zero hunger, that might be your way in, and in solving any of our problems we’re solving them [all].
Related Articles: A Short History Of The SDGs | The SDG Story: An Insider Account of How it all Came About | Achieving the SDGs, it is Everyone’s Business | How the Sustainable Development Goals Provide a Framework for Impact-Minded Businesses | Investing in All Children: Towards Equitable, Inclusive, and Sustainable Development
What is the role of a “Green Captain” within the Broadway Green Alliance?
Anika Larsen: You’re basically the liaison between the Broadway Green Alliance and the company. You’re leading the grassroots efforts backstage with everybody trying to be as green and sustainable as we possibly can be. And then also just letting people know what they can be doing and making it easier for people to do it, then also letting people know about the events that the Broadway Green Alliance is holding. [For example] twice a year, they have textile drives so that textiles don’t end up in landfills and also electronic waste drives.
Every single Broadway show has at least probably one or two green captains. But we also have them in a lot of the other theatres in New York City and then regional and national tours, and in colleges and universities all over. And – it doesn’t just have to be America. It could be anywhere in the world. Anybody can join the Broadway Green Alliance. If you’re doing theatre anywhere in any form, you can join. Just go to the website: broadwaygreen.com.
On stage, we can imagine any possible world we want, meaning we can manifest the future that we need. Would Broadway ever do something like “Sustainable Development Goals: The Musical?”
Anika Larsen: It’s harder to do a musical than to just sing, and especially to do it well. But I am on the board of New York City Children’s Theater and I started a sustainability committee, and we have joined the Broadway Green Alliance and we are now ambassadors for the Global Goals. They have been killing it on that front for years. Actually, they’re featured in all 11 sustainable cities and communities because they’re doing such a great job with quality education and reduced inequalities and so many other goals.
So I went to the woman who founded the organisation and I said: “So this is what I want to do, bring sustainability in an even greater, more present way because we’re already doing it right.” She said: “All right, let’s do a show about it.” So we tried that. It’s really hard to find a great book for kids that’s about the environment that isn’t just teaching you, that isn’t non-fiction, and that has a kid as a protagonist, meeting some sort of conflict. We couldn’t find a book that we could get the rights to. And then [the woman] said: “Well, let’s just write it.” So we’re writing it.
It’s called the “Pocket Park.” It’s about these five kids who are all fighting over what they think needs to happen to this little tiny park in the middle of two big buildings in a city, and each one of them represents a different Global Goal. And then a parakeet who’s stuck in a plastic bag comes and clearly has escaped from a family of environmentalists, because it just keeps chirping inspirational quotes about the environment, and then eventually, of course, becomes the source. They finally listen to the parakeet and realise: “Oh, wait, we can all have what we want. We can all get what we need from this park.” And so we’re going to do that. Fall of 2025, I think.
Finally, what is the “Next Right Thing” for Broadway?
Anika Larsen: I will be working on getting filters put on all of our Broadway washing machines to stop Broadway microfibers from getting into our waterways and oceans. I’d also like to get Broadway composting backstage, which will be tricky logistically, and I’d like to get the industry talking about investing in carbon-fighting projects, aka offsets. One of the great options Andrea Varga offers up is for people to invest in local carbon-fighting projects that they can fully vet, instead of trying to invest through an offset organisation, and there are several of those in the NY area that would be great.
If everybody is doing it, if everybody is coming at the problem from their side, we will solve this. We are – we actually are – making strides, and that’s what we need to highlight.
“Taking care of our planet is taking care of each other: it’s an act of love.”
Anika’s efforts to bring out a tangible optimism in the SDGs, provide the energy and mindset that we all need going forward from Earth Month into the rest of the year and beyond.
Earth Month may be coming to a close, but Broadway reminds us that the show must go on…
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Broadway Sign in New York. Featured Photo Credit: Andy Willis.