Students and the Straz – Creating a Sustainable Theater Space

In 2015, the Sustany® Sustainable Business Program (SSBP) dove in to help the David A. Straz Center for the Performing Arts  assess practices in several areas including lighting, energy, waste and data – its “sustainability profile,” if you will.

The Straz” is a premier performance space that has graced Tampa Bay since 1987.

The Straz is the second largest performing arts center in the Southeast.
The Straz is the 2nd largest performing arts center in the Southeast.

While the building is rich with history, it was designed at a time when energy efficiency and waste minimization were not top of mind. Today the facility welcomes some 500,000 patrons to 600 performances a year. But reaping the benefits of sustainable building design and operations in a 28-year-old building is a challenge.

Sustany®’s Sustainable Business Program invited 8 students from the Patel College of Global Sustainability and 1 from the USF School of Geosciences to become Student Sustainability Specialists. Under the guidance of Janet Hall (Sustany® Foundation Board member and founder of Hall Sustainability Consulting), they spent 12 weeks collecting and analyzing data about energy, lighting and waste at the Straz.

Based on their findings, the Straz has steadily increased water and energy efficiencies, but there is opportunity for them to do even better.

Here’s just a taste of the observations and recommendations made:

  • Capture building data
    • Under the leadership of Sarah Mason, LEED AP O+M, an Energy Star Portfolio Manager account was created to analyze historic to present day building data. This will let them understand their performance baseline, graphically present energy, water and greenhouse gas emissions, and benchmark against other performing arts centers.


  • Update the lighting
    • Finding an LED that retains the design integrity of the Straz has been a challenge. With Ms. Mason’s diligence, a possible replacement was found, and a study is currently underway to replace two types of incandescent bulbs at the Straz that could result in labor and energy cost savings of $43,000 per year.


  • Minimize food waste and recycle even more
    • – Food waste from the kitchen is minimized by emphasizing accurate food ordering, and by donating excess food to the local community.
    • Prep waste averages 125 lbs per week according to a study. This could be donated to local community gardens to create compost.
    • – Playbill recycling efforts have helped decrease waste costs and environmental impact.
    • – Recyclables are sometimes thrown in trash containers, so recommendations include container replacement and better communication with patrons.


  • Launch a Green Fund
    • Like many organizations, the Straz struggles to fund its sustainability initiatives. The idea of creating a “Straz Sustainability Fund” to set aside money for these investments was generated through the SSBP.


  • Spread the word
    • Many people will choose a “green” option if it’s easy, doesn’t cost more, and provides an equivalent experience. “Big brands” from Google to Unilever incorporate sustainability themes in their messaging and communications, and the Straz can too. Students identified opportunities to use the Straz website, social media and other platforms to get both patrons and the community excited about Sustainability at the Straz. It’s just good press!


And the journey continues…

This project has been eye-opening to both Straz staff and USF students alike. Their awareness of and appreciation for the importance of building efficiency has sky-rocketed. And they are ready to put their new knowledge into action.