Behaviour change holds key for sustainable film production, say experts

The film and TV industry still 'has a long way to go' to tackle key sustainability issues and must do more to encourage behaviour change among production companies, screen stars and their audiences.

That was the conclusion of a panel discussion of industry producers and experts at a Bafta ‘Greening the Screen’ event in London last week, taking place amid the 2015 TV and film awards season.

Sustainability leaders from the BBC and UK film companies gathered at Bafta HQ in Picadilly to present ‘simple actionable tips’ for reducing the environmental footprint of TV and film. When asked about their progress, the panel unanimously agreed the industry “has a long way to go”.

“I’m concerned that I am up here as an example of best practice,” said Howard Ella, a line producer for the BBC. “There is absolutely not enough being done.”

Ella compared sustainability to health & safety in that some form of legislation or obligation may be required to expedite its take-up in the UK. “Just put an emissions target in the contract,” he said. “As soon as it’s in there, it will get done, no matter how much it costs.” He also pointed to small decisions – such as using hybrid cars to transport actors on BBC drama The Interceptor – that can help producers cut emissions today without much effort.

Fellow BBC producer Wendy Wright highlighted the importance of encouraging behaviour change on-set, claiming she had cut paper usage by 75% on the hospital drama Casualty simply by making printed scripts an opt-in proposition.

Star power

Chair of the panel debate Alistair McGowan echoed Ella’s point, adding that the relative inertia in the industry was caused by the sheer complexity of making TV and films. “The problem is, there are so many moving parts – with production companies and stakeholders in different countries with different objectives – that there’s a real lack of accountability,” said McGowan.

The comedian – who was the celebrity host of edie’s 2014 Sustainability Leaders Awards – also raised awareness of the fact that actors themselves often have the most power to change the culture on set. “When I was more involved in TV production, I would tell producers that all drivers must turn their engines off,” he added. “They have a nasty habit of leaving the engine on when waiting to pick actors up.”

He went on to reference Cameron Diaz, who requests that her film sets use no polystyrene cups since they are impossible to recycle. “If Cameron Diaz says it, then that’s just the way it is,” McGowan said.


The Greening the Screen panel discussed one option for a production companies to boost their sustainability credentials; by appointing an ‘eco-supervisor’ – a job that didn’t exist just two years ago. Emillie O’Brien, one of the pioneers of this nascent profession, explained that an eco-supervisor “can focus purely on green initiatives – to tackle the problem of responsibility and accountability”.

O’Brien’s work on The Amazing Spiderman 2 helped divert 52% of waste from landfill, avoided 193,000 single-use plastic water bottles and gave approximately 5,800 meals to local charities instead of throwing it away.

The Amazing Spiderman 2 crew eventually recycled the entire film set.

O’Brien also helps get traditionally apathetic crews on board, with awards such as the ‘G-COW’ (Green Crew member Of the Week) to encourage behaviour change. The sustainability efforts saved the film’s production company Sony more than $400,000.

Sky to skype

Also discussed during the Bafta event was the huge amount of emissions caused by transportation. Nature documentaries, for example, can have a stark effect on the very environment that is being filmed.

Series producer of Wonders of the Monsoon Paul Williams said that he has to travel with around 30 large bags of kit for a typical shoot, generating around 28 tonnes of CO2 for one return flight to the Himalayas. However, for his most recent series, Williams engaged local cameramen to obtain footage; using Skype to communicate from the UK, saving six return flights and around 160 tonnes of CO2.

While such steps may not seem ground-breaking to sustainability professionals in other industries, it represents a genuine step forward for film and TV production where profligacy is inherent. As Winterwatch producer Tim Scoones concluded: “We must stop killing the planet in the name of entertainment.”

Brad Allen

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