ITV: ‘Climate needs to be important in all kinds of modern TV’
EXCLUSIVE: ITV's senior sustainability manager Jeremy Mathieu has outlined why climate leadership for broadcasters means engaging and empowering audiences, as well as working towards ambitious targets in-house.
Back in August 2020, ITV announced a 2030 net-zero target for emissions across all scopes, set as part of climate plans that also covered climate risk disclosures. Goals were set to cut Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 46.6% and Scope 3 emissions by 28% within this timeframe.
The broadcaster subsequently posted a 26.6% reduction in emissions from Scope 1 and 2 sources in its Social Purpose Report in March 2021.
While this reduction is, senior sustainability manager Jeremy Mathieu explains, partly attributable to Covid-19, ITV managed to implement several initiatives to cut emissions that will continue to drive progress post-lockdown. These include improving the energy efficiency of building fabric, improving lighting efficiency and procuring more renewable electricity. ITV also started using the Ecometrica software platform to improve the gathering, monitoring and reporting of emissions data.
With the 2021 report due in a matter of weeks, Mathieu says: “We do not want to pre-empt the 2021 data, of course. We expect emissions to have rebounded a little bit in 2021, but we will still be on track to meet our long-term and our year-on-year targets. We’re confident that we’re putting in place the activities that will reduce emissions further.
“In a way, the pandemic accelerated some of the technological innovations that were already in motion beforehand, and which will reduce emissions from sites and from travel.
“Now, we’re thinking about how we innovate more thoroughly and build solid, long-term roadmaps to go further than the changes we’re already seeing.”
The Social Purpose Report notably highlights the importance of building lasting emissions reductions through a green recovery in wider society – as well as in-house. It states: “Despite the massive disruption to people and economies around the world due to Covid-19, the global reduction in carbon emissions was only 7%. This puts the size of the changes needed to combat the climate crisis into sobering context.”
While grappling with the net-zero challenge is undeniably going to be front-of-mind for many in the sustainability profession this year – particularly in light of the energy price crisis and the increased questioning of greenwashing within the net-zero movement – Mathieu believes there is more to climate leadership than delivering robust reductions to emissions in-house. Another important factor, he says, is providing viewers of all kinds of programmes with the information and inspiration they need to play their own roles in the sustainability conversation.
He elaborates: “The audiences and opportunities that news and documentaries have are different than for sports, for example, or for soaps, and so on and so forth. It’s important to have an overall ambition, but you then have to support that ambition with the right types of content… We have done a lot of work in this respect in recent years, and, going forward, we want to be even more strategic about how we contribute to the conversation.”
On the box
ITV is notably participating in several initiatives from albert – BAFTA’s sustainability arm, which provides advice and collaboration on not only decarbonising operations and value chains (this is called the ‘production’ side of its work) but also telling strong sustainability stories in shows (this is called ‘editorial’).
The editorial side of albert’s work involves supporting broadcasters to undertake “planet placement”. A play on words from product placement (which was, of course, designed to subconsciously drive excessive consumption), planet placement involves shifting mindsets to make positive environmental behaviours mainstream. It goes beyond simply televising more environmental documentaries and news, towards making sure all programming is culturally relevant amid increased climate concern.
Recent examples of planet placement within ITV shows include a Coronation Street and Emmerdale episode discussing air pollution from road transport; Joanna Lumley and the Human Swan, a documentary covering a UK-wide expedition for climate solutions; and special editions of programmes including Tonight and The Martin Lewis Money Show for COP26.
Outlining why ensuring shows of all genres undertake planet placement is important, Mathieu says: “The audiences and opportunities that news and documentaries have are different than for sports, for example, or for soaps, and so on and so forth. It’s important to have an overall ambition, but you then have to support that ambition with the right types of content… We have done a lot of work in this respect in recent years, and, going forward, we want to be even more strategic about how we contribute to the conversation.”
Interestingly, at ITV, climate work sits under the umbrella of social purpose, which also covers diversity & inclusion, mental & physical health and giving back – as well as, of course, making sure content is accessible to the public. This means that meeting audiences where they are in the way they want to consume media (i.e. increasingly on-demand and on-the-go) is paired with meeting them where they are in the climate conversation.
“Climate is a big concern for a lot of people, so it needs to be important in all kinds of modern TV,” says Mathieu. “We cannot leave audiences in the vacuum of TV content that pretends that change is not happening.”
“To engage the audience with the topic, they need to feel that they are part of the solution…. Inviting people into a conversation will always feel more personal than forcing set solutions onto them. This also opens up the potential for them to share their own perspectives.”
The issue of “forcing set solutions” onto the general public has been a frustration for many in the UK’s sustainability space for several months now. When the Heat and Buildings Strategy was published last October, for example, critics spread false claims that the Government would legally – or even physically – have people remove gas boilers from their homes. This kind of occurrence has only become more common in the energy price crisis, which has served as a breeding ground for disinformation on decarbonisation and an opportunity for those with vested interests in high-carbon industries to manufacture a climate-related culture war.
The good news is that ITV is not alone in trying to change the narrative – and to convince the public that they don’t need to be watching news or documentaries every day to make a difference (although ITV is extending its evening news, which may well open space for more sustainability stories). Virtually all large broadcasters are involved with at least one albert initiative, including the BBC, Sky, BT, Channel 4, UKTV and Netflix.
In the spirit of Netflix’s recent hit film ‘Don’t Look Up’, whether this collective action will encourage audiences to truly ‘Look Up’ at scale – and see beyond increasingly clever greenwashing – remains to be seen. But the fact that the foundations are there, with climate becoming ever-more of a strategic priority for TV storytelling, is promising.
Join the conversation at edie’s Sustainability Leaders Forum 2022
edie’s biggest event of the year is returning as a live, in-person event for 2022. The dates have been moved from early February to March, to ensure collaboration and celebration can take place in person.
The Sustainability Leaders Forum will now take place on 7, 8 and 9 March 2022, and will unite hundreds of professionals for inspiring keynotes, dynamic panel discussions, interactive workshops and facilitated networking. There will also be digital tickets.
Taking place at London’s Business Design Centre, the event will feature more than 60 speakers, including experts from Natural England, the Green Finance Institute, the World Economic Forum and the Centre for Climate Repair. We’re planning our most diverse and inspirational programme yet.
Jeremy Mathieu will be co-hosting a workshop on acing sustainability communications and engagement at the pre-Forum seminar on 7 March, at 2.45pm. He will be joined by Hubbub CEO Trewin Restorick and experts from Ecologi and Forster Comminications.
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