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For the UK’s film and production industry, going green is crucial. London’s production sector alone produces 125,000 tonnes of emissions every year. Giants of film like Warner Bros and Sony Pictures are already setting examples for the industry with green policies.

But sustainability is not only the responsibility of blockbuster, feature film making studios. Lifting film’s considerable carbon footprint is an effort that will take the whole industry, down to the smallest of independent production houses.

So what can the industry as a whole do to clean up its act?

In this article, I want to take a look, starting with some key areas where change can cause significant reductions in a production’s carbon footprint.

Travel

A large production typically employs hundreds of people. The commute requirements can become exponential, especially for projects that require cross-continental travel. Transporting large set props can also add to travel expenditures.

Plus, there is the everyday transport requirements of a production, like ferrying crew and equipment to and from different sets. A single trip down a few blocks may seem innocuous. But for each mile driven, a typical passenger car emits around 404 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2). Stretched out over the duration of a shoot, these trips can quickly pile up in diesel consumed and greenhouse gas emissions.

Waste Management

There’s a fair amount of rubbish behind every commercial you see. Every scene is a set of clothes, props, and materials. Not everything will be reused. This is how even simple projects generate a small mountain of garbage. Without proper waste disposal and recycling practices in place, most end up dumped in landfills.

Energy Usage

As a business that relies on lights and cameras, production houses rely on massive amounts of energy to create action. While there’s little way around this requirement, there are smarter, more eco-friendly ways to get the job done.

One would be through the use of natural energy sources. At Warner Brothers Studios, a 660-kilowatt solar roof produces 1.15 million kilowatts of energy every year.

Local Impact

Filming is unavoidably disruptive, whether that’s through impeding traffic in urban locations, or disturbing natural structures. That’s an inevitable byproduct of our work. Inefficient management can multiply the obstruction, raising production costs and leading to greater–sometimes irreversible–repercussions for the local community.

Greening Film, One Scene at a Time

With so many areas that need an eco-facelift, implementing policies can be overwhelming. Here are a few pointers to help you get started:

Bring an eco manager on-board

The push for sustainability has created a new job on-set: eco manager. This person is tasked with keeping track of a production’s environmental impact, and ensuring that sustainable practices are being followed.

Going green, contrary to what some may think, can actually cut costs. The Amazing Spiderman 2, then regarded as Sony Pictures’ most eco-friendly film, saved roughly $400,000 through sustainability practices. They were also able to keep 52 percent less garbage from ending up in landfills.

Of course the vast majority of productions won’t have anything like the budget of Spiderman 2, in which case the responsibility of ecological management should be given to a crew member, usually the production manager.

Share trips, and hop onto trains

Cut your emissions and diesel use by consolidating trips. Move crew and equipment around using less trips. Establish carpool schedules. If you’re shipping in props, equipment, or talent using air or freight transport, try to gather them in one trip to save unnecessary use of planes and ships.

If you’re traveling far distances across the UK, also consider using trains instead of planes. A flight from London to Edinburgh and back produces around 193 kilograms of CO2 per person. By comparison, a roundtrip train trip produces less than a quarter of that amount, while taking only an hour longer.

Digitise scripts and documents

Scripts, contracts, set blueprints, storyboarding sketches–on a shoot, paper copies are usually de rigueur. A director or actor clutching a sheaf of paper is what many imagine when they think of production shoots.

But when even signatures can be digitised there’s no excuse anymore for printing stacks of paper. While some sensitive documents need physical copies, most can be converted. Digital copies are also more convenient–there’s no destroying or misplacing a PDF, and sharing a document between teams is as simple as hitting send.

Donate and hire locally

Sustainability is more than just reducing impact. It’s also building and enriching local communities you work with.

One way of doing that would be donating after a project. You can donate extra food from catering, clothes, or materials from set props and equipment like wood and metal that the neighbourhood can repurpose.

Another would be to hire local. Hiring local caterers, talent, and crew reduces your transit costs, and injects the local economy with jobs.

Plan with an eye on minimising disruptions

Production should not negatively affect local communities. Plan with an eye on creating as little disturbance on traffic as possible, working with local authorities to ensure things run smoothly during shoots. If you’re employing child actors, make sure they receive proper care, and are working healthy hours.

Hand out reusable bottles

On busy sets, the immediate draw of plastic bottles is clear–they’re convenient. But convenience has a price we may not be able to pay.

Water bottles are arguably the world’s most unassuming and devastating single-use plastic container. On the river Thames, water bottles account for more than 50 percent of the garbage you see bobbing on the surface, with thousands more sunk deep below, forming a thick layer that will sit in the river for the next handful of hundred years.

Switching to reusable drink containers can save a production some $20,000 to $40,000, according to Emelie O’Brien, the founder of sustainability company, Earth Angel.

You don’t have to buy your crew pricey tumblers. You can find many UK-based businesses that sell biodegradable, compostable bottles, such as Eco For Life and For The Better Good. Or, you can ditch bottles altogether, and simply set up water stations and paper cups in strategic, accessible points around the set.

Sustainability: An Industry Wide Initiative

Many resources abound for studios who may be struggling to define and create realistic, actionable policies. As producer David Parfitt warns in an industry report: “No industry can afford to ignore environmental sustainability if it is to survive.”

Fortunately, some national film organisations have created standards and tools in an effort to guide the industry, with more on the way as the sector becomes more mindful of its environmental impact.

  • The British Standard Institution’s 8909 Standard (BS8909)
  • BAFTA’s albert: a free resource site for filmmakers. Offers a free tool for calculating your production’s energy expenditures, training programmes, and eco-certifications. Productions certified through albert receive incentives
  • The British Film Institute’s sustainability policy

Sustainability is no longer a buzzword, but a global mandate that will dictate the future of film, and our planet.