Is There Hope for the Film Industry to Become “Reel Green”?

The Environmentalist from Hell investigates sustainability efforts in the oh-so-wasteful world of film and TV.

Sara Bynoe
Dec 12, 2018 · 6 min read
Photo by Jules D. via Unsplash

Ever since my parents taught me to say, “ta-da!” and take a bow after achievements as small as tying my shoes, I knew I was performer. The life of an actor is interesting, and lately I’ve been aware of how it conflicts with my life as an eco-warrior.

I booked a commercial recently and before going to set, I packed my bag full of things I knew I’d need for a long day: book, cell phone charger, metal water bottle, travel coffee mug, and the hot-water bottle I use instead of disposable heat packs to keep myself warm when filming outside in October.

Why was I the only one who thought ahead and brought her own coffee cup and water bottle?

I got to set early for breakfast, and was miffed that everything was being served on paper plates, with plastic cutlery. The recycling and compost bins hadn’t been put out yet. My inner Environmentalist From Hell was starting to fume as I looked around at all the disposable products. Why was I the only one who thought ahead and brought her own coffee cup and water bottle? (Then I kicked myself for not bringing reusable cutlery.)

The film industry is notoriously wasteful, and it’s not just the catering department. After a 12-hour day playing a real estate agent (that’s all I can tell you about this top-secret gig), I went home and decided to look into what’s being done to make the industry more sustainable, because that’s my jam!

Of course, I’m not the only one who’s noticed the wastefulness. People have been studying the environmental impact of film and TV production for over a decade, and as climate change is becoming more noticeable and impactful, the industry is finally starting to take action.

Melanie Dicks is the co-founder of Greenshoot, a UK-based organization created in 2009. In a recent interview, she pointed out:

The average person going about their daily lives, eating, sleeping, getting about and so on generates about 7 [metric] tonnes of carbon a year. A single film technician typically generates up to 2.5 tonnes of carbon on an eight-week shoot, or 32 tonnes per year. Typically, there will be up to 250 cast and crew working on a large production, plus the whole supply chain supporting it.

Yikes! That’s a big carbon footprint!

The average person generates about 7 tonnes of carbon a year. A single film technician typically generates 32 tonnes per year.

From my investigations, I discovered that some big names in the industry, like 21st Century Fox, have been tracking carbon emissions, and analyzing opportunities for reduction for over a decade, but other producers have just started to address the problems. Really?! Hasn’t Leonardo DiCaprio been advocating for the environment since I had his Bop magazine Romeo + Juliet centerfold poster up on my wall?!

NBC Universal launched their “Green is Universal” initiative in 2007 along with a Sustainable Production Program and Green Production Guide. Vancouver is the third-largest film production centre in North America, but the metro area didn’t have a way to store and re-use set materials until Keep it Green Recycling and Green Spark Group created the Sustainable Lock Up in May 2017. Since they started, they say they’ve taken in and redistributed “well over 100 tons of set materials” — including windows, doors, and flats. The Sustainable Lock Up also has a program to get leftover food from on-set catering to people who need a meal.

The job of coordinating a sustainability plan often lands on the already full plate of a production manager. Some sets are avoiding this overload by creating a new position for this purpose. In 2013, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 hired an “eco manager” who met with all departments (costumes, set, special effects, etc.) and came up with a plan to reduce the production’s impact. To motivate everyone on set, the eco manager gave a Green Crew of the Week award for efforts like reusing supplies and managing waste.

This sounds like a job I could get into; instead of being P.O.’ed about people abandoning water bottles everywhere, I could reward people for bringing their own bottles to work. I’d high-five anyone who sorted their waste into the correct bins. I’d do a song and dance for whoever booked an eco-conscious hotel for the stars to say in.

Eco manager sounds like a job I could get into; instead of being P.O.’ed about people abandoning water bottles everywhere, I could reward people for bringing their own.

Lighting is going green with increased use of LEDS. Productions are using 100%-recycled paper, and encouraging less printing with the help of technology. For the camera crew and director, there are apps like ShotLister, Shot Designer, and Cut Notes that eliminate the need for paper. Productions are switching on-set heaters from propane to biodiesel made from reused cooking oil. Some caterers are switching to 100% compostable materials or reusable plates and cutlery, instead of plastic, which reduces landfill waste. Of course, compostable materials are only good if the compost bins are put out, otherwise people just throw their stuff into the nearest garbage can.

Eco managers not only keep productions green, they also contribute to the bottom line. For example, on The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the eco manager helped reduce bottled-water use. This, according to the Producers Guild of America, has the potential to save $6,000 over a 60-day period, not to mention lessening the environmental damage caused by bottled water. Man in the High Castle’s third season reportedly saved over $50,000 by implementing sustainable production practices.

Some impacts are harder to curb. Filming on location disturbs wildlife and the environment with sound and light pollution, and trampled vegetation. Blowing stuff up inevitably creates noise, waste, and air pollution. While productions can plan transport more efficiently, there are always a lot of trucks and cars traveling to and from set which, at least in Vancouver, is often an hour outside the downtown core.

Still, it seems the entertainment industry is embracing greener practices every day. Sustainable production forums are now a regular part of film festivals. Locally, Creative BC created Reel Green to promote sustainable practices in the film industry. They run a free six-hour “carbon literacy” workshop, where film-industry workers can learn about climate change, and gain tools and techniques to lessen their environmental impact. I’m hoping to take it as soon as it fits into my wacky schedule.

Next time I’m on set, I’m going to bring my own cutlery from home, and nag every actor I know to do the same.

It’s only a matter of time before I start to see greener sets on my little commercial shoots. Of course, I think it should have happened years ago. In the meantime, I’ll keep doing my part. I’m looking forward to when more of these practices are implemented in every industry. I can’t wait for the day when everyone knows how to sort their waste into different bins, or, better yet, we convert to a zero-waste society.

Next time I’m on set, I’m going to bring my own cutlery and napkin from home, and nag every actor I know to do the same. But only after they agree to include me in their carpool to set. That way I’ll have a captive audience for my eco-rants…

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Asparagus Magazine

Asparagus tells the large and small stories of how we can live sustainably, from an environmental, social, and cultural perspective.

Sara Bynoe

Written by

AKA The Environmentalist From Hell @ Asparagus Magazine www.SaraBynoe.com

Asparagus Magazine

Asparagus tells the large and small stories of how we can live sustainably, from an environmental, social, and cultural perspective.

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