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Production Sustainability & Climate Storytelling

On February 28, I hosted an Afternoon Tea on sustainable production for the Women Independent Producers. Over the past 5 years, I have had the privilege of serving as a co-chair of the Producers Guild of American Green Committee. In that capacity, I also joined several efforts including the Interguild Alliance for Sustainability which is a unified effort of the unions and guilds in North American to share information and resources around production sustainability. I am involved in a climate storytelling group organized by representatives across the industry, as published in the article “68 Climate Leaders Changing the Film and TV Industry” in Forbes in March 2023. I am a member of the Entertainment and Culture for Climate Action effort with the UNFCCC which had its debut at COP 28 in the United Arab Emirates in November of 2023. I am also a Climate Reality Leader, having learned the presentation that former Vice President Al Gore shared in his documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” in 2006.


Production sustainability can mean many things, but for me, it means planning and working today so that the resources we need to make good content are still around in the future. It never ceases to amaze me that productions are like a small city, and need the same amount of energy, materials, food, and water as any small town. Our industry uses energy and creates waste – and so it has a part in preserving our natural resources for future generations.


To get us on the same page, I shared this Climate Change 101 video, which was commissioned by the Climate Reality Project and was narrated by Bill Nye. And then I shared what we know about the impact film and television productions have on the climate. The Sustainable Production Alliance, a conglomerate of 10 studios and streamers across the industry, commissioned a study that was published as “Carbon Emissions of Film and Television Production” in 2021. It examined 161 Feature films and 266 TV series from 2016-2019 using the Green Production Guide Carbon Calculator, known as the Production Environmental Accounting Report (PEAR). The report revealed that tentpole feature films with budgets over $70M productions emitted an average of 3,370 Metric Tons of greenhouse gases, the equivalent of the annual output of 750 cars driving 11,000 miles/year. Films with budgets of $20M and below released on average 391 metric tons, or the annual equivalent of 87 cars.


In television, an episode of a one-hour scripted drama released 77 metric tons of greenhouse gases, the annual equivalent of 17 cars. That is for a single episode! Half-hour single camera shows emitted 26 Metric tons while half-hour multi-cam shows emitted 18 metric tons per episode. Unscripted shows emitted an average of 13 metric tons per episode, which is the annual equivalent of the emissions from nearly 3 cars.


The source of these emissions, no matter the type of program, is overwhelmingly fuel. This is from our generators and vehicles. Fuel is closely followed by air travel and utilities. While waste is the most visible issue, energy use is the biggest culprit and is the place where we can make the most change.


We can and we must make our productions more sustainable – that is, we must use less energy, reduce fuel, reduce use of virgin materials, and dispose of our waste and materials back into the ecosystem in a way that diverts them from landfills. This will protect the environment, not only because it’s the moral thing to do, but it will also make our Earth more inhabitable for human life in generations to come.


It will also keep our crew safe. Have you ever thought about how bad it is to have a generator running all day within a few feet of your crew? What about the additives and GMO’s in the food provided for crew? Thinking in a sustainable way can be effective now, not just for future generations. And alternatives already exist. In addition to hybrid and electric vehicles, bio diesel and renewable diesel can provide the same energy output with far fewer emissions.


Our sustainability efforts can also protect our locations for future shoots. I spoke to a producer not too long ago that had a shoot planned in the upper Northwest before the floods were announced in the Redwoods, and another shoot cancelled in West Virginia because of extreme flooding there. We often film in lower income areas populated by people of color, simply because they don’t have the power and resources to keeps us out. Which means we are contributing to environmental racism and the further the health and wealth gap for communities of color!


Being sustainable also saves money. The adage ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ still holds true. If you can reduce the number of resources, virgin materials use, and waste to dispose of, you’ll also be saving money. Indie productions should be commended for their environmental efforts because they inherently think outside the box for ways to save money, and in turn, are generally more sustainable shoots.


We should get into the habit of making our productions more sustainable now because it’s only a matter of time before sustainability is mandated across the world. The UK already requires a sustainability impact survey for every shoot in the UK and their training and carbon calculator albert is compulsory for all productions. Most of Europe is moving in this direction and Canada is not far behind.


Last, but now least, the audiences we are creating our content for wants us to be more sustainable. The Good Energy Project conducted a study with the USC Norman Lear Center’s Media Impact Project called The Climate Reality Check that uncovered that audiences not only feel a lack of climate in their content, but they also really want their entertainment to reflect their reality.


In addition to having sustainable productions, Hollywood is moving toward Climate Storytelling. I shared two examples including a segment from the hit show Ted Lasso, and the trailer for Down to Earth with Zac Efron.


Television and film are culture-makers in the US and across the world. We can reach many more people by including climate content in our stories. You can do this several ways – climate fiction (or cli fi for those in the know) is a growing area of fiction that works to put climate into the plot, the world, and organically in the characters of our stories. Additionally, mentioning climate issues, including information on a climate protest or modeling a sustainable behavior or even product placement for a climate friendly alternative are ways to infuse content with climate content.


If you are interested in creating more climate content, here are some resources to check out:



There are also climate storytelling groups such:


If you are looking for funding or incubators, these companies and programs are some of the first ones in the space.

•              climate-spring.org

•              Blklst X NRDC

•              RedfordCenter.org/work/climate-storytelling

•              ciff.org/grant-portfolio/climate-story-fund/


As you look toward your next production, I encourage you to check out the following resources for tips and ideas on how to make your next show more sustainable. The Production Environmental Actions Checklist (PEACH) from the Green Production Guide is a list of actions, divided by department, that can help you and your heads of departments brainstorm on actions you can implement now. Identify one or two actions you can try during this production and strive to add a new one with each show. You do not have to be perfect, but you can no longer ignore the environmental impact our content has on the world around us.


Production Sustainability resources

•       greenproductionguide.com

•       green4ema.org

•       wearealbert.org


While you’re at it, check out some of these things you can do at home.

•       Download the following Apps

                  Climate Action Now app - daily updates and actions

                  AWorld app - suggestions on how to live sustainably.

                  Sustainability Development Goals (SDG) app - learn about UN SDGs

                  Samsung Global Goals

•       Join the https://www.climaterealityproject.org/ - learn to give climate presentations.


The next Climate Reality training will be held in New York from April 12-14. If you are interested or want to apply, go to https://www.climaterealityproject.org/training.

•       Switch to Ecosia browser plug-in— they plant a tree for your searches.

 

Thank you for taking the time to read this summary of the Afternoon Tea. I hope you check out the video for more information and reach out to me if you have any questions or need more information.

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