TV and film companies work for a more sustainable industry

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From materials to labor and other equipment, television and film production can often have a huge carbon footprint.

A recent report found that big-budget feature films had a carbon footprint of more than 3,000 metric tons each, which the Environmental Protection Agency says is equivalent to more than 7 million miles traveled by a ordinary car. At the other end, small films have a carbon footprint of nearly 400 metric tons, which equates to about 1 million miles traveled.

This report comes from the Sustainable Production Alliance, a group of television and film companies committed to making the industry more sustainable. Their report factors in housing, air travel, fuel and utilities to reach the overall carbon emissions total. For all film sizes, the main contributor to emissions was fuel, primarily used for vehicles and generators.

This also applies to television series. It accounts for nearly 60% of scripted one-hour drama and single-camera half-hour scripted programming.

Since the release of the Sustainable Production Alliance report, the organization has prioritized the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, including electric and hybrid cars and battery-powered generator technology. There are however some limitations; it can be difficult to find charging stations, for example, but it’s a work in progress.

Earth Angel is a company that helps make television and film production more sustainable by providing strategy and the people needed to help teams achieve their environmental goals.

“There are a lot of different actions you can take, and I think it can feel overwhelming to people,” said Emellie O’Brien, CEO of Earth Angel. “But really dialing in: OK for this project, we want to focus on eliminating single-use plastics for this project. We want to focus on getting as many hybrid products and [electric] vehicles that we can on this project, like really focusing on what’s available for your project.”

Companies like Amazon Studios, Disney, NBCUniversal, Netflix, and Sony Pictures Entertainment are part of the Sustainable Production Alliance, and they’re working on these efforts as they bring us more of our favorite content.

Netflix has set a goal to reduce in-house emissions by 45% from 2019 levels by next year, NBCUniversal has a plan to make them carbon neutral by 2035 and Sony is working to n have no environmental footprint throughout the life cycle of their products and activities in 2050.

“We are invited into the communities in which we tour, and I think there’s a real responsibility for our industry to leave those communities better than how we found them as well,” O’Brien said. “So not only do less harm, but also do more good.”

Production companies are also taking steps to reduce travel by using virtual reality to create production studios and sound stages. They use LED walls and green screens to bring different locations to a set and help replace physical props.

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is a good example of a film that has been applauded for its sustainability efforts. Earth Angel worked on this set and the film won a Green Seal award from the Environmental Media Association in 2014.

The film’s production team had 49 tons of materials that could be donated or reused, avoided using plastic water bottles on set and collected materials for costumes from farmers’ markets, preventing 52% of waste of production to go to landfill. They were also able to give back to the community by donating nearly 6,000 meals to shelters.

All of this saved over $400,000, proving that sustainable productions don’t have to be expensive.

“I think in terms of the barriers to acceleration here, there are a few different factors at play,” O’Brien said. “One of them is that there is currently no tax incentive that encourages people to take these actions. The other thing is that we don’t have the consumer demand factor, unlike the fashion industry for example or the food industry, where people are demanding more sustainable.And then I think finally it’s just a conversation around gender how is work? And that’s still something that I think the industry has really struggled with.

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