As in several other key respects, the pandemic era seems to have been transformative in encouraging companies to adopt a more holistic approach to sustainability. But more consistent benchmarking between organisations would still be welcome, reports David Davies.
In the last few years IBC365 has often published coverage of initiatives designed to reduce the environmental impact of what has historically been a highly carbon-intensive industry. From eliminating single-use plastics to harnessing the potential of remote and distributed production, there have been no shortage of projects geared towards achieving the decarbonisation of broadcast.
What has been rather less clear is the extent to which these various schemes can be perceived to have coalesced and amounted to a decisive shift industry-wide. But that is gradually becoming easier thanks to factors such as higher-profile activities by trade associations – SMPTE’s Sustainability Working Group and the IABM’s Environmental Sustainability Award being just two examples – and increased adoption of concepts including Circulytics, which provides tools for organisations to align with the circular economy and eliminate waste/pollution, use sustainable energy forms, and help regenerate nature.
Catching up with a number of leading vendors and service providers in January 2023 confirms the escalating momentum around sustainability. Several interviewees indicated that the pandemic – and its unexpected opportunity to undertake a deeper review of various operational aspects – may have been a key factor in the industry as a whole. But equally likely, it seems probable that the relentless sequence of environmental catastrophes has also helped to impose a new sense of urgency.
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In a commonly voiced sentiment, Globecast CTO Chris Pulis remarked: “There is a recognition that we need to be good stewards of our environment and make a contribution within the industry. [As with other companies] that leads to processes which work towards getting our members and employees onboard, then working as a team in all of the different areas in which we can make an impact.”
‘Everything in one document’
Media supply chain management SDVI is a case in point when it comes to involving everyone in the construction of an achievable sustainability policy. “It’s very much been a team effort in that inside the company employee committees were formed to look at the issues we were facing around sustainability,” recalled SDVI VP of Product Chris Brähler. “The result of that process [about 18 months ago] was a programme that contained details of what we wanted to do, and how we were going to do it; everything in one document.”
Providing a valuable head-start was the fact that “we had always been a completely remote company with everyone working from home. We rent a few offices and a meeting room in a shared space, but we do not have a big office building.” Nonetheless, SDVI has spent a lot of time educating staff on how to conserve energy in their own offices, as well as advancing specific aspects of carbon neutrality – for instance, relating to travel – that will see it reach those goals much earlier than some stated international targets.
Surveying the industry as a whole, Brähler agreed with the suggestion that “some companies are further along [the trajectory] than others”, but is heartened by the number of organisations who are showing a path forward with “specific Net Zero initiatives”. He also implied that vendors need to lead the way, given the challenges that content producers face in rapidly minimising their carbon impact.
“We are in a part of the industry where it is easier to do these things,” he said. “If you look at production, there can be a lot of travel involved, and it’s therefore tougher to make changes. So maybe it falls on the vendors to make those changes first.”
‘Sustainable live production workflows’
Speaking of travel, live video transmission and streaming solutions provider LiveU is among the companies to be pointing to remote production as a game-changer with regard to the overall low-carbon drive.
Baruch Altman, LiveU’s Head of 5G Technology Projects, remarked that “reducing travel to production sites of both equipment and personnel – as well as moving dedicated resources from proprietary studios to shared resources in Net Zero clouds – are all helpful. [Our] IP technology and cloud-based solutions are inherently suited to sustainable remote productions, reducing carbon footprints, waste and production costs compared to traditional environments.” The company also been involved in “various projects demonstrating greater sustainability such as the BT Sport UEFA Youth League trial using a cloud-based production workflow.”
In terms of its own operations, Atlman said that LiveU is continuing to take “concrete steps” such as embedding “greater energy efficiency” in its offices: “For example, when renovating our UK office, we had sustainability in mind – installing EV charging stations to encourage EV vehicle usage; using recycled material; re-using some of the materials such as doors; installing LED lighting, and more.”
Green electricity and RFPs
A similarly holistic approach to sustainability that encompasses both its own operations, and those of its customers and partners, is evident in recent developments by audio and video technology company Lawo. With IP again proving to be a great enabler, the past half-decade has witnessed “the emergence of new workflows” that have led to carbon-reducing trends such as increased resource pooling, production teams working from a primary hub or locations closer to their own homes, and the hauling back of ingested audio and video signals via fiber optic lines.
Regarding its own in-house production of consoles, processing cores and so on, there has been an emphasis on extending lifecycle and minimising the impact at end-of-life. So as well as alignment with EU directives including WEEE 2002/96/EC (Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment) and ERP 2009/125/EG (Energy-Related Products), Lawo PR Manager Wolfgang Huber noted the company’s switch to “100% green electricity” and the adoption of a “software-defined hardware strategy, [which] has proven to prolong the lifecycle of devices like .edge, V_matrix, A_UHD Core and Power Core – making them fit for new iterations of well-established processing functionality, the addition of new features, and the ability to maximise the production capacity by sharing it among a growing number of control surfaces. This approach will see a major boost over the next few months.”
Huber added that the company is now set on a course that will “ultimately lead to our activity being Net Zero, through a mix of emission reduction, green energy and carbon offsetting,” and draws attention to a specific measure – remote factory acceptance tests – that now enables the working order of equipment to be verified from customers’ homes or hubs.
“This approach has the potential to make transfers from and to [Lawo’s base in the German town of] Rastatt all but obsolete,” noted Huber. “Most organisations now accept their teams work from home. It should therefore only be a matter of time until they also agree to a more rational approach to factory acceptance tests and remote maintenance routines that comply with their security guidelines.”
A foregrounding of on-site manufacturing and assembly, as well as alignment with ISO standards are among the steps Evertz has taken to migrate towards a “really sustainable model of manufacturing,” noted Senior Director Mo Goyal, who indicated that one of the few positives of the pandemic era has been that “it has forced a lot of people to rethink their workflows and what they need to have” – a tendency that has most prominently yielded a shift towards hybridisation and the move from on-premise to cloud-oriented operations.
Goyal also observed that with requests for proposal (RFPs), “there is starting to be a sustainable component to the responses, which is a development that [at least initially] has come more from the European side, I think. That’s definitely something that has become more noticeable in the last few years.”
Data centre decisions
The potential advantages for carbon reduction of moving to a cloud and data centre-based model are commonly cited, although it’s an area that would benefit from more extensive research – something that will presumably emerge over the coming few years as cloud adoption and the amount of available data increase. Still, the underlying fundamentals – whereby operations are shifted into a purpose-built and optimised centre – aren’t in question.
“The engineering in those facilities is designed very specifically to direct cooling onto those machines as opposed to just blowing it in a general way into a big server room you might have on-premise,” said Pulis. “It also means that outside of the rack areas the temperature of the room can be raised so equipment is not put at risk and the [overall consumption] of energy is reduced.”
In terms of Globecast’s own current initiatives, revealed Pulis, “the multi-year programme we are in now includes the replacement of the power amplifiers on our satellite transmission equipment to more energy-efficient technologies. We are also engaged in a strategy to move to virtual infrastructure in the pubic cloud. So we won’t only be running our customer-based services [that way], we will also be organising the enterprise-class platforms we use to operate the business in AWS.”
Initial studies about the efficiency of the latest generation of data centres are certainly encouraging. For example, according to data gathered by 451 Research, AWS’ infrastructure is 3.6 times more energy efficient that the median of US enterprise data centres surveyed, and up to five times more energy efficient than the average in Europe. Along with more efficient storage and cooling of data racks, it’s likely that the evolving security measures offered by dedicated centres will ensure that their use continues to rise steadily.
‘Apples with apples’
While the compliance of individual companies with national and international energy efficiency and waste management standards is clearly to be welcomed, a question mark remains over the need for more industry-specific benchmarking that might allow the progress – or otherwise – of individual companies to be assessed without extensive research on the part of the customer. The general feeling among those who spoke to IBC365 is that any such scheme needs to be carefully considered and then run in a manner that avoids ambiguity and any scope for greenwashing.
Huber remarked: “Allowing our customers to assess how prospective vendors compare to one another with respect to their environmental and social commitments would be beneficial for all stakeholders so as to allow our customers to compare apples with apples. The number of standards and requirements – whether statutory versus private, or voluntary versus mandatory – in the field of sustainability abounds. [However] our industry would be well-advised to avoid the creation of customised, in-house labels like the ones that make the food industry’s attempts untrustworthy. One way to get there would be a set of requirements developed by an organisation like the SMPTE or the EBU. Provided, that is, it draws its inspiration from existing general standards and norms and adapts them to broadcast-specific considerations and workflows.”
“There are a lot of standards around sustainability and carbon footprints,” confirmed Altman. “So overall we believe that benchmarking is needed, but not necessarily ‘more’ nor very specific or industry associated. It would be better to have a more synchronised approach, handled via very few global, respected expert entities, which have done this already for other industries. This seems to us to be the right way forwards.”
The recently launched SAVe Initiative – geared towards the requirements of professional AV, aligned with the UN’s Sustainability Goals and featuring a sustainability verification scheme – could well provide a future template for broadcast. In the meantime, it appears that there are now enough early adopters of a meaningful sustainability policy to ensure that broadcast is making progress on the long road to Net Zero.