Over a decade on from when it founded the albert sustainability project (now run by Bafta) the BBC announced recently that all of its commissions and re-commissions are required to complete albert certification, just as the albert team diversifies beyond its first major extension into broadcast sports, with a move into connectivity.
The introduction to albert as it performs today, and what it can become, was provided by Katy Tallon, industry sustainability manager, and William Bourns, sustainability analyst.
“It is uniquely a sustainability project funded by industry. The likes of Netflix, the BBC and Sky pay to fund the project. They also sit on a strategic directorate, and help us develop albert’s tool kits,” said Tallon. “We have grown pretty organically and rather quickly, recognising that we needed to diversify and meet the needs of different genres.”
“News does not come with a big carbon footprint, but it has a big remit in reaching and educating the public. Actually, sport was the first that we split out from the main general production consortia. Sport has a high carbon footprint and a big influence on things like stadia emissions, but athletes and commentators can reach the public on sustainability because they are influencers.”
The adding of weather and its relationship to climate change to the above, resulted in Bafta launching The Sports Consortium chaired by Hazel Irvine. Sky Sports managed its first net zero broadcast last September, with albert’s help, so have other broadcasters kept pace?
“Some have but there is still a way to go. Sky often leads the way in setting standards in net zero, but setting a net zero is not for a specific sport. It is for an organisation,” said Tallon.
IBC Accelerator Project
Bourns raised the subject of remote production challenges, and a question raised out of that by broadcasters.
“They recognised that we did not look at connectivity in our calculator tool. That was obviously a downfall, but we worked with them to correct it,” he said. “Through Sky and their engineering departments, and through the IBC Accelerator Project (Sustainability in Live Production), we have been working on comparing traditional approaches to production to remote production, and then cloud native production.”
Read more IBC Accelerator: Sustainability in live production
The changes and emissions that result required looking at the number of people that need to work on a production and how close they need to be to any venue. Then came the connectivity side.
“With the transmission of data this involved either hard-wiring and satellites, or through cloud-based approaches. We have worked recently with BT Media and Broadcast, and they have a satellite,” said Bourns. “The challenge of that is how much of the emissions do you include, and do you got back as far as the process of building the satellite and putting it up, and how do you attribute that to one hour of TV?
“That is research we would look at in the future, but looking at connectivity for now we want to make it something that everyone can measure. We want to create benchmarks through working with the sports broadcasters and the connectivity/cloud providers,” he added. “The potential Premier League cloud footprint is something we are researching at the moment, in terms of all parts of production from pre- to post.”
Connectivity is important to albert, but not a difficult task.
“Working with engineering departments is very helpful because they see things from a very practical approach, and they can build the blocks of the scope that we need to measure,” said Bourns.
Albert will create a tool that can be used across the whole of the industry. Any production, anywhere, can have a rough idea of what the connectivity emissions are.
“It is not the biggest thing that albert has ever done. Albert’s carbon calculator is a small aspect of what we do,” said Tallon. “We have always been a consultancy based on industry sustainability, and we are incorporated into Bafta with two main aims. One is to help the industry reduce its carbon footprint, and two is to help the industry understand, and action their opportunity to change hearts and minds.”
While albert has been quite synonymous with the past decade, the team is increasingly moving into the space of offering other tools. One area Tallon pointed at was sports journalists and commentators.
“We recently had several global media players sign up to a climate pledge that we are working on. I think we’re are going to massively expand, and hopefully we outdo ourselves of jobs in five years because the industry just acts on it like they do with diversity,” she added. “In terms of strategic direction, we would like to engage more films. We started with all genres, but films are set up very differently.”
Expanding into bio-diversity
The albert team has been getting traction and interest from international partners. It already has partnerships with producers in Norway, Finland and Spain, and it talks regularly with European Commission boards and advisory councils, and groups in Italy and Germany.
“We are looking to expand our reach beyond just climate change into bio-diversity and other environmental aspects of sustainability. We recognise that sustainability is broader, and we are expanding out into diversity and environmental sustainability, but in terms of whether we are ever going to have this broader remit to look at all the sustainable developmental (SDG) goals I do not know,” said Tallon.
Both the funding model and a small staff might make the SDG notion impossible, but the team recognises there are certain interactive elements with climate change they can eye up.
Bourns said: “Sustainability it growing, and it now captures a lot more topics. Where we have sort of found ourselves is looking at the environmental side of things. Right now, I normally find myself just pointing people in the direction of different frameworks and different tools that they can use to suit their needs in other aspects of sustainability.
Was albert developed in accordance with other green standards, such as the GHG Protocol?
“Yes. Our calculator tool was designed with the GHG in mind and it covers aspects of Scopes 1-3, and yes there is an overlap. Sky’s emissions will be their Scope 3, but with our calculator we can cover all aspects of a production to the point where it reaches post,” said Bourns.
Read more The massive scope of sustainability
Tallon added: “The large majority of the BBC’s carbon footprint is going to be its Scope 3 production associated emissions, and that is what albert does.
Are there moving targets that are hard to measure? “There are a lot of complexities with measuring anything submission related, but as long as you are using a standard like the GHG Protocol it does help,” said Bourns. “With things moving into the cloud it does shift emissions but you are still within the production eco system. You are just working with different suppliers.”
Covid did wonders for remote production and streaming equally, so albert must have fared well.
“The lock downs helped the sustainability journey develop quite a lot. We can now actually talk to people about not flying everywhere, car sharing, and not driving to every meeting, and that was not possible before Covid,” said Tallon. “The main attention is that travel makes up about half of the carbon footprint associated with a sports broadcaster.
“We can cut this in large part by using local crews, reducing unnecessary travel, using electrification, plus remote filming and virtual production,” she added.
Bourns said: “Lots of people go on recces to look at locations. You could send one person with a drone, who can send the footage back. You can make huge savings cutting transport. Cloud has a huge amount of power associated with it, but that is when people look at it in absolute terms. They don’t consider there are billions of Gigabytes of date racing around in this cloud. Compared to on-premise servers, data centres with use of the cloud use 91% less energy, so it is a huge saving there.”
The albert values are supported by its Education Partnership.
“We teach a whole module on sustainable production and also help students recognise the opportunities with climate content,” said Tallon. “We have 32 UK institutions teaching that module at the moment, to thousands of students every year. We are looking to roll it out both internationally and to non-university high education, and we also train the industry; 5,000 people last year.”
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