If you are a filmmaker, TV producer or media professional trying to fight the huge threat of climate change, take heart. The European Audiovisual Observatory recently gathered a wealth of concerned voices and policy makers together in an online conference to see how co-operation could help tackle this urgent issue. 

Faced with clear evidence of its contribution to the climate crisis, the film and TV industry is adopting green workplace practices and remote production, switching away from power-hungry equipment, polluting power sources and travel, and reflecting sustainable thinking on screen.

If you’re doing any of this, well done, keep going! And if you need evidence that you are not alone, it was on offer at the European Audiovisual Observatory’s summer conference.

Titled ‘Boosting sustainable film through international collaboration’, this afternoon event managed to cram in a dizzying array of presentations from European filmmaking agencies and funding bodies, grassroots initiatives, platforms and producers. All were united in seeking international collaboration in sustainability initiatives.


Working together

Hosted by the UK government’s DCMS (the UK holds the Observatory Presidency for 2021) the online event was hosted by Tricia Duffy, chair of the BAFTA Albert directorate.

Introducing the event, Amit Thapar, head of film and high-end TV policy at the DCMS, said the UK government was keen to address the challenge. “Only a concerted energetic and ambitious effort from parties, governments, businesses and consumers can minimise the threat posed by the climate crisis,” he said. “So, it’s only right that we look today not at what we can do as individuals, but at what we may be able to do together.”

In her introduction, Susanne Nikoltchev, executive director of the European Audiovisual Observatory, said: “The work of almost 30 years has taught us that if you want to [tackle] complex and difficult issues, co-operation is always a big step. International co-operation helps find solutions to difficult problems and it helps to develop commonly shared standards. We at the Observatory naturally assume that international co-operation could also be the means to contribute to sustainability, and this conference is a chance to find out whether our assumption is correct.”

Green Film

Luca Ferrario explains Green Film 

However, Nikoltchev added that such international teamwork “should happen without proposing an unnecessary bureaucratic burden on initiatives that work perfectly well”.

Sustainable ingenuity
An ‘Overview of sustainable film initiatives in Europe’ was presented by Maja Cappello, the Observatory’s head of department for legal information, and its head of department for market information, Gilles Fontaine. It covered the various plans and schemes set up to move towards a green film industry across Europe. A similar topic was discussed in a later session ‘Inspiration through concrete co-operation ideas’.

Here Luz Molina from Promálaga discussed Eureca, a calculator and tool intended for measuring not only the carbon footprint, but also the ecological footprint, of an audiovisual production. Eureca is a co-operation between Promálaga, the Slovakia Film Fund and Flanders Audiovisual Fund. The well-established Green Film rating system was explained in detail by Luca Ferrario from the Trentino Film Commission; while Dietlind Rott of the Lower Austrian Film Commission showed the power of Evergreen Prisma, a complete digital platform, education and network tool. All contributed to a fascinating and inspiring session.

The UK offered two complementary presentations under the banner of ‘Sustainable film and TV in the UK’. Harriet Finney, deputy CEO and executive director of corporate and industry affairs at the BFI, said the screen industry needs “tangible routes forward to reduce its emissions, and we are using research to help identify these routes”. 

Finney also shared two BFI reports, Green Matters and Screen New Deal, saying: “We hope that sharing this work will help forge connections between the UK and international initiatives to increase collaboration and inspire each other.”

Referring to the ‘Blue Planet II effect’, the way that the BBC’s David Attenborough series about marine life started a national conversation in the UK about plastic pollution, Finney observed that there was now a plethora of other productions with climate and ecological content.

Carys Taylor, BAFTA albert

Carys Taylor, BAFTA albert

“However, we are keenly aware at the BFI that content is only part of the picture. The film and TV production industry has a major carbon and ecological footprint that must be addressed,” she added. “That’s why the productions we support through our BFI film fund and also the UK Global Screen Fund must work with [BAFTA scheme] Albert, in order to achieve certification and provide a robust system of review for their actions to reduce emissions.”

Carys Taylor, director of BAFTA Albert, continued with a report on the work the initiative was doing, including the tools that Albert now offers, the way that the body is enabling industry-wide change and an update on international partnerships and key campaign areas.

She said the job of the screen industry was to inspire everyone to take action, offering the greatest opportunity to mobilise people. “The scale of the challenge in tackling climate change often hits the news, but the reality is most people aren’t aware of what tackling climate change may mean for them in their everyday lives,” she added. 

“We now see a great army of industry professionals all keen, willing and working hard to actually implement change,“ Carys Taylor, BAFTA Albert

“We know from 10 years’ worth of measurement data from our carbon calculator tool that the average hour of TV production contributes the equivalent of 9.2 tonnes of carbon emissions, so we can’t just talk the talk, we must also walk the walk and lead by example for other industries to help drive the pace of transformation.”

Taylor said Albert had seen a conversation build around climate change over the past decade. “Where once there was a small but very devoted group of sustainability champions, we now see a great army of industry professionals all keen, willing and working hard to actually implement change.

“The path ahead is steep, but I can’t think of a better industry or time - in the year of COP26, as we emerge from the pandemic and at the start of a decade - to rise to the challenge and continue to lead the way and shine a light on the most important issue facing the world today.”

Talking heads
‘Which current challenges could be addressed by better international collaboration?’ was the question under discussion by a panel composed of Pippa Harris of Neal Street Productions, Tim Wagendorp, sustainability manager for VAF and, adding a transatlantic note, John Rego, vice president, sustainability, medical & EHS at Sony Pictures Entertainment. It featured a lively debate expertly moderated by Adrian Wootton, CEO of Film London.

Harris discussed the approach on the movie 1917, the first major feature film to be Albert certified. “It’s a question of looking at every single department of your movie, not just the big-ticket items like travel, electricity, use of power generators, catering and so on,” she said. “It’s making sure that each department feels they have a duty to try and play their part.

John Rego linkedin

John Rego

“Also really key is that the fact that it’s not just about your actual production, the studio space you’re in, it’s also about the impact you have on the environment where you’re filming. That can be as small as a small patch of grass and making sure that you don’t destroy it. In our case, having dug trenches down in Salisbury Plain, [proper] soil management meant that when we left, we were putting the soil back in the proper strata so that we weren’t disrupting that biodiversity – it really is a 360 process, but all the producers I know are really keen to make their production more sustainable.”

Wooton raised the point that new measures put in place across the film industry to tackle Covid have added time and money onto production. Harris agreed, saying it added between 15% and 20% to costs: “For producers, it inevitably means that they are looking to save money elsewhere and spending additional money to have an environmental consultant on your set will potentially be a casualty.” 

However, she hopes “people will come out of the pandemic with a really renewed sense of commitment to environmental issues… We have a duty to make the world a better place for the generations that follow us.”

Harris also reminded owners of physical studio infrastructure, particularly in the UK, that work still needs to be done to “make those spaces more sustainable”, with suggestions ranging from supplying electric charging points for vehicles to providing a set recycling facility. 

Rego, after detailing Sony Pictures’ commitment to having a zero environmental footprint by 2050, spoke about the need for harmonisation. “We want to make sure that everybody throughout the industry is being trained around sustainability but the worst thing to do is not have consistency around these overall efforts because it confuses people.” 

He also said such best practices should extend through all departments and not just high-impact areas. “Our focus is to make sure everybody knows that they have a role in that.”

Measurement was also key. “We’re working with a number of organisations, including Albert, around the idea of creating transparency [and accountability] from a studio perspective and sharing best practices from studio to studio.”

Responding to the comment from Harris, he spoke about the fact that 100% of energy used in Sony’s Culver City studio stages is offset. “[However] the productions aren’t taking advantage of it from a carbon accounting standpoint. I think certification or commonalities across studios will help make sure we share best practices and it’ll allow the work that we are already doing to be more visible. The various parts of content creation can work together but also understand the activities that we’re doing to support each other.”

Wagendorp, introduced by Wooton as the environmental sustainability expert in the debate, said that a more uniform approach was required, “creating synergies between the existing initiatives”. 

“Around Europe, everybody is rewriting green production guides,” he continued. “If you put them into a pile of paper you would fall over it; it’s almost become a rat race.”

However, some sectors such as animation, post production or costume design still needed life cycle assessments to be carried out. Wagendorp called for “basic uniform quality instrumenting guidelines and tools at the high level that we can then translate to these additional levels, because to spend or invest time and resources in creating all that knowledge ourselves is unsustainable as an exercise”.

He also highlighted the need for the many networks at European level that are working on their own agendas to interact. “When you’re a filmmaker and you come to Europe, you have to follow 20 different schemes.”

Harris pointed out that diversity guidelines had been harmonised and people were now clear on what criteria they had to fulfil in order to access public funding. “I don’t understand why we can’t have a similar process for sustainability which goes across the studios, the public funders and the broadcasters, so people are all measuring the same things and working towards the same goals.

Rego agreed. “There are hundreds of pages of best practices, but when you look, they’re 98% the same. Obviously you want to make sure everything is personalised to the benefit of that location, but we are more alike than not in a number of these pillars that we’re talking about. I think more conversation and dialogue around it would be better.”

“There are hundreds of pages of best practices, but when you look, they’re 98% the same,” John Rego, Sony Pictures

Towards a shared future

This harmonisation was further discussed in the policy makers panel, ‘Where and how can international co-operation boost sustainability in the audiovisual sector?’ 

Summing up, Wooton said sustainability had to be looked at from the early stages of production, “including content commissioning and procurement. We’ve got to look at consumption and at other parts of the process, particularly the online side. We’ve got to look at VFX and post production, it’s not just about physical production and how that’s going to be paid for.  

“We need to find a way of making sure there’s a closer dialogue between industry and the public sector, and much more sharing like [the conference] that goes on with practitioners. We need to look across from Europe to the rest of the world… How do we join up internationally and globally the initiatives that are going on in Europe?”

It was clear, he said, that all the panellists believed sustainability was an urgent matter and “we’re all in this together”.

It was left to Nikoltchev to wrap up the day with her concluding thoughts. “Increasing co-operation means inspiring each other and enabling one another to jointly create the change. We can’t forget to take care of the needs of the industry, especially [considering] the consequences caused by Covid-19, …but we should be able to master sustainability.  

“However, we do not have much time to do this. We should not aim to reinvent the wheel, we should leave the silos, and share. We need more dialogue between practitioners and policy makers, though we have spotted areas like measurement, transparency and best practices where perhaps the Observatory can be of help. The momentum is growing, and so are solutions…. The Observatory wants to be part of both.”