Can the silver screen also be green?

Tent-pole film productions emit nearly 3,000 tonnes of CO2 on average, says report

Experts debated green practices in the film industry late last month at the Sustainability Production Forum | bjones27/E+/Getty Images

An empty film studio can be transformed into an interstellar ship, a haunted house or a palace from a fantasy world. Days later it’ll be trashed to make way for the next set, leaving only debris destined for the junkyard.

“Some of it’s just common sense,” Phil Holdgate, head of production sustainability at ITV Studios in the U.K., said while addressing the virtual Sustainable Production Forum (SPF) held in the last week of October.

“If you build it with a view to be able to strip it down and make sure it’s reused or recycled afterwards, you can get quick wins just by thinking slightly differently.”

He was among dozens of experts at the SPF, facilitated by Vancouver-based consultancy Green Spark Group, offering insights into transforming the film industry into a more environmentally conscious component on the economy.

While Canadian governments, banks and even steel producers have committed to net zero goals, the film sector still has a more piecemeal approach to addressing climate change and reducing carbon footprints.

“Film productions need to be more sustainable,” Arup Group climate change consultant Florence Mansfield said during an earlier panel focused on the circular economy, “and certain circular business models must be adopted.”

In 2020, Arup and other stakeholders released A Screen New Deal, a report that calculated emissions for a tent-pole film production generates 2,840 tonnes of CO2 on average.

By adopting practices in line with the circular economy — a model of production and consumption that reduces waste and reuses resources whenever possible – Mansfield said the film industry can significantly shrink its carbon footprint.

Studios tapping on-site renewable energy, harvesting rainwater, sets that can be easily disassembled and reused or locations selected for their close proximity to transit hubs to minimize kilometres on the road, are among measures offered in the report.

Having committed to becoming net zero by the end of 2022, Inc. (Nasdaq:NFLX), which is spending US$17 billion on producing content this year, is also pursuing efforts to reduce its carbon footprint.

The streaming giant’s plan will see it tackle both direct emissions created from its productions as well as indirect emissions generated from its supply chain.

Local players are also offering tangible solutions.

Vancouver-based Portable Electric Ltd. is best known for manufacturing, selling and renting battery-powered generators used on film and TV productions across the globe.

In August, Portable Electric unveiled what it describes as the largest mobile generator available in Canada. The unit looks slightly smaller than a subcompact car.

Unlike roaring diesel generators traditionally used on filming locations, Portable Electric’s devices are emissions-free and generate not a peep for the boom microphones.

“Electrification is going to have to play such an important role in the solutions we’re trying to find,” Holdgate said, referring to the more widespread adoption of electric vehicles and battery generators for film productions.

“We can’t be waiting for zero-emission solutions in the meantime. So I think the emphasis certainly over the next decade is going to have to be avoiding travel where we can. And that’s everything from remote production galleries, cloud-based solutions and some really exciting opportunities around virtual studios, virtual sets and using technology to replace physical travel.” •`