To quantify the harm any industry is doing to the environment and the scale of it, it is essential to have an overview of the planetary boundaries defined as a “safe operating space for humanity”. In essence, it is a framework that presents a set of nine planetary boundaries, connected to nine different factors, within which humanity can continue to develop and thrive for generations to come (Stockholm Resilience Centre). In most of these 9 areas i.e. the genetic diversity part of Biosphere Integrity, Climate Change, Stratospheric Ozone Depletion, Ocean Acidification, Biochemical Flows, Freshwater Use and Land-system Change the boundaries are clearly defined and quantified. There are three areas, novel entities, atmospheric aerosol loading and functional diversity part of the Biosphere Integrity where the boundary is not yet quantified. It is a fact that four of these boundaries are already crossed and efforts are being made to reverse the damage done to date.
This paper aims to dig deeper in the greenhouse gas emissions in the Film and Video Industry. The findings of this paper will consist of an evaluation of the situation based on facts presented by researchers and the Film Industry itself online, without being able to conclude on the planet’s tolerance.
The overall impact of Film production
The impact of film production does sometimes limit itself in a negative ecological footprint related to numerous factors i.e. use of non-renewable energy, namely electricity and other direct environmental impacts. These include disturbing “wildlife and habitats, through sound and light pollution, trampling vegetation, constructing sets and increasing waste generation” – and that holds true for many of the locations where filming sets get built. Such an example is the damage to sensitive sand dune environments that was reportedly caused by the Mad Max: Fury Road on the Namibian coastline (Castley, 2015).
Guy Castley gives a well-rounded explanation on what parameters the overall impact of film production encompasses: “The overall impact of film production is a combination of three key factors”, he writes, “scale, extent and duration. Scale refers to the local, regional, national or global context. Extent refers to the size of the impact, or the area being affected. Duration considers how long the environment will be exposed to any impacts.”
It transpires that as the duration of the impact is usually limited, the harm done can be usually mitigated, at least in cases when films are being shot in locations that vary. The same might not hold true for locations that host recurring film productions, such as the area of Los Angeles, where films are being produced extensively and where it has been reported that the smog can be related to the film industry. But chemical pollution will be tackled right after.
An expert in the UK confirms findings that electricity makes indeed the largest part of the industry’s footprint: “When you analyse it 60% of our carbon footprints generally come from our use of electricity. If we can all think of ways of moving to that cleaner energy then that’s a very significant thing, and it has been made easier for us by the Albert Consortium” (Jarrett, 2017).
To tackle the above issues, various initiatives have been launched. The UK Film Council has launched BSA 909, a management system approach to tackling sustainability, while at the same time another tool was developed locally, the Albert Carbon Calculator that can estimate the environmental impact of a TV or film production. Likewise, a few studio-bound initiatives have been identified, like the Green is Universal related to NBC Universal – a well-thought guidance plan on how to minimise the impact on the set and beyond (Figure 1 and 2). Noticeably, the Producers Guild of American have also put in place the Green Production Guide, a website where green vendors can be found, as well as a cost-benefit analysis of going green and cutting costs while filming.
Climate Change and Video Industry
Globally, the film and video industry contributes to greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) through travel and other fuel consumption associated with productions Castley, 2015). The most extensive study done on the matter by UCLA back in 2006 shows that the film and television industry is in fact the second largest polluter in the Los Angeles area, behind the oil refineries in the region (Figure 3). According to estimates the study run in the course of two years found that the film and TV industry emits 140,000 tonnes of ozone and diesel particulate emissions per year. This study makes it clear that the GHG burden varies depends on the scale and that the industry has a relatively high regional impact, but the impact is reduced at a countrywide level and compared with other industries.
The numbers for Los Angeles and beyond are staggering: “the total GHG emissions of the motion picture (and television) industry in the Los Angeles metropolitan area are approximately 8 million tons of CO2 equivalent. The figures for California and the U.S. are 8.4 million tons and 15 million tons respectively “ (UCLA, 2006). But it is clear that the carbon emissions is an issue of the industry worldwide: Melanie Dicks mentioned in an interview that while the average person generates about 7 [metric] tones of carbon a year, a single film technician typically generates up to 2.5 tones of carbon on an eight-week shoot, or 32 tones per year. To put this on the real scale, it is worth mentioning that there are up to 250 cast and crew working on a large production, let alone the supply chain supporting it.
The carbon and greenhouse emissions can be attributed to several causes: travel, transportation, production material deliveries and even onsite generators and even pyrotechnical scenes. Many productions and big studios track and analyse their emissions in an effort to reduce them. Reportedly 21st Century Fox managed to identify opportunities to reduce carbon emissions, which resulted in reducing the CO2 emissions from film productions by 15 percent per shoot day. Another example to mitigate the greenhouse gases from transportation is CBS Entertainment, which adopted a fleet of fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles in 2011. Furthermore, the biggest percentage of big studios is promoting ridesharing and electric vehicle programs. They go even further to incentivize these schemes, by giving benefits to employees such as “priority parking for carpoolers, EV charging stations at work, and hybrid vehicle shuttles for commuting across studio campuses” (Harper, 2018).
The presence of decisive greenhouse gas emissions of the various productions of the film and video industry is confirmed through extensive research. The local impact is quite high and in certain cases the emissions from the industry surpass those from other industries, such as the aerospace and the apparel industry. Nevertheless, the situation is improving since 2006, when the first major study has been made by UCLA covering the area of Los Angeles. Big studios are actively looking for ways to mitigate the impact and to cut their carbon footprint by introducing schemes like the use of hybrid vehicles and other. At the same time, waste management has improved, the use of renewable energy is prioritized and there are numerous indications that the film and video industry is making conscious efforts to become as green as possible in many countries with plenty of examples in the US and the UK, where a considerable amount of productions are taking place.
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Castley, G., Eats, shoots and leaves: what the movie industry does to ‘location’, The Sydney Morning Herald, https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/eats-shoots-and-leaves-what-the-movie-industry-does-to-location-20150618-ghqz7v.html, accessed on 10 June 2019
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Jarrett, G., How Albert helped TV productions to cut their carbon footprints, https://www.ibc.org/tech-advances/going-green-encouraging-sustainability-in-tv-and-film/1952.article, accessed on 20 June 2019
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