June 25, 2023
Films fascinate us, and while we are awed with the glitz, glamour and their larger-than-lifeness, often the stupendous cost or the making of a film is no less mind-boggling. But what may never have occurred to us is that films and TV productions have a huge impact on the environment through a colossal carbon footprint. This issue has not only been identified by climate activists and thought through, the film world is already taking steps to make the future of films greener.
According to a recent report, big-budget feature films have a carbon footprint of over 3,000 metric tons each, which, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, is equal to more than seven million miles driven by a regular car. While small films have a carbon footprint of nearly 400 metric tons, equivalent to about one million miles driven. A British Films Institute study found that blockbuster films with a budget over $70m emit 2,840 tonnes of CO2.
With the use of ‘lauan,’ a lightweight plywood easy to work with, but often unsustainably harvested from rainforests, around 4,000 hectares of deforestation can be caused by a single soundstage, according to research from UCLA. To give you a better understanding of this much deforestation, a sports field is one acre in size, and one hectare is 2.47 acres. This means one sound stage can be responsible for destroying an area equivalent to about 9,000 sports fields.
When a film is being made, there are numerous factors that damage the environment, such as carbon emission mostly due to logistics and generators used to power lights and sets, plastic usage through plastic water bottles, glass, and other accessories. High-temperature and non-energy-efficient lights use high power, there is food and water wastage, biohazard sprays are used in makeup, there are plastic-based sets, a high consumption of paper and much more.
While film making generates enough waste to damage the earth, not many of us know that to tackle the issue of non-sustainable films, a movement known as Green Filmmaking has globally begun. The concept aims to integrate environmentally sustainable practices in film production.
Aliza Ayaz, a UK-based climate activist, who at 24, has made it to the Forbes 30 under-30 list has also emerged as a strong voice for Green Film Making.
Ayaz’s journey to climate activism
Living in London, Ayaz helped her parents in charity and volunteer work. But in 2015, when she visited Pakistan as a 16-year-old, she got a first-hand opportunity to see how climate-change related disasters affect people. Around 2,000 people had died in a heat wave, and the Eidhi Foundation mortuary had run out of space. It was then that Ayaz decided to work for environmental issues.
“Our environmental problems are a result of our choices,” she says. “We live in safe, air-conditioned houses and are healthy and privileged, but we don’t realise how hard people’s lives are and they are becoming even more difficult as climate-change related disasters happen.”
Feeling as though her life will have no value if she couldn’t do something meaningful, Ayaz returned home to study Population Health Science at University College London (UCL), and became one of the first fifteen students to receive a degree. She extensively researched saving the environment and initiated a student society for environmental advocacy, which later became an NGO known as the Climate Action Society. Eventually, it led to the climate emergency declaration in the Parliament in UK.
In October 2020, she was appointed as the UN youth ambassador for Sustainable Development Goal 13 (SDG13), the second Pakistani student after Malala Yousafzai to have received this honour. Her research and practical work knowledge led her to become a member of the House of Lords, where she worked alongside government officials to design effective frameworks for saving the environment.
Being a new and relatively unknown concept in ours’ as well as many countries in Asia, Green Film Making particularly excited Ayaz. She believes that film and television have a huge impact on people through popular trends, concepts and narratives, hence introducing sustainable practices in film production could spark a social change with the potential to become a movement.
Researching the concept, Ayaz came across the Tage Studios Project, in the south of Lisbon, Portugal, to develop Europe’s first sustainable Green Movie Studio by 2025.
“Their project manager, Claire Havet, told me how recycling set-design material can result in reusing 85% of construction waste,” she says. “When it comes to problem-solving, there is no limit to the human potential of creativity.”
The eco-friendly film studios will have soundstage facilities with photovoltaic panels as well as rainwater recovery and re-use. The landscaping will be designed to preserve local biodiversity and construction materials would be locally sourced.
“The industry needs knowledge and tools to make informed decisions and take action to make changes that will influence the environment positively,” says Ayaz, explaining that if sustainable practices are incentivised and adopted, the film and TV industry could lead to substantial environmental improvement.
Environment advocate at Cannes
Cannes conjures images of glamorous actors and red-carpet dresses, but this year it also served as a platform to promote sustainability in film production with its extension impACT.
A panel discussion titled The Future of Film is Green was organised at Marché du Film, the largest and most prominent film market in the world with approximately 4,000 different projects and films presented, and over 12,000 film industry professionals. The discussion focused on delivering transformative sustainability solutions for the film industry to reduce wastefulness, cut down carbon footprint, and make the future of films greener.
“It was a moment of honour and felt surreal to meet people who recognised my work,” says Ayaz, who represented the green flag as a UN Goodwill Ambassador and was the youngest participant at Cannes. “It meant that my work is making a difference.”
She initiated the discussion on how the film industry can examine various stages of the filmmaking process to incorporate diversity, inclusion, representation and sustainability not only on the screen, but behind the camera in every stage of production.
“Songs on Spotify, the shows on Netflix, and even the work of freelance artists, all target human lives,” said Ayaz in her address, emphasising that filmmakers should be educated about incorporating sustainability in film production through well-designed workshops. “It’s time we start exploring how our actions contribute to climate change. Once you start analysing the consequences of actions, you will reach solutions that would offset non-sustainable practices. And that self-awareness is the first step to start incorporating climate action into your daily habits.”
The film industry is connected to UN SDG 13 on combating climate change through several avenues by integrating sustainable production practices, such as using energy-efficient lighting, renewable energy, planning waste reduction, implementing recycling, responsible water management and investing in carbon offset projects.
“Collaboration and partnerships between the film industry and environmental organisations can further amplify messages and support climate action,” says Ayaz. “By leveraging storytelling, adopting sustainable practices, and collaborating with stakeholders, the film industry plays a role in promoting awareness, inspiring action, and contributing to SDG 13.”
Films go green
Apart from Portugal, major studio facilities such as London’s Pinewood and Studio Babelsberg, outside Berlin, are trying to retrofit their facilities to be more eco-friendly.
In England, a standard known as BS 8909, more specifically BS 8909: 2011 has been developed to assure that sustainable practices are used in filmmaking, according to which it is mandatory to improve the sustainability management system for film by establishing, maintaining and implementing them. It applies to all areas of filmmaking including development, shooting, distribution, exhibition and supply.
Internationally, a similar standard exists for all sorts of organisations titled ISO 14001. From a broader perspective, it pushed all companies and organisations to involve a climate-sustainable framework.
In Germany for instance, the film industry has decided to convert the film industry to ecological methods. After a Deutsche Welle news report of more than 5,000 plastic cups going into waste disposal during the production of one German film, the authorities are now working on plans to make the industry greener.
In Australia, the film industry is following the Good Green Production Bible put together by Greenshoot Pacific (a consultancy firm applying sustainable goals in Australian Entertainment World). New Zealand is also taking small steps toward eco-friendly films as its Ministry for the Environment and Screen Production and Development Association made a collaboration for producing a sustainability toolkit for the film industry. The film and television industries of Canada and Ireland are also paving the way for sustainable strategies.
Two organisations that have helped productions with waste reduction, clean up and recycling of material are Earth Angle and Keep it Green Recycling. Film companies have also gone as far as adding eco-consultants to production teams to ensure green practices are being considered. As a result, we have films such as The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which saved almost US$400,000 by going green, and Tomorrowland, which followed a comprehensive zero waste initiative.
Initiatives back home?
Our film industry is in the phase of rejuvenation, but the younger lot in our entertainment industry might want to explore the concept of Green Production, Ayaz believes.
She aims to connect with film makers in Pakistan and play a role in enabling Pakistan to become one of the first few countries to incorporate sustainability into film making, whether it’s behind the camera or on the screen. She believes young filmmakers can highlight under-represented concepts, challenge stereotypes, and bring forward unique practices.
Ayaz believes that young people should take up the road of entrepreneurship and independent film making so that they can steer the initiative to produce environment-friendly films.
Everyone has a part to play in saving the earth, and being a major contributor to environmental pollution, the film industry is no exception. Like any other industry, there’s room for improvement in areas of transport, catering, power supply, make up and set design. By doing things more efficiently and using fewer resources, productions might become cheaper too. For producers, the key is to identify priorities and challenges before production begins.
Zain Aijaz is a freelance contributor. All information and facts are the responsibility of the writer.