Entertainment industry champions sustainability on and off set

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How sustainable is the entertainment industry?

That became the question on social media following the backlash the Kardashians faced after having a food fight in November.

In the past few years, many celebrities have been vocal about sustainability and the environment, including Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan. Even Coldplay announced they will not tour until concerts are sustainable. Yet, it’s not just the celebrities that are doing their part to increase sustainability in the industry. Several major production companies have committed to sustainability, according to Debbie Levin, the CEO of the Environmental Media Association.

The Environmental Media Association is a nonprofit organization of entertainment industry influencers, entrepreneurs in business, and green icons dedicated to the mission of promoting environmental progress.      

“We have so many productions that keep trying to outdo themselves every year,” Levin said. “We work with them to cut down their waste, work on energy efficiency, and donate when they can.”

There are thousands of productions, both movies and television shows, that follow a strict guideline for sustainability, she said. Productions that follow the Environmental Media Associations guidelines are awarded with a seal of recognition.

The guidelines rate these productions up to 200 points and a production must receive at least 75 points to receive the Green Seal of Recognition and at least 125 points to receive the Gold Seal of Recognition. Points can range from one point for using recycled color paper to five points for having sustainable practices on screen, like recycling and refraining from using single-use plastic. Recipients of the gold seal for 2019 include Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Dora the Explorer and The Good Place.

President and founder of Mind Movie Green, a sustainability consultant for production companies, Joanclair Richter, said that even the most sustainable productions are always looking for new ways to decrease waste on set.

“A production is essentially a temporary world, if you will, with material meant to be used temporarily,” Richter said. “A lot of productions have an excessive amount of waste because of this.”

These productions can go through a lot of waste including water, materials, and food.

“One way productions can really help is by cutting out beef from craft services,” said Richter. “Beef can really increase a person’s carbon footprint because of the amount of greenhouse gas associated with it.”

Richter said she understands how difficult limiting meal options can be, so she’s happy when they just eliminate beef. However, some productions have eliminated meat and dairy completely and only provide locally grown and environmentally friendly meals.

“Donating the extra food is important,” Levin said. “Many of these productions have extra food and we help them donate them to eliminate food waste.”

In fact, there are many organizations that help donate the food leftover from productions, including the Entertainment Industry Hunger Project and Sustainable Lockup, a joint effort between Keep it Green Recycling and Green Spark Group. Kelsey Evans, owner of Keep it Green Recycling, said the Sustainable Lockup operates out of Los Angeles and Vancouver.

“We started small but have grown these past few years,” Evans said. “In 2017 we donated 2,257 meals. In 2018, we were working with five television shows and donated 6,288 meals. By the end of this year, we will have donated over 14,000 meals.”

The organization helps production companies start being sustainable and once the companies know what they are doing, the Sustainability Lockup steps back and lets them keep up the practice.

“They just contact us and we give them a list of places to drop off,” Evans said. “And this has caused a big difference, especially when I look back from when I started.”

Yoav Getzler, owner of the Entertainment Industry Hunger Project, explained that the food donated by these productions can really help the shelters.

“I remember once I had four trays of prime rib, good quality too, and everyone was shocked,” Getzler said. “People don’t usually donate trays of prime rib, and for some that was the nicest meal they’ve had.”

The Entertainment Industry Hunger Project works with shelters within the Los Angeles area to help them get the donated food.

There’s a certain timeframe that the food has to be donated after being served at the productions and that means they have to be incredibly precise or else the food goes to waste, Getzler said. However, many of these shelters and food kitchens do not have the resources to sit around waiting for the food.

“What the hungry community needed was a way to get the leftover food from television, film to the organizations that were already doing emergency feedings,” Getzler said. “That’s how I started. I used to take the extra food from these sets to help feed the hungry.”

Production companies aren’t just eliminating food waste. Many of them reuse and recycle sets.

“Productions can go through a lot of material, including costumes and the sets,” Evans said. “We help them recycle them or give them to other productions for reuse, so they don’t end up in our landfills.”

Reusing sets are not only environmentally friendly but can save a production company a lot of money. Over 100 tons of material have been recycled or reused, said Evans.  Occasionally actors and actresses take the clothing after filming, however, this is not always the case. Sometimes they will repurpose the costumes for another production to help cut down costs. 

“Being sustainable is economically friendly,” Levin said. “Productions are expensive and they can save a lot of money when they reuse sets instead of building new ones.”

These production companies are also working to eliminate water waste, with many eliminating single-use plastic water bottles. Instead, they now offer everyone working on the production a reusable water bottle and set up water filling stations. If someone forgets their bottle, they may get a cup but they won’t give out single-use water bottles, said Richter.

Earth Angels, a sustainability consulting firm in New York for film and television, released an impact report at the end of 2018, which showed they helped to eliminate 592,955 single-use water bottles alone.

Some production companies do make more waste then others, Levin said. Some do not even attempt to be sustainable, but as a whole, the industry has been trying harder to be sustainable.

Mostly it is about being intentional and thoughtful about every decision, Richter said. When set design or lights need a certain item for the scene, making sure they use an old one instead of buying a new one. Renting energy-efficient cars to travel, not printing too many scripts or even just remembering to turn the lights off at the studio at the end of the night.

Yet, the biggest issue surrounding these productions is lack of awareness, Richter said.

Public perception of the entertainment industries sustainability

In a non-representative anonymous survey conducted on social media, approximately 75% of respondents did not know of or how to find the entertainment industry’s sustainability practices.

Many said they hadn’t thought about it before, or if they did they weren’t sure if companies would be transparent with how much they waste. Some companies do post about it, but this information is not easy to find unless an individual is specifically looking for it. For example, NBC has a sustainability director and posted an infographic report online showing their practices.

Sam Gewecke is an avid watcher of cooking shows and talks about her love-hate relationship with them.

“I love that they test their recipes so many times in order to make them the best they can be for their audience,” Gewecke said. “On the other hand, how many batches of cinnamon rolls went in the garbage or uneaten? How many layers of plastic wrap went unrecycled? Just how many top of the line steaks were tested and rejected for one perfect recipe?”

Respondents were also not hopeful about the industry being sustainable. It also doesn’t help that there is some miscommunication surrounding sustainability within the industry. In 2006, Charles J. Corbett and Richard P. Turco, professors at UCLA, published a study talking about waste within the entertainment industry, and which the Los Angeles Times reported on it.

“I should note that the way the study was portrayed in the press was quite misleading,” Corbett said. “We sent a letter to the LA Times at the time, which was not published but which tries to explain the findings more carefully and explains why the headlines that appeared in the press were misleading.”

The letter is posted onto Corbett’s UCLA webpage and explains that the Los Angeles Times misinterpreted the findings of the study.

“On a relative scale, our report clearly shows that the film industry produces fewer emissions per dollar of output than the five other industries we compared it to,” the letter said. “[It] highlights several leading environmental practices adopted by film and television enterprises, setting an example for others.”

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