Some of Hollywood’s most prominent leading men and ladies are also some of the most vocal promoters of green issues. While there’s a definite need for loud voices to advocate for sustainability and protection of the environment, Hollywood also has some cleaning up to do in its own house.
Back in 2006, a study conducted by the University of California found that in relation to size, the biggest contributor to air pollution in the Los Angeles area was not aerospace manufacturing or clothing manufacturing — but the film-making industry. From the use of generators to waste propagation to globe-trotting promotional tours, Hollywood produced 8.4 million tons of carbon dioxide — and those were just films and television shows shot in California.
At the same time, it’s also starting to clean up its act by green-ifying some processes and choosing inexpensive fixes to eliminate waste and reduce energy expenditure. But how can an industry famous for the exploitation of all types stop abusing the environment? Hollywood still needs leadership in sustainability if it hopes to lead sustainable endeavors itself.
Hollywood’s Contribution to Environmental Damage
When you see a movie in the theater, you see the culmination of thousands and even tens of thousands of hours of labor. Every set depends on a fleet of specialist laborers and artists as well as a long list of writers, directors, camerapeople, and of course actors. All that labor is expensive both in terms of financial costs and the resources it takes to lead them around the world and source the relevant materials.
While some emissions are inevitable to produce art (and Adam Sandler movies), filmmaking also has a reputation for doing intentional damage. For example: In 2013, the team behind Mad Max: Fury Road allegedly damaged sensitive areas on the Namibian coast, endangering local flora and fauna. Reports also alleged that the crew on Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales dumped chemical waste illegally during filming in Australia. When Lucasfilm selected Ireland’s Skellig Michael (a UNESCO World Heritage site) as a Star Wars film set, experts worried (and were validated) that the production team would ignore ecological warnings during filming and direct a huge influx of tourists to the incredibly sensitive area.
These are the potential examples that become obvious when a film crew packs up. But there are also all the plastic water bottles, uneaten craft service food, leftovers from set-pieces, unused fast-fashion clothing pieces thrown away, and additional wasted gas and huge emissions contributing to an already-large issue of idling trailers and vehicles. There is no shortage of opportunities for a film to reduce its environmental footprint.
Picturehouses are Now Tracking Emissions and Waste
The good news is that Hollywood is also increasingly aware of its outsized impact on waste generation, environmental damage and carbon emissions. Specifically, 21st Century Fox began tracking its emissions over a decade ago, and then signed onto the American Business Act on Climate Pledge (published by the Obama White House in 2015). The tracking allowed it to identify places for emission reduction, thereby reducing CO2 emissions by 15% for each day of shooting and seeking out renewable energy opportunities.
Over at Sony Pictures, crews are diverting their waste away from landfills. Over 90% of waste from the Culver City, CA headquarters makes its way to the city government, who then assigns leftover food, clothing, and furniture to the relevant charities and NGOs. Other items are burned to generate electricity for the city.
Warner Brothers uses solar power at its production studios to power all the necessary devices and avoid wasting electricity generated by fossil fuels. Its 600-kilowatt roof generates 1.15 million kilowatts of energy each year and reduced the studio’s electricity costs by $5 million.
But are these attempts at being more eco-conscious enough to mitigate the industry’s outsize effect on the environment?
The Film Industry Requires More than a Patch Fix
Although all green initiatives in Hollywood are a welcome change from its previously wasteful ways, the climate emergency demands more than a patch fix. The film industry needs a top-down approach if it wants to make a difference in its emissions much less become the leader its performers suggest it can be.
Many in Tinseltown agree, and new consultancies have popped up to do just that. Earth Angel is the pioneering sustainability consultancy dedicated to the film and television industry. It helps projects and picturehouses reduce the environmental impact of production in a holistic way to reduce each production’s carbon footprint and both prevent and divert waste.
At the same time, Hollywood needs to do more than recycle. It requires a top-down approach to sustainability to avoid exploitative practices at the source. For example, even if all production companies banned plastic water bottles, sets are still largely built from lauan plywood. Lauan is a huge source of deforestation and contributes hugely to the destruction of indigenous people’s land both in Asia and South America. What’s more, most of the logging for lauan is done illegally, and it’s the cause of both violence and forest fires. Designers continue using it despite the availability of Sonoboard, which is made from recycled paper.
Why the film industry bands together to remove all exploitation from its ranks — from equal pay to diversity to green measures — it will be better primed to lead not only by cutting its own emissions but by sharing its success with others.