In our work as sustainability professionals we see how companies and whole industries are improving environmental and social responsibility efforts to meet the increasing demands of stakeholders, including employees, customers, investors, and industry associations. More attention is being placed on corporate transparency and accountability. Every day, there are more surveys, rating systems, and claims being made to identify the leaders in sustainability.
Why Focus on Film Production?
The media sector as a whole appears to be lagging behind other industries. For example, film industry–specific reports such as the 2006 Environmental Report Card note the lack of industry-wide rules and standards to integrate progressive environmental practices into the production process. The report highlights industry environmental impacts such as air pollution and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. With this in mind, we decided to take an in-depth look at the film industry, and more specifically at how the sustainability of film production can be measured, monitored, and ultimately, managed.
Presently, there are some laudable initiatives, such as calculating the GHG emissions of some films, purchasing carbon offsets, recycling and material re-use at studios, using reusable water bottles on set, and donating uneaten food to local organizations. However, our research revealed that consistent measurement and reporting of sustainability-related information is needed at the level of film production (figure 1) to achieve transparency and accountability and elevate the industry reputation as a sustainability leader.
Approaches to Sustainability
What are the common elements needed to integrate sustainability into every film and make it the norm? We investigated approaches companies in various sectors are taking to incorporate environmental, social, and economic responsibility into their operations, infrastructure, and business practices. Some companies use guidelines like the internationally accepted Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). Others follow a set of industry standards created by organizations such as British Standards Institute (BSI). Still others combine aspects of different frameworks and standards to create their own custom program to integrate more smoothly with their current operating practices.
Building a Common Platform for Sustainability Performance
There is a precedent of industry-specific sustainability frameworks evolving from combining more generic sustainability frameworks and standards with industry best practices. For example, the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED™) includes a suite of rating systems that are transforming the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of buildings, which reference specific standards for sub-topics such as site sustainability and building energy management. Similarly, the manufacturing industry recently created a set of sustainability standards (UL 880) that provides global metrics for rating company sustainability performance related to environmental impacts, workforce, customers and suppliers, community engagement and human rights.
Creating a sustainability framework for the film industry requires a streamlined integration of current tools, internal scorecards, and industry initiatives to make the process relevant and straightforward and practical for users while still promoting innovation. Care must be taken to ensure that the processes for tracking sustainability-relevant information are suitable for projects that are temporary in nature and geographically remote from the main facilities of the studio lot. For example, if a film is shot on location in remote Western Canada for ten days, does the local crew know how to track GHG emissions while on location and record the information?
Important steps for implementing a sustainability framework include:
- Setting Boundaries: On which phase(s) of the film production process should data collection focus (figure 2)?
- Determining Materiality: What topics are relevant to measure (figure 3)?
- Defining How to Measure: Is there an easy-to-understand process for measuring each topic?
- Communicating Results: Where and how will results be shared (e.g., recognizing individual films for their sustainability performance, publishing as part of studio/parent company reports)?
- Assessing Performance: Can users collect consistent data over the long term? This will help pinpoint where improvements can be made, where cost savings from utilizing best practices are realized, and what trends unfold.
Many benefits arise when industry sustainability frameworks are carefully customized, leading to widespread adoption. The examples of building and manufacturing industries have demonstrated this in recent years, and they provide a model for the film industry. A few benefits include:
- Stakeholder outreach: Sends a message to industry stakeholders who demand sustainability practices (e.g., crew) that the industry is continually improving and developing tools to ease the perceived burden of "doing the right thing."
- Roadmap: Provides guidance for what can be measured on every film project, and how to do it consistently to manage performance.
- Sustainability branding: Results in positive public recognition and improved industry reputation.
While there are tools and initiatives to promote sustainability, there is not a practical unified approach to measure and manage sustainability performance in the film production industry. A customized industry-specific framework (i.e., common scorecard) that incorporates sustainability best practices would open the door for promoting transparency and accountability across every production. We look forward to an open and collaborative process among industry stakeholders to make this a truly transformative effort.
If you are interested or involved in film production and would like to join us in exploring this concept of a common framework, please contact: