Eco-Friendly Practices in the Film Industry

Environmentalism reaches the cinema industry to make it more sustainable and respectful towards the ecosystems of the places where it operates.

May Allison with Helen Taft and a motion picture camera

May Allison with Helen Taft and a motion picture camera | Library of Congress | No known copyright restrictions


Through such simple practices as the reuse of bottles or more sustainable food management, new cinema producers are managing to progress towards a film industry that is more sustainable and respectful towards the ecosystem of the places where it operates. These small gestures represent the start of an ecological transformation of the film industry, which should be led by major megaproductions as these have the greatest impact on the environment.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is the latest film in the series launched by Steven Spielberg in 1993 that imagines a world where dinosaurs come back to life and share, for the first time, the Earth with humans. Directed by Spanish producer Juan Antonio Bayona, the author of such megaproductions as The Impossible and A Monster Calls, this latest Jurassic is a paradigmatic example of green filming or sustainable shoots, a new concept that is gaining increasing ground in the film industry.

Filmed mainly in the United Kingdom and Hawaii, before filming began a strategy was designed that contemplated environmental and human sustainability measures that applied to all departments. Firstly, they opted for something as apparently simple as eliminating all disposable plastic bottles and giving all the team members reusable bottles that they could fill at bigger containers distributed around the set. The team were given fun incentives to recycle, with posters and signs in the form of dinosaurs. The majority of the vehicles used during the shoot were hybrid and close to 75% of the lighting was LED.

In addition, a food donation programme was set up in the UK to manage the daily leftovers from the catering service, which in total represented 145 kilos of food. And the same was done by the production unit in Hawaii with all the leftover office material, which was donated to local schools.

This is not an isolated example of a megaproduction that implements sustainability measures. The film Spider-man 2, for example, is considered the most eco-friendly blockbuster in the history of Sony Pictures. And there are many more, from First Man to Mamma Mia, the latest Ghostbusters release or the popular HBO series, Game of Thrones.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Featurette - Sustainability

Environmental sustainability, as has occurred in other sectors, has become a key issue also in this culture sector. It could not be any other way: each production process has a high impact at the site where it takes place due to the use of transports, the building of stage sets, the lighting, catering and supply of water. Not to mention the hundreds of people who for weeks or even months are treading over natural landscapes.

To get an idea, in London alone it is calculated that the audiovisual industry generates the same amount of carbon dioxide as a city with 20,000 inhabitants. Furthermore, not only does it consume a huge quantity of resources, these also generate waste: some 95% of the material used in a production usually ends up in the rubbish.

“The audiovisual industry is very consumeristic. It needs a huge quantity of resources, which are not unlimited, and it uses them for just a very short time. If it is necessary to build a set, you use a lot of wood and a few days later it is no longer of any use, and often it has to be destroyed. You buy costumes, and then you throw them away. It is totally unsustainable,” complains Esmeralda Ruiz, head of sustainability at Fresco Film, a Malaga-based company that offers services to international cinema productions, such as Game of Thrones and online channels such as HBO.

The growing awareness in the sector, together with the increasingly more common laws and initiatives of governments to promote environmental sustainability policies, is meaning that green filming is being increasingly implemented in the production of films, video clips, documentaries and television series. The cinema industry is going green.

There are even cities, such as New York, that demand that productions filmed on its streets apply sustainability measures and be equipped with guides with resources for all departments that participate in a shoot, from recycling tips to green transport options, recycled or rented costumes, less toxic paint, etc. This metropolis has even created a seal of approval to distinguish “sustainable” films and this is used to promote the film.

Organisations such as Film London and Greenshot are launching measures to encourage producers to be concerned with reducing the energy and resources used during the shoot, not only out of a sense of responsibility towards the planet, but also because being eco-friendly can be profitable too.

In this sense, in 2017 the European Union launched the “Green Screen” project, which has a five-year duration and a budget of 2.2 million euros, and seeks to identify on a European level and apply on a regional level environmental policies that will permit a reduction in the carbon footprint of the audiovisual industry as well as the sharing of best practices.

In Spain, Promálaga, a municipal company in Malaga, is in charge of adapting the Spanish model to the European project. “Sustainable shoots are booming and we wanted to take the initiative on a national level,” assures Luz Molina, lawyer, advisor and head of the legal department of Promálaga, which leads the Green Screen project in Spain.

Within the framework of this European initiative, a carbon footprint calculator pioneer in Spain has been created by Promálaga, to measure the CO2 of the audiovisual industry. Unlike other tools of this kind, this one “is not so much focused from a scientific viewpoint on exact measurement of the contamination, but rather it aims to raise awareness. Being able to measure the direct impact of your activity helps you to take awareness and it pushes you to act,” considers Molina, who notes that they also want to promote the creation of a “green label” to distinguish productions that apply sustainability measures: from Km0 catering to shared and, if possible, electric transport, or the reduction of plastics and paper.

MOME NYC Film Green Promo Video

This “green” philosophy is a very recent arrival in Spain. In some communities, such as the Canary Islands, which is the filming destination for major megaproductions such as Blade Runner, Fast and Furious, and Exodus, “they have had to get their skates on to ensure that the productions did not have any impact on their natural ecosystem, which is protected. They are very advanced in environmental awareness issues and demand a series of measures from anyone who films there,” says Ruiz.

Ultimately, “everything related to a film shoot can be made sustainable and ethical. It is not just a case of environmental contamination, but of being socially responsible,” underlines Molina, of Fresco Films. It is a case of thinking, she says, about “how you would do it in your day to day life. Would you buy apples packed on polystyrene trays from the other side of the world or would you opt to go to a neighbourhood greengrocer’s for local produce sold loose? It has to do with the responsibility that we have towards the planet, environment and people,” she concludes.

In this sense, this Spanish production company, which was founded with sustainability in its genes, is a pioneer and one of the main promoters of the green audiovisual. Some clients come to them already demanding sustainability criteria, for example, because according to the degree of sustainable measures that a production applies it can access grants or promotion through green seals of approval.

This is the case with the second season of the series Snatch. “They have an environment department that asked us for daily reports on consumption during the film shoot for water, recycled material broken down into cubic metres of plastic, paper and organic waste. We love those types of clients,” Ruiz asserts. Also HBO, behind Game of Thrones, demands the application of environmental measures. She assures:

We have a manual of best practices and sustainable recommendations that we send to the whole team at the start of the shoot: from the electrical team using LED and taking all the electrical material to the recycling centre; to the make-up department using products that have not been tested on animals and that come in recyclable packaging. Building materials should have an ecological seal of approval, wood must be able to be recycled. Renting clothing rather than buying it, and if it is bought, return it or donate it, do not destroy it. In short, the aim is to make responsible use of what is purchased. Our maxim is do not consume so that you do not have to recycle.

Perhaps the star initiative of Fresco Films is the implementation of reusable water bottles. “We distributed large water containers for filling up the bottles around the film sets and the production areas. There is no way of drinking water if you don’t have a bottle. And the teams get used to it”. Just in Terminator, which was partially filmed in Spain, the saving made totalled some 95,000 bottles of plastic. In the last season of Game of Thrones, at the film shoots in Spain, 9,950; and in the second season of the series Snatch, 45,000.

“Now increasing numbers of films are going green. The reason? Perhaps fashion, perhaps marketing or perhaps greater awareness. Deep down it doesn’t matter whether it is a way of cleaning up your image or because you want to look after the planet, because if you do it, you are contributing, and every little counts”, states Molina.

And the fact is that, as advocated by Emillie O’Brien  during the Barcelona International Environmental Film Festival, one of the best-recognised defenders of sustainable production in the world of entertainment and founder of consultancy company Earth Angel, “the entertainment industry is one of the most influential in society. When sustainability and environmental responsibility measures start to be applied, that philosophy impregnates the entire film crew, who will then apply it at home and in future shoots. They start to become more aware and that has an impact.”

In the case of Spider-man 2, by Sony Pictures, O’Brien explained, they took advantage of the fact that the film had a large number of fans in order, via the social media networks, to not only give news on how the shoot was going, but also explain the green measures that they were applying. “And a lot of people answered!” It is a matter of “making films, without organising an [environmental] disaster.” Or renewing the entertainment industry to adapt it to the world and the resources that we have.

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Eco-Friendly Practices in the Film Industry