With big crews and long shoots, maintaining a sustainable environment isn't always easy when it comes to production. Senior Production Manager at We Are Social Studios, Annabel Heath, explains how to run a planet-friendly production.

The end of a shoot is a moment of celebration after a hard day’s work. But it was also when one of the production industry’s biggest problems became clear - the amount of waste that was left behind. This was a huge problem when I started in production back in 2013; at the end of a shoot, the floor would be covered with dozens of plastic water bottles left barely touched.

It made me realise that the production industry was a huge contributor to landfill and climate change, and I wanted to familiarise myself with the changes myself and the rest of the We Are Social Studios team could make to our shoots, to improve this for the future of both the industry, and our planet.

Fast forward to 2021 and now our call sheets state for crew to bring their own reusable bottle, and we ensure there’s drinking water available on tap, or a water cooler. This is just a small part of a more sustainable approach. As the importance of reducing wastage and plastic consumption becomes ever more clear thanks to documentaries like the BBC’s Blue Planet II, I’m proud to say that we are committing to reducing the impact of our productions on our fragile world.

Get the greens
One of the biggest contributors to our carbon footprint on set is what the crew eat. On a one day shoot with 25 attendees eating three meals with meat and products that have been airfreighted, the equivalent of 7857 balloons worth of carbon are released into the atmosphere. That doesn’t even include the caterer’s transport or power. 

One really simple change you can make is to look for catering that is plant-based or uses responsibly sourced meat. Look for suppliers with kitchens that use renewable energy; all it takes is a quick email to find out where the power comes from. Another important tip is not to over-order by carefully calculating how much food you’ll actually need. If this isn’t possible, there are a variety of charities and companies who can re-use, distribute or safely dispose of the surplus meals. AdGreen has some excellent suggestions

Reusable face masks
COVID-19 has made sustainability more complicated, but with a bit of extra attention it’s still possible to maintain a lower carbon footprint. We provide reusable face masks made of cotton that can be washed after use, and hand sanitizer which comes in refillable glass bottles, so you don’t need to buy multiples of smaller plastic dispensers.

Biodegradable gloves are worth getting instead of the single-use plastic ones that end up in landfill, even if they may have a longer delivery time. In normal times, many catering companies were already using silverware instead of plastic disposable cutlery, but it’s also easy to opt for biodegradable cutlery rather than plastic. It’s worth asking the question to bring it to their attention, the more people who request sustainable solutions, the more inclined they are to make this a standard offering.

Print fewer copies
Limiting the number of paper schedules you print cuts paper and plastic consumption (ink cartridges). This is easily achieved by printing a couple of A3 copies and sticking them to a board at the location, instead of dozens of A4 copies that everyone will lose anyway. And in Covid times, everyone’s used to checking a QR code menu in restaurants, so it’s not much of an extra hassle to encourage people to check digital copies.

Find better suppliers to dispose of waste and props 
Look for waste companies who sort through every bit of rubbish to ensure as many items are recycled as possible. For example, we use Quantum Waste whose team is made up of engineers and climate change investment experts, who make sure the waste bags we fill are put to good use. Select Environmental Services is also a company to look into for waste management, and Library of Things for renting props and scenery.

After all that, offset the rest
In 2011, an industry consortium called “Albert” was founded to encourage the film and TV industry to become more sustainable, which was later adopted by BAFTA. Apparently named after Albert Square of Eastenders fame, the greenest production on TV in 2016, BBC, ITV, Channel 4, UKTV, Sky, TG4 and Netflix productions are now required to register their carbon footprint using the Albert carbon calculator.

Following Albert’s lead, AdGreen plans to launch a carbon calculator for the advertising industry in September. This tool will calculate the estimated amount of carbon emitted by each production so you can more accurately offset the same amount. AdGreen is an incredible resource full of tips and suggestions to reduce your carbon footprint on set.

In summary, here are some tips for reducing the carbon impact of your shoot: 

  • Opt for a vegetarian set, or at the very least, don’t include red meat 
  • Request everyone bring reusable water bottles from home
  • Use reusable set builds and props where possible, and recycle items and materials afterwards 
  • Use a waste sorter like Quantum Waste to ensure as much as possible is recycled 
  • Opt for a studio that uses 100% renewable energy 
  • Suggest that crew cycle to the set, use public transport, or get electric/hybrid taxis (such as Green Tomato cars)
  • If you are shooting in a home, then it’s usually a requirement to cover the flooring to protect it. Get Set Hire has location matting hire, which lays easily and can be collected when you have the rest of your kit collected. 
  • Order reusable masks and PPE that the crew can keep afterwards