Is This the Biggest Sustainability Issue in the Film Industry?

We explore the film industry's most pressing environmental issues and the potential solutions to combat them.

This post was written by Tom Melhuish.

At times the film industry can slip behind when it comes to protecting the environment. However, it can’t be ignored any longer. A huge focus in today’s society is to become environmentally friendly and achieve carbon neutrality.

People, cities, and countries everywhere are implementing policies and acting now to combat the damage.

We hope that after reading this article, you'll act to reduce environmental damage and support sustainable practices.

What's the biggest sustainability issue in the film industry?

It’s diesel generators.

Diesel generators are used in film production to generate energy for large and small-scale productions. These are used when filming on location powering hair and make-up, catering, lighting, props vans, costume vans, and all other facilities.

The cost of providing this power is 20 gallons of diesel every 12 hours to power the average film set.

Diesel is not sustainable and is terrible for the environment, producing 12kgs of carbon dioxide per gallon. This adds up. They also pollute the surrounding environment by producing carcinogenic particulates. 

Fun fact: Diesel generators also cause noise pollution. A single diesel generator emits a noise level of 73 decibels. It’s pretty much like standing next to a blender all day.

But what’s the solution?

Use electric generators!

To combat emissions generated by diesel generators, you should invest in electric generators to power your film set when on location. Electric generators are high-capacity batteries that reduce the local pollution produced by a set to zero.

Diesel generators pollute the land and atmosphere surrounding them and are not pleasant for staff members. Electric generators do not pollute the surrounding land and are better for the film crew standing in and around the production.

You can create a sustainable setup by charging the electric generators with self-generated solar energy.

Old-fashioned diesel generators cause a lot of noise pollution, making it difficult to shoot intimate scenes with little to no background noise—electric generators are the solution.

As well as reducing emissions, it also offers extra benefits:

  • Easier to move around.
  • Save on post-production costs.
  • No poisonous fumes and a safe working environment for the crew.
  • Compact and easy to set up.
  • They’re almost silent, allowing for silence on set.

Another solution in Europe is being rolled out

The Grid Project. The Grid Project is a sustainable energy project looking to supply renewable energy through the mains network directly to the eight key filming locations in London.

The project's aim is to eliminate the need for diesel-powered generators to create an environmentally friendly way of shooting on location and change the way the industry currently works. 

There are financial benefits to the Grid Project as film production will save on soaring diesel costs but will be able to measure electricity usage using energy monitors.

The project is relatively new, so initially, it’s being rolled out to different film locations in London.

Film London is the project leader; however, there are a variety of agencies and establishments that support it. These are:

  • London Boroughs
  • BAFTA
  • Royal Parks
  • the GLA
  • TfL
  • The Production Guild
  • The Mayor’s Office

How to become a more sustainable film production company

Here are some ideas on how to make your next film set more environmentally friendly. 

Use sustainable cutlery and plates

Over and over again on film sets, you see disposable plates and cutlery strewn across the place, ready to be thrown away and taken to the nearest landfill to be buried deep, deep into the ground. It’s not bio-degradable or recyclable.

On the film set, even if it’s on location—as a film production company, you should look to use reusable plates, cups, and cutlery to save on the amount of waste produced. If you can’t carry reusable cutlery and plates, it’s worth looking at recyclable items to reduce landfill waste.

Don’t print!

Use digital scripts and call sheets, and for script changes—e-mail them. Most companies use collaborative software like Celtx or Final Draft, which allows multiple users to collaborate on a project with ease.

Remove bottled water from the film set

By removing bottled water, you eliminate a lot of plastic waste. Introduce filling stations where people can refill their reusable bottles with tap water.

Utilize multi-function trailers

Multi-function trailers immediately reduce your impact on the environment. Instead of having separate trailers for costume and hair and make-up, have a multi-function trailer.

This reduces the impact by having multiple trailers reliant on the diesel generators and the trucks needed to transport each trailer to and from the shoot. This lowers both emissions and costs.

Immerse yourself in the world of solar power

Solar power is an excellent form of energy. Why? Well, for one, it’s a renewable energy source, reducing your film production’s impact on the environment. And two, it will allow you to save money on your energy costs.

Installing solar energy is affordable and cost-effective, and the panels have a 25- to 30-year lifetime.

Compare green energy suppliers

Compare green energy suppliers. You will be able to compare the latest energy prices and see how much you can save on your current usage.

This is great for film production companies connected to the grid. You can use AquaSwitch’s green energy comparison tool* to check out the latest green energy prices.

*Unfortunately, we only work in the UK currently…

What are the benefits of adopting renewable energy?

Here are a few key points on why your next film production should consider renewable energy to power the set.

  1. The actual cost to maintain renewable technology is far lower than gas-fired power stations.
  2. Renewable energy never runs out!
  3. Using renewable energy, you help combat the volatility of the energy market. You will not be reliant on importing non-renewable resources.
  4. It’s great for the environment. You significantly reduce the carbon emissions pumped out into the atmosphere.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments.     

Learn more about AquaSwitch here.

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Your Comment

7 Comments

oh my ... this reads like a Junior High School level book report. Naive and Unrealistic for the most part .... my absolute fav ..... electric generators ....lol... oh you mean batteries geez

August 8, 2022 at 8:17AM

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No, he means electric generators

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_generator

August 8, 2022 at 9:33AM

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David Patrick Raines
Actor/Writer/Director
473

I assume you're being humorous, David? Unfortunately, probably not practical to use hydroelectric power on a film set ;-)

Fortunately, there are actual solar generators - and, yes, they are essentially batteries, Michael (I believe that was mentioned in the article) but they also can generate power using solar panels. Thus far, this is the most powerful solar generator I've seen at 3400 Wh: https://a.co/d/34E7e9r

You'll note it's very expensive compared to a diesel generator which can be purchased for a fraction of that cost and output much more power. Unfortunately, I have not seen a solar generator that can produce the power output of a diesel generator. Its ability to recharge in the field is also limited by the availability of the sun which means that if you're filming at night or on a cloudy day it won't be useful for very long.

There is certainly an argument to be made that you could buy several of these solar generators to match a single diesel generator and, even though it'd be more expensive up front, you might save money over the long term because you wouldn't need to purchase diesel. That really depends on your usage and whether or not you film a lot during the day or at night. If basecamp wasn't too far away, you could have a few units charging off wall power at basecamp while the others are in the field and just have a runner that swaps them out as needed (that seems impractical for small productions but might be doable for larger ones). When the solar panels are extended, though, they take up a lot of space so you'd need to place it far enough away from set that it doesn't become an obstacle you need to shoot around.

Tom also rightly mentions in the article that diesel generators can be quite noisy requiring foley and ADR in post. So it's possible to save on costs in post by using the silent, solar generators. I think this argument is a bit weak if you're talking to an experienced line producer, though. Is the solar generator going to completely eliminate my need for ADR? Seems unlikely. Additionally, if you have stingers that are long enough, in most cases, a diesel generator can be placed far enough away to reduce the noise to a minimum and any remaining noise pollution can be reduced further with sound blankets or by placing the generator behind a physical obstacle such as a building or large vehicle. I did this once while filming in an open field and it worked fine.

In any case, you could, at least, offset your carbon footprint by supplementing a diesel generator with a solar one when it is practical to do so and only use the diesel generator when absolutely necessary.

All that to say, this is possible and can have an impact but it's still hard to justify to the production office when you're discussing budget. I think the solutions proposed in the article are valuable and useful but only if they're able to stand up to the scrutiny of a hard nosed line producer who's trying to squeeze every penny. On some productions they'll be willing to do stuff like this. I worked on a project not too long ago that was all about protecting the oceans and I made the case to our producers that if we were going to shoot this project our production needed to practice what it was preaching which they agreed with. But most productions are not really like that. So there would need to be buy in from the very top that the extra expense was worthwhile.

That said, if someone has real world solutions they can link to below (not Wikipedia articles) that match the performance of a diesel generator and offer at least comparable pricing, I'll buy it.

August 11, 2022 at 7:36PM, Edited August 11, 7:45PM

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Dale Raphael Goldberg
Director / Editor
471

Naive to the apathetic and unrealistic to the lazy, maybe.

August 8, 2022 at 1:49PM

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Blake Byers
Videographer
131

Um, how about the never-ending stream of construction waste and landfill? Filling dumpsters every single day with trash and scraps from set builds? Not even housing people in the process... Generating a huge carbon footprint, along with thousands of tons of trash, all to make a 90-minute trash film or a season of trash TV that no one likes working on to begin with. LOL

August 8, 2022 at 1:50PM, Edited August 8, 1:53PM

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Keiran Regan
Auteur/Raconteur/Provocateur
81

Super strange hill to die on here. Set builds are easily more environmentally friendly - no generators, streamlined onsite recycling, limited trailers, less plastic waste for catering, huge upside for less commuting for crew members.

I'd much rather use wood, a renewable resource, to build a set than extra fossil fuel and plastics to accommodate location shooting for medium sized crews and up.

August 9, 2022 at 12:32AM

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Dan F
DP
39

However that taxes the forests because the logging industry is destroying that. It's becomes a slippery slope, but ultimately the problem lies with the source providers, the oil companies, logging industries, etc.

While this may sound rather odd, until their corporate leverage is defeated, we will never have true sustainable resources. For instance, instead of oil and wood, we could use hemp to generate biodegradable construction materials, organic polymer plastics, and even fuel to power those generators. This bypasses the need to cut down trees and use oil. That's a no-no however.

As long as establish industries retain their control over governments (plural), we will never see sustainable anything.

August 10, 2022 at 8:21AM

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Vidrazor
682