How can the creative industries adopt sustainable design?
The creative industries are not often talked about through the lens of ‘sustainability’. For these sectors, falling in line with the growing concerns surrounding the environment, climate change or sustainable thinking has not always been the first priority - that is, until now.
In this article, we speak with Dr. Katie Beverley, Senior Research Officer at PDR, about how the creative industries can adopt sustainable design and why this change is so quickly, crucially needed.
“In short, the creative industries are not doing enough about sustainability,” Katie explains. “The average Hollywood blockbuster film emits 2,840 tonnes of carbon dioxide during production - which is about the same amount that it would take 3,700 acres of trees to absorb, per year. When you’re dealing with those sorts of figures on a constant basis, it’s hard to come to any other conclusion; sustainability is not a priority.”
But is there change happening at all? Katie thinks there is. “There are pockets of excellence across the industry. Major film productions are adopting virtual production and limiting their transport, while one-man bands are lobbying for adopting green energy practices - so there’s definitely movement.
“And it’s support from organisations like albert, which is the UK’s leading authority on sustainability in TV and film, and Julie’s Bicycle, a charity that supports music and arts to become even more sustainable, that helps me sleep easier at night after watching James Bond write off another Aston Martin!”
The average Hollywood blockbuster film emits 2,840 tonnes of carbon dioxide during production - which is about the same amount that it would take 3,700 acres of trees to absorb, per year.Dr Katie Beverley | Senior Research Officer | PDR
So there’s change happening. But are production companies aware of the benefits they’d see by adopting sustainable design - and if so, what are those benefits? There’s an economic case for it, when you consider saving costs from flights, transport and materials of course, but with large upfront costs an expected element of big budget filming, saving money isn’t always a major concern.
“Instead,” Katie explains, “you have to look at the other benefits. New audiences are much more interested in sustainability issues; they want to see climate relevant content, and they’re much more keen to know whether your business is behaving responsibly. So it’s in the businesses’ interest to create their own news stories about this.
“And working out how to be sustainable is actually a creative endeavour in itself. We often think of it as a constraint, but it can be enormously rewarding to challenge yourself in your business practices and come up with something different to challenge the status quo.”
New audiences are much more interested in sustainability issues; they want to see climate relevant content, and they’re much more keen to know whether your business is behaving responsibly.Dr Katie Beverley | Senior Research Officer | PDR
When discussing how the industries can physically change their methods to embrace sustainability, Katie emphasises it’s about putting it into place at the very start. “By putting sustainability as a criteria right at the very beginning of planning, that’s where the creative opportunities come from.
“In the newly-published Screen New Deal from albert, the BFI and Arup, they look at the key areas the industry really needs to address; Production Materials, Energy and Water Use, Studio Buildings and Facilities, and Sites and Locations. Whether it’s re-using or sharing sets with other productions, or replacing the typical diesel generators on-site with solar or wind energy generation - these are the kinds of things production companies can quite easily consider.”
“In addition to those key areas, I would add another and that’s generating sustainable content. There are millions of people watching creative outputs in different forms - this is potentially an opportunity to ‘nudge’ these people into new ways of thinking. That’s why albert recently developed an initiative called Planet Placement, using the same frameworks used by product placement but promoting messaging around sustainability instead of razors or fizzy drinks.
“And it’s also why the TV soap Coronation Street has been replacing foam boxes with reusable packaging into their cafe scenes over the past few years. That’s the type of behavioural change that can be played out on TV screens in millions of homes across the country.”
The TV soap Coronation Street has been replacing foam boxes with reusable packaging into their cafe scenes over the past few years. That’s the type of behavioural change that can be played out on TV screens in millions of homes across the country.Dr Katie Beverley | Senior Research Officer | PDR
It’s important to look at how changes can be made at a local or regional level - and how these can quickly grow and develop into industry-leading innovations. At PDR, we work with Clwstwr on projects to bring sustainability and innovation to media production; for example, through the Green Cymru Challenge Fund, where we give participants the tools and methods to shift sustainability from a constraint into something that unlocks that innovation potential.
“A great project that came through Clwstwr is Lauren Orme’s ‘Greening the Animation’ project, where she set out to find out about how green the animation industry is and whether industry festivals can be carried out in a climate-conscious way.
“And a second example would be the Smart Power Plan,” continues Katie. “That’s a project by ZAP Concepts looking at how existing lighting and energy approaches can be adapted to meet the needs of contemporary creative installations for festivals, film sites, museum installations and more.
“Through these types of projects, Clwstwr is definitely becoming a really important mouthpiece for developing these sustainable practices within the industry. Using consortiums like Clwstwr, albert, the BFI and other influential organisations who demand change, we can put sustainable design at the heart of creative production and make a long-term impact for good.”