Two things you should know about me that at first glance might have nothing in common: First, I love to watch movies and series – to dive into other worlds, to escape from reality, and just to have a good time. For me, there’s nothing better than going to the movies or lying on the couch on a rainy Sunday, watching a good movie, or binging a series. I even play a pivotal role in their creation as I work as an actor myself. Second, I consciously try to live sustainably because what we consume or do has a direct impact on the world’s ecosystems. I don’t eat meat, I don’t drive a car; instead, I use my bike or public transport. And I pay attention to labels to support companies dedicated to sustainable production and fair wages for laborers.
Two years ago, when I first read about the environmental impact of filmmaking in The Guardian, I was shocked. I hadn’t realized that my love for movies and for my job could seriously conflict with my dedication to the environment. Because the truth is: Blockbuster films with budgets of over $70 million produce an average of 2,840 tons of CO2 per production. That is equivalent to 11 one-way trips from the earth to the moon!
How does the enormous carbon footprint occur? It’s not only due to the shooting itself, but also to pre- and post-production activities. Since actors often have to travel for auditions, production companies book flights to save as much travel time as possible. During film production, transport – 30% is air travel – is the main contributor to the carbon footprint. Actors are rarely present at the location for the entire shooting period but travel back and forth between their shooting days. Huge convoys of vehicles transport film sets and technical equipment, and power generators are indispensable assets on any film set. In addition, most caterers use throw-away plasticware. While shooting the series Sisi in the Baltic countries, I was part of a team of hundreds of people. Food was served in plastic dishes, and between takes, hundreds of extras were supplied with water from plastic cups. As a result, vast amounts of plastic waste accumulated.
Even post-production leaves a huge carbon footprint. Compressing and storing high-definition movies for streamers releases carbon emissions into the atmosphere – from the time we turn on our device to the time the files travel over fiber optics from data centers to our device to deliver a film. According to recent studies, watching an hour series on 4K resolution using a fixed network emits approximately 30 gCO2e/hour.
Amazon’s original The Rings of Power has recently been heavily criticized because the film production seems to have been anything but sustainable. The first season produced five times as much carbon dioxide – about 14,387 tons – as an average blockbuster film. This roughly equals the electricity consumption of 2,540 households for one year. Crew members that were anonymously interviewed by The Guardian reported increased waste generation, with one staffer collecting 11,433 cubic yards of waste during production – roughly four and a half Olympic-size swimming pools. Another reported collecting 355.5 tons of landfill waste – the weight of around 25 London double-decker buses.
In contrast to the series adaptation of Lord of the Rings, blockbuster director James Cameron recently made a major contribution to so-called green filming. For the shooting of Avatar’s sequel, a 960-kilowatt solar system was built for his production company, generating enough solar energy to cover the entire electricity requirements of the computers and performance measurement systems. At the same time, it offset over 1,034 tons of carbon dioxide.
In recent years, I’ve observed that productions filmed in Germany are shot more and more sustainably. If certain requirements are complied with, productions get a green badge. Some film commissions, such as the one in Schleswig-Holstein, only subsidize productions that receive the so-called green shooting pass. This pass awards environmentally friendly and sustainable alternatives to current practice on set – from organic food and less paper distribution to transportation by train instead of planes. The younger generation in particular – both in front of and behind the camera – seems committed to green shooting and raises their voice to generate attention and drive change.
It is still a long process to make the film industry completely sustainable, but through further initiatives such as the green shooting pass and pioneers like James Cameron, film productions worldwide will become more sustainable and leave a much smaller carbon footprint than they currently do.
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