Green signal for Hollywood

IN THE early 1990s, some 100 environmental activists stormed an Indonesian freighter bringing rain forest wood to the major studios. “We pulled up in a small Zodiac,” recalls Atossa Soltani, now executive director of Amazon Watch.

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Published: Wed 23 Apr 2008, 11:06 AM

Last updated: Mon 6 Nov 2023, 4:47 PM

“People used climbing equipment to rappel up the side of the ship and unfurled a huge banner that said, ‘Rainforest Wood Out of Hollywood.’”

That scene now seems like ancient history. Studios that once ignored green demands now have flotillas of staff catering to them. Actors, agents and executives who formerly made indulgence their mantra are among the leading environmental activists. And the watchdog groups that once hounded the industry are increasingly singling it out as a relative do-gooder.

Is Hollywood doing enough?

But is Hollywood doing enough good? Is the industry - and above all, are the studios that are central to it - truly doing everything it can?

Richard Turco, a professor at UCLA who co-authored a controversial study two years ago lambasting Hollywood’s environmental activities, points to the sheer waste that takes place on most film sets, along with the excessive use of polluting fuels. “Obviously, there is a move by the industry toward greener practices,” Turco says. “But they have not thrown out their old diesel generators. It is an industry; it still uses huge amounts of material.”

UCLA report on sustainability

“With a few notable and inspiring exceptions, environmental considerations are not high on the agenda in the film and television industry, and more could be done within the industry to foster environmentally friendly approaches,” was the verdict of UCLA professors Turco and Charles Corbett, who teach atmospheric and oceanic sciences, and environmental management and operations, respectively. The UCLA report, ‘Sustainability in the Motion Picture Industry’ drew the studios’ ire back then, and it still does today.

“It relied on data that was more than 10 years old, and the economic modelling it used was based on 1997 baseline numbers.” says Melissa Patack, VP State Government Affairs for the Motion Picture Association of America, a trade group representing the major Hollywood studios.

Models for other industries; celebrity support

If they are indeed models, there are solid reasons for that. The studios have had to comply with state legislation limiting their emissions and mandating a greater level of recycling.

But they have also taken a leading role via a number of prominent environmentalists who have become influential industry figures. A-list actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz and Edward Norton have stumped for environmental causes, and agencies have followed. The William Morris Agency’s new Beverly Hills office building will be constructed entirely of sustainable materials, and is set to earn a rare Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification upon completion.

Pro-green initiative

The result of this activism is that almost every studio has enacted a specific pro-green initiative and now employs a cadre of executives in charge of reducing its carbon footprint.

Disney has 30 full-time staffers devoted to its ‘Strive for Five’ environmental initiative, which aims to cut energy use by 5% annually across its four theme parks, 18 hotels, several golf courses, water parks and its huge downtown Disney entertainment complex. Disney is also completing a year-long, top-to-bottom study of how it can improve environmentally.

Other studios are equally invested. “The programmes we have are a manifestation of creating a culture within a company,” says Shelley Billik, VP Environmental Initiatives for Warner Bros., who notes that the studio has seven full-time labourers charged with picking up recycled material alone. “Whether you are a producer or a procurement person or an accountant, we are trying to make you a more environmentally conscious citizen.”

Over at NBC Universal, the company has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 3% by 2012 and greenhouse gas intensity by 30%, following guidelines laid down by parent General Electric. In November alone, Universal collected 143,000 pounds of hazardous waste at a specially organised event, including 63,000 cans of paint, 41,000 pounds of electronic waste and 11,000 pounds of automotive waste.

Its 2007 comedy ‘Evan Almighty’ was the first completely carbon-neutral film production, and its upcoming ‘The Incredible Hulk’ followed EMA’s guidelines on going green even though that meant spending ‘20%-30% extra on wood’ alone, according to producer Gale Anne Hurd.

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