How Hollywood Studios Go Green On and Off the Set

Available to WrapPRO members

Warner Bros. sustainability director Mike Slavich said he’s working with the other major studios to implement industry-wide benchmarks to monitor Hollywood’s environmental impact

Glen Wilson/Focus Features

As pressure from activists and celebrities for more environmentally friendly practices continue to mount, studios are looking to increase their efforts and work together to decrease Hollywood’s carbon footprint. Hollywood, with its average of 700 films a year and increasing number TV projects, can have a significant impact on the environment. Movies with a budget of $50 million dollars typically produce the equivalent of roughly 4,000 metric tons of CO2, according to a blog from the Earth Institute at Columbia University. That is roughly the weight of a giant sequoia tree. The environmental impact tied to film and TV projects includes everything from flights for actors, to food for production crews, fuel for generators and electricity for lighting. Pyrotechnical scenes also generate their share of carbon and greenhouse gases. Hollywood studios have had, in one way or another, practices in place in order to curb emissions and waste. However, with the conversations around climate change heating up, Warner Bros. director of sustainability Mike Slavich said the heightened awareness has led to innovative collaborations and an increased willingness from cast and crew to adopt environmentally-friendly practices. “The studios, and Warner Bros., have been working quietly towards waste reduction and the idea of sustainability for a long time,” Slavich told TheWrap. “These days, climate change is so much more real, and it’s impacting people in such a real way… We deal with people with big personalities and while some are certainly resistant, there are many others who are proactive.” Leonardo DiCaprio, for example, has been vocal in his fight to enact change for environmental protection. Just last week he announced an informal partnership with activist Greta Thunberg on Instagram. I hope that Greta’s message is a wake-up call to world leaders everywhere that the time for inaction is over,” DiCaprio wrote. “It is because of Greta, and young activists everywhere that I am optimistic about what the future holds… She and I have made a commitment to support one another, in hopes of securing a brighter future for our planet.” Other big names, such as Jason Mamoa, Jaden Smith, and Shailene Woodly, have also been vocal and active in pushing for action and reform. Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body formed by the United Nations, issued a report warning against not limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius. Doing so would require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society,” the IPCC said. According to the report, from 1880 to 2012, the average global temperature had increased by 0.85 degrees celsius already. Slavich said that the awareness has made it easier on film productions to get casts and crews to do things like abandon plastic water bottles in lieu of reusable containers, use battery-powered generators rather than fuel, embrace electric-powered vehicles and energy efficient lighting, as well as donate food and set materials to minimize waste. For example, the production for Universal Pictures’ upcoming film “Harriet,” based on the iconic slave abolitionist Harriet Tubman, avoided using materials to build sets, filming most of the movie on location. According to the studio, however, the $60,000 worth of train cars, trailers, and set materials that the crew did use was donated. The “Harriet” construction, set decoration, costumes, and production departments also donated thousands of dollars worth of materials including furniture, towels, blankets, and clothing to local organizations, including Habitat for Humanity and the Virginia Film Commission. Off the set, the production set up recycling and established digital distribution for scripts and schedules rather than print everything — and used 100% recycled content paper, when needed. Over the weekend, Zena Harris, CEO of consulting firm Green Spark Group, hosted the fourth Sustainable Production Forum, an event meant to encourage innovation and conversation within sustainable film production. “Everything has an impact [on the environment], and entertainment is no different,” Harris said. “One of the key things that’s important for the industry is to be able to talk about it and share this knowledge and these stories — that’s why we have this event, we noticed there was a lack of conversation.” Of course, there’s the issue of the dent such practices make in studios’ pocket books, with production budgets on some films already climbing north of $200 million. But Slavich and Harris both said that in most cases incorporating environmentally-friendly practices into production can actually be cost beneficial. If a production isn’t printing paper, or buying cases of plastic water bottles, they’re saving money. And even if investing in more expensive technologies up front, such as battery powered generators or electric vehicles and other machinery, they tend to ultimately save on fuel. Though there’s currently no industry-wide way to track the effect of the collective steps studios are taking to reduce Hollywood’s carbon footprint, individual studios have tools to track their own progress. In 2017, the Producers Guild of America launched the Green Production guide, which, among other things, provides a carbon calculator to help producers keep track of a production’s environmental footprint, as well as a guide that helps departments set goals for sustainability. The Motion Picture Association of America published a report in April that its member studios donated the equivalent of more than 130,000 meals from productions throughout the country, and continued to reduce landfill waste from sets, achieving a 64 percent diversion rate in 2018. Slavich said he’s been working with the other major studios to share data and implement industry-wide benchmarks to better monitor Hollywood’s impact on the environment. “There’s really great momentum happening right now,” Slavich said. “And there’s so much more production right now, so it’s important that we talk to one another and help each other make the right steps because if we do, I think we can have a pretty big impact.”