Greening the television schedule

29th July 2015


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Author

Graham Lewis

Paul Suff learns how TV programme makers are rising to the sustainability challenge

History is littered with remarkable Alberts, including the physicist Einstein and former US vice-president and climate change campaigner Gore. Another has emerged to help the UK’s leading television production companies and broadcasters reduce the environmental impacts of their programmes.

The albert Consortium features 12 of the UK’s largest screen production companies and broadcasters, including all3media, the BBC, Channel 4, Endemol, IMG, ITV, Hat Trick, Kudos, NBCUniversal International Television, Sky, Twofour, UKTV and Warner Bros Television Production UK. It champions the television industry’s use of sustainable production techniques and provides tools – including the bespoke carbon calculator albert, from which the group derives its name and certification scheme albert+ – as well as guidance on reducing the environmental impact of moving-image media production.

The list of popular television shows that have achieved albert+ include the long-running BBC drama Casualty; the Sky documentary series Ross Kemp: Extreme World; the BBC talk show Graham Norton; and the Sky comedy Trollied (p.26).

Counting the cost

The consortium operates under the aegis of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta). Aaron Matthews, Bafta’s industry sustainability manager, is responsible for maintaining the carbon calculator as well as the website – wearealbert.co.uk – which has tips and information to support sustainable working practices in the screen arts. He says the ephemeral nature of the industry underlines the need for a single, easily accessible resource. “Screen production is an industry mainly of freelancers, many of whom jump from one project to another. At the same time, most broadcasters commission programmes from independent production companies rather than make their own. So an industry standard and freely available tools to help producers calculate and do something about their carbon footprint is essential if the industry is to become more sustainable.”

Matthews says carbon emissions from the TV industry must be reduced by 80% by 2050 in line with government targets for the UK. The consortium’s latest annual report reveals that in 2014 the average carbon footprint of one hour’s television in the UK was 9.4 tonnes. This includes emissions from the energy to power studios and production facilities, travel for cast and crew, set building and catering. Across the main genres, archive and animated programmes tend to have the smallest footprint and drama productions the largest.

Calculating a programme’s carbon footprint is the first step to reducing it, says Matthews. The albert carbon calculator is key, enabling production companies to estimate the footprint of a programme by inputting information from across the production process, such as studio use and time spent in editing suites. albert then produces a series of charts showing the total CO2 emitted during production, the amount emitted for each £100,000 of budget and for each production hour.

A production company can use albert before shooting begins to generate an indicative footprint and challenge itself to perform better or submit a final score after a programme has been made. Footprint predictions are independently reviewed by the consultancy, Sustainable Business Practices, and, if approved, added to the albert database. albert also contains data from more than 1,000 productions, so makers can benchmark their programme against similar ones.

The calculator began life at the BBC. Its creator, Richard Smith, sustainable production manager at the corporation, says albert was developed to engage programme makers. “The BBC had its overall corporate carbon target but it was remote and not particularly relevant to individual programmes. We also had no idea what the carbon impact was of, say, Mastermind, and how it compared with that of Blue Peter, for example,” he explains.

That was in 2009 when Smith, a former business correspondent, was asked to devise a way to measure the footprint of BBC progammes. “We wanted a way to compare programmes across genres, from comedy and drama to entertainment and factual. Something to enable us to benchmark 15 minutes of a Newsround special against hundreds of hours of Eastenders.”

Smith says albert was deliberately made simple and easily accessible. “albert is a means to an end, not an end in itself,” he says. “Its aim is to motivate people in the industry to take action rather than produce a complete picture of the carbon impact of a programme.” He explains that albert is accurate in so far as the formula and conversion factors are correct, but it does not capture everything. “That was intentional,” he says. “If we had made it too complex, production and editorial teams would not have used it. The fact that they can answer a few questions to generate a figure and compare it with other programmes is the start of a process.”

He says the questions posed are intended to provoke dialogue in production teams over issues such as the number of nights that cast and crew need to spend in a hotel or whether “greener” lighting systems can be used on set. Matthews says: “We ask questions that we know production managers or companies will know the answers to. They will know, for example, the size of skip they’ve hired and what proportion of waste goes to recycling rather than the amount in tonnes of waste generated over the course of making a programme. For timber, we ask for total spend, not amount in cubic metres. It is the same for travel and fuel.”

To encourage its wider use in the industry, the consortium took over responsibility for albert in 2011. The latest version of the calculator has been developed by carbon management software business Greenstone and uses a combination of bespoke and Defra carbon factors to calculate footprints.

Since 2011, about 1,400 footprints have been submitted to albert. These have generated more than 80,000 tonnes of carbon, used 38 million kWh of electricity, recorded 69 million travel miles, and consumed 1.8 million litres of diesel to power generators.

The plus factor

Raising awareness of environmental issues through the carbon calculator is an important first step but, if the industry is to be more sustainable, production companies need to address their impacts.

To assist them, the consortium’s wearealbert website has more than 200 green production tips. These include simple suggestions, such as posting signs to remind people to switch off computers and lights, and to print double-sided or not print at all, as well as more complicated actions, such as developing and implementing a waste management plan to limit or eliminate waste to landfill. The online resource hosts more than 50 case studies showcasing the efforts of programme makers.

The consortium’s albert+ certification scheme seeks to further embed sustainability in the industry. It is also key to engaging audiences on sustainability. Programmes that achieve a particular number of tasks aimed at embedding sustainability principles are awarded the albert+ badge, which is displayed in the credits that roll at the end of the show.

A programme bearing the albert+ mark will have achieved three things:

  • sustainability issues were led by somebody at
    the top of the production company;
  • its environmental footprint was accurately measured; and
  • procedures were put in place to reduce its impact.

It also means that, while making the programme, the cast and crew:

  • adopted a planned approach to their
    environmental impact;
  • sought to reduce their travel wherever possible;
  • used resources sensibly and managed waste responsibly; and.
  • limited their power consumption.

Productions have to provide evidence that sustainability was promoted on set, and that they adopted best practice and reduced their carbon footprint against standard industry practice. Independent auditors review the evidence, and programmes receive a 1-, 2- or 3-star rating, depending on the number of initiatives adopted. Reports are fed back to the consortium to find out what is working in practice.

Since albert+ was developed and piloted by the BBC in 2013, more than 20 programmes on its channels have achieved the standard, including CBBC programmes All At Sea and Gigglebiz, and the natural history unit’s Springwatch, Autumnwatch and Winterwatch. The first to display the badge was the drama From There To Here, which aired in May 2014 and was made for BBC1 by consortium member Kudos.

Switched on

Matthews and Smith agree that it is now easier to engage people in the industry on sustainability. “In the past, we’d approach productions and ask them to do albert. “Now we get requests,” says Matthews. Smith says: “Senior people at the BBC are supportive of sustainable production and shows produced in-house must use the carbon calculator, so there is a general acceptance across the corporation that production teams must complete their ‘alberts’.”

Smith says it is now common for production teams to approach the sustainability department for advice after a programme is commissioned. “It’s not about helping them fill in the albert calculator, but about having a discussion on the actions they might consider to reduce the programme’s impacts,” he says.

Broadcasters such as Sky, which demands details of a carbon footprint from programme makers, is also helping to raise awareness and use of albert and albert+.

Demonstrating that sustainable production methods are not necessarily more costly, which is often the perception, is also important in getting more companies to engage. “We cannot promise people they will save a lot of money but by making the right choices a sustainable production can easily be cost-neutral,” says Smith. “It’s swings and roundabouts. What you save from reusing sets or minimising waste can be spent on slightly more expensive LED lighting.”

Smith believes the cost savings will increase as equipment, such as low-energy lighting and solar-powered or hybrid generators for filming on location, becomes more widely available.

However, time-pressed production teams can be cautious and sometimes reluctant to use unconventional equipment. “It’s their reputations on the line and they want to be sure the technology works,” Smith says. “There was a perception in the industry a few years ago that LED lighting in studios was not good enough. But now the flagship BBC drama Casualty uses 100% low-energy lighting, which is altering opinions.” To assist the transition, the BBC has produced a guide outlining the technical capabilities for some of the low-energy lighting technologies that are available.

Smith points out that, although television is a highly competitive industry, it is collaborating on sustainability. “It is important that everyone in the industry is on board, as content will increasingly be produced by the independent sector.”

The consortium’s plans include engaging television audiences on sustainability. Having the albert+ badge on more programmes is part of this strategy. “People recognise the FSC and Fairtrade logos and that is our goal for albert+,” says Matthews.

To further this ambition, the consortium is aiming for all the major UK broadcasters to transmit at least one albert+ programme in 2015.


Casualty

The BBC medical drama Casualty is filmed in a building rated as BREEAM outstanding. Lighting is provided by a low-energy solution – mainly KinoFlo to reduce energy consumption by 158,000 kWh a year – and will pay for itself in four years. Meanwhile, the sound department on the programme has switched to rechargeable batteries. The annual cost of buying conventional batteries (AA and 9V) was £850, while rechargeable ones cost only £150 a year. Casualty achieved the highest 3-star rating under the albert+ certification scheme.

Ross Kemp: Extreme World

The fourth season of Ross Kemp: Extreme World is an albert+ certified production and the most sustainable series of programmes so far. Using albert+ guidelines, the maker, Freshwater Films, adopted “greener” modes of travel and reduced fuel consumption, giving it a carbon footprint 20% lower than the industry average for factual programmes. The series aired on Sky1 earlier this year.

Graham Norton Show

The Graham Norton Show, which is produced by So Television, first aired in 2007 and has just completed its 17th season on BBC1. The latest series achieved albert+ certification for reducing its carbon emissions from energy and fuel consumption by using low-energy lighting and hybrid vehicles. It also saved almost 10,000 sheets of paper, while the set has been reused for all 240 shows in the 17 series.

The Interceptor

The recently aired eight-part BBC drama, The Interceptor, was the first UK production to use electric vehicles. The series was made in-house by BBC Drama Productions and achieved the highest 3-star rating under the albert+ scheme. Other measures in production to reduce the environmental impacts include using sustainable caterers and low-energy lighting, and repurposing bits of the set.

Trollied

Season four of the comedy Trollied was the first Sky production to secure albert+ certification, achieving the highest 3-star rating. Roughcut TV, which made the series, halved the power it consumed on set by removing one-third of ceiling fluorescent lights and reducing the number of floor-lamp lights. It also reduced its paper use by 80% by using an opt-in policy for call sheets and scripts. Secondhand props and dressings were sourced, while transport emissions, which accounted for half of the series’ carbon footprint, were cut by crewing locally and accommodating most of the cast in the same hotel and taking them to the set together when possible. Overall, the carbon footprint of the fourth series was 7% less than the previous one.


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