People: The Secret to Sustainable Shoots
Having left her position as an on-staff producer to enact change in the world, Palma Pictures’ Tracy Courtney-Wills now heads up their sustainability department, running a plethora of initiatives which vastly improve their environmental impact year-on-year. Here Tracy highlights how one of the most consumptive industries in the world can start making simple positive changes to the environment by busting outdated habits and implementing small adjustments.
After 10 years as a Line Producer at Palma I knew I needed a change. On a personal level I had become increasingly aware of the far-reaching effects of the mindless consumerism that most people, including myself, were engaging in on a daily basis. There was an obvious disconnect between the changes I was moving towards in my personal life and the industry I was supporting through my work.
There has always been a weight hanging over the issues of sustainability in advertising, but when I took my ideas for change to EP and partner Trent Walton, and CEO Mike Day, I was incredibly lucky to find like-minded individuals who weren’t hung up on the traditional practices. Hence, the Palma Pictures sustainability department was born.
Challenge the Status Quo
It’s no surprise that the advertising industry (and film production in particular) is one of the most consumptive in the world, due to the high volume of resources used to produce campaigns and everything that goes with them. At the moment we are required to meet certain basic standards of sustainability and we’re all encouraged to do the typical things from recycling rubbish to using public transport and so on. But as we move forward, and our resources run down, these requirements will inevitably increase and become compulsory. So businesses should be thinking now about ways that they can move towards a more sustainable future, before they find themselves mandated and in unfamiliar territory and anyway, as with most things in life, we shouldn’t be outsourcing this responsibility and waiting to be told, we have to do it.
Outside of the industry, over the past few years, we’ve seen a wider movement of social change. Technology is increasing the visibility of social and environmental issues. This has seen a growth in the transparency of world issues and has given the general public a platform to make their voices heard and collectively effect change. What’s more, a growing number of people are spending their time and money on meaningful pursuits. There is a drive to be better, and as an industry we need to act on this to survive. If not for the altruistic reasons, but to meet the increasing expectations of the environmentally savvy consumer and client.
Small Changes Add Up
People often tend to think that becoming sustainable will involve a whole company overhaul. But, speaking from experience, you don’t need massive goals to be making a difference – you just need to be taking steps. The mistake we’ve all been making along the way has been pointing the finger and being passive. We shouldn’t be looking at one person or group to start making waves. Every person, in every company, at every stage of the advertising process can and should be doing something.
Throughout the years, one of our most important (and most challenging) initiatives has been reducing the use of plastic bottles on set. We counted that almost 50,000 little plastic bottles were being consumed across each year. When we realised how huge that impact was, we knew we had to do something. So in a simple move we decided to swap from plastic to re-usable, (BPA free) aluminium bottles. We now provide all crew and clients with re-usable bottles and have water fountains on set. We’re not completely plastic free yet but we are making moves to abolish them and are helping the environment along the way. It’s a win win! What’s more delightful is seeing some of our clients do the same. Working with us over the last 2 years, the whole production team for ITV’s ‘Love Island’ have also replaced throwaway plastic with aluminium bottles and water fountains.
Another important and challenging initiative – in terms of changing people’s habits– has been to swap out printed production booklets for digital ones. In 2012 we were printing over a 1000 booklets per year but in 2015 we used just 160, saving a huge amount of paper, ink, and money. Some were worried about using an app in place of the printed booklets they’ve become so accustomed to over the years, but it has turned out to be more popular with our clients than booklets ever were because it is searchable and interactive.
Change may seem scary at first but investing in it can bring even bigger rewards!
Investing in Sustainability
Since beginning my role in 2010, we started out with replacing light bulbs in our offices with LED, installing movement sensors in corridors and bathrooms to automatically switch lights off when not needed, placing flow reducers on taps and making sure we were disposing of all waste products correctly. Six years on we have designed a pretty complex Environmental Management System, in keeping with the ISO 14001 (International Standard for Environmental Management Systems) and EMAS (EcoManagement and Audit Scheme). We have been identifying our areas of impact, putting in place systems to measure that impact and then looking for ways to reduce it where possible. From starting off mainly in energy consumption and waste disposal, this now includes all areas of our activity, such as vehicle maintenance, art department & costume, water & electrical consumption at our studio, and fuel consumption on set, to name a few.
As my role has progressed, upon wrapping every shoot, I now receive forms from six crew members, from different departments, containing important data to help us measure the impact of our change. This includes details of km travelled, genny fuel used, plastic bottles consumed, set construction materials, callsheets printed and so on. This not only gives me the ability to calculate emissions in some areas, but it also helps keep sustainability at the front of people’s minds. It is these sort of behaviour-changing habits that start to become second-nature – and that’s when it’s really working.
Start Somewhere, and Start Now.
Of course not every business has to take the same approach and initiatives as us. Every business is different and your starting place should be wherever you can make a difference. Maybe it won’t happen on your next shoot, or even the following one – but keep asking and soon it will be a reality!
If staff at all levels of advertising production, including clients and agencies, could just start asking for things to happen, from working with environmentally conscious partners, right down to using recycling bins, water coolers and conducting paperless shoots, then this will create demand. We need to talk about it as teams and companies, bring our ideas to company meetings and bust the outdated tradition that servicing a client well should equate to plying them with disposable everything. It may be viewed progressive now, but it’s much easier to incrementally adopt these practices before they become enforceable.
At Palma Pictures we are on a real journey with all of this, we are fully on board and making changes but we are under no illusion that we can do this alone - to really make an impact we need everyone else to get involved, so that change is happening on every set of the world.
For more information and resources for implementing sustainable initiatives on shoots I’d recommend visiting AdGreen. AdGreen is a free platform that production companies and crew can access for free resources about how to conduct shoots in a greener way, whatever your involvement. It’s an incredible starting place, with lots of readymade resources and ideas - including a shoot checklist for production to work through, template emails to tell crew about the initiative, and links to sustainable organisations - that take the hard work out of your hands.
Genre: Experiential , People