There is a groundswell of sustainable production going on in TV and film, but are we still short of sustainability scriptwriters?


Sony claim The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which was released last month, is their most eco-friendly blockbuster to date, and the evidence looks good; they diverted 52% of their waste from landfill, donated 5,861 meals to local hospices, used eco-friendly cleaning products, water-based smoke and paints, biodegradable snow, reusable water bottles (saving some 193,000 disposable bottles), planted trees and offset the remaining emissions through WWF. Spider-Man was the first superhero ambassador for Earth Hour 2014, and there was also an EcoSpidey game and Twitter account to engage fans on their sustainability work.


Many of the other big film studios also have sustainability programmes, and are achieving impressive results; Disney has had a sustainability co-ordinator on all films since 2010; The Motion Picture Association of America claims its members diverted 73.4% of their waste from landfill last year, 20th Century Fox opened the first LEED-certified wind-powered post-production facility in LA earlier this year; and Warner Bros donated27,862 meals through its Encore programme in 2013 and won an award for its retrofit of the old Rolls Royce site in Hertfordshire (achieving BREAAM “very good”).


In the UK, the BFI are encouraging sustainable practises leading the push that saw a new standard for sustainable film production, BS 8909introduced in 2011. The new standard has been used by many of the studios, with Working Title’s Johnny English Reborn, the first to achieve certification.


There has also been a lot of progress made on the small screen too, largely due to a surprising amount of collaboration in this competitive arena. The BBC and Bafta have been at the heart of this, assembling theBafta Albert Consortium of production companies and broadcasters in 2011; who develop tools, guides, training programmes and resources to support the sustainability shift, all accessible on Media Greenhouse.


Their Albert carbon calculator for TV production has been used to footprint more than 1,000 productions since 2012, including everything by BSkyB. Currently the BBC is trialling Albert +, the consortium’s sustainable production tool, which guides teams through measuring their sustainability impacts, setting targets and engaging stakeholders.


A key element in this progress has been the growing number of innovative suppliers. From renewably powered generators such as Firefly and Midas, to sustainable caterers Squid and Pear, or Dres’d, who will take unwanted sets and transform them into new ones, or into something entirely different such as event and office furniture or even a restaurant. Productions can also source sustainable set products from Green Product Placement, who will plan to offer sustainable wardrobe solutions in the near future.


So with all of this great work going on behind the scenes, why do we still see so little normalised sustainability behaviour in front of the cameras?


There are plenty of awareness-raising documentaries, films and children’s animations dedicated to sustainability issues,. But the crucial element that is still missing, are characters in big-budget films and populist TV programmes carrying out simple activities such as recycling, cycling, water saving and buying sustainable products.


In the US, the Environmental Media Association has been awarding films and TV programmes for highlighting sustainability issues since 1989.Winners include all the films and documentaries you would expect to see, and also a list of TV programmes that you might not expect to see. The theory is great, but the fact of their existence only highlights the gap.


British soaps have raised awareness and understanding of some complex and crucial issues over the years, from HIV, to bullying, child grooming and body image issues, but very little has been done to cover climate change and our part in it. The BBC’s radio soap, The Archerscovered UK flooding last year and has talked about climate change in the past, but there has been little else, and very little to inspire behaviour change.


Are we lacking scriptwriters who are able to write in these behaviours and issues to populist programmes and blockbuster films? Or is it simply that the producers lack the impetus and bravery to integrate them for fear of their audiences feeling preached to. The latter seems more likely.


I would suggest this lack of impetus stems from the desire from many corners, for many different reasons (mostly financial), to continue to position climate change as complex, and our individual abilities to affect positive change, as impossible.


The reality is that climate change is happening, and we can all influence it in the decisions we make every day – from the products and services we buy, the financial products we use, how we travel, to almost every aspect of how we live our lives.


Surely Ian Beale running his van on chip fat from his chippy, or charging for carrier bags on his stall could fit neatly in the script somewhere? Or the Underworld factory in Coronation Street questioning the labour standards behind some particularly cheap fabrics it is offered? I believe so, and I think our scriptwriters have the skills and imagination needed to ensure they come across naturally, without leaving audiences feeling they have been lectured. We just need to be brave.


This post was originally published on the Guardian Sustainable Business Sustainable Living Hub blog