Sustainability has to remain on the broadcasting agenda.

As featured in Broadcast Magazine, 16/07/2015, written by Aaron Matthews 

Last week two of TV’s most loved brands, Springwatch and Coronation Street, pit their eco credentials against each other to be crowned winner of the new film and TV category at the Observer Ethical Awards. Corrie emerged victorious after cutting their footprint considerably and introducing green issues editorially. Judges however were most impressed by the wide spread roll out of the carbon literacy course – engaging crew with the impact of the production process and fuelling collaborative action to reduce it. Despite Corrie clinching the eco crown, the course was jointly developed by 5 industry partners including ITV and the BBC and again demonstrates how the industry is collaborating to reduce its environmental impact. 

Having worked ‘greening’ the film and TV industry for 5 years I have celebrated my fair share of double-sided printing, revelled the re-use of water bottles and applauded on set recycling. These aren’t the things that excite me as although they represent tangible reductions, they do little to curb carbon emissions. Entrants into this year’s awards however marked a movement away from entry level. Supporting Springwatch and Corrie’s applications were low carbon generators, supply chain engagement, efficient lighting and on-set composting. This is the sexier side of sustainability that I get out of bed for. These changes also mark a move away from simple swaps towards planned strategic efficiencies, both financial and environmental. 

It is encouraging that more people in the industry are taking a long term view to the environmental sustainability of the production industry. Whether costing polystyrene against compostable cups or pricing responsible material disposal, the paybacks are there if you can wait for them. This is arguably why long running series are ‘top in class’ regarding action on green issues. 

We can take this ‘spend now, save big later’ model further still. PwC estimate that the cost of dealing with effects of climate change in a few decades will be almost 10 times as large as immediate preventative action. For the production industry this means that now might be a good time to invest in low carbon data centres, studio based materials repurposing facilities and green news gathering vehicles. Unfortunately we must fund these initiatives when the BBC, who have led much of the work around sustainable production, is under more pressure to find efficiencies than ever. Can the industry afford to do it? Can it afford not too? 

A key component of the Carbon Literacy course which supported Corrie’s victory is helping delegates plan to make a difference. Arguably, one of the reasons leading to lack of action is that doing things the right way can take a little longer until you get used to it: A perceived inconvenience that hinders our move towards a greener industry. Rest assured however, that the reality of food shortages, draught, power outages and extreme weather with be significantly more inconvenient. Addressing our environmental footprint can help us find pinch points and will ultimately steer us towards resilience. 

My work concentrates on environmental sustainability but I must consider a broader social sustainability too, diversity included. I fear however that if the industry insists on prioritising one agenda over another that we might end up diverse yet doomed. Corrie and Springwatch have given me hope that things are moving in the right direction. With Obama recently citing the inspiration his interest in the natural world to our natural history documentaries, I think we’d do well to concentrate on the amazing potential of television to engage audiences with the natural world as to focus on our growing carbon footprint.