During the 1980s, the German Green Party was gaining traction and becoming a formidable political force. Sustainability and the environment have always been important issues for the Green Party. As we begin the year 2023, this article about film and media schools is starting to recognise the urgency of the climate crisis.
The link between carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and climate change was established in 1896 by Professor Svante Arhenius (Figure 1). Over the century, Arhenius’ research was confirmed by scientists, yet more than a hundred years since his publication, film and media schools have been slow to incorporate sustainability into their curricula.
Sustainability in Film and Media Schools
This research examines why more progress has not been made in teaching sustainability in institutions. While there are organisations that are promoting environmentally friendly practices in filmmaking, film, and media schools have not been at the forefront of these efforts.
For example, the German Initiative for Green Film Shooting and the US-based Green Production Guide offer resources for sustainable production. In the UK, Albert provides a carbon calculator and certification for green filmmaking practices. However, film and media schools do not actively promote sustainability on their websites.
Based on prior knowledge, the level of interest in Green Filmmaking among students, colleagues, and the researcher’s industry network seems relatively low. To find out if this was true, a survey of students and industry professionals in the researcher’s network.
The results showed that people do care about Green Filmmaking. Survey participants rated Green Filmmaking as important. However, when asked if sustainability was a part of their education, it became clear that sustainability is not well integrated into media education (Figure 2).
Some industry professionals claim that sustainability practices change the way they produce work and even increase their competitive edge:
We have started employing local crews when we need to film something in foreign countries, we’re hosting virtual events for clients, we combine roles on set to reduce travel. We work paperless at the office and try to recycle as much as possible. We feel like this makes a small but tangible change.
Companies and freelancers are also making important changes:
I have invested a lot of money into LED lights, because production companies don’t want to have a gasoline demanding generator on set. When using HMIs for example, you need a 40 kVa generator.
But some remain skeptical:
Sustainability is important to me, but the extent to which it is actually possible (power usages and current standard of hierarchy structured businesses) is questionable to me. I believe the term “green filmmaking” is more greenwashing than actual green.
This view is not uncommon in the industry and often connects to a misconception among freelancers and SMEs about their potential in the sector – which is reflected in this statement from a surveyed freelancer:
I do think there is a more significant possible impact for Green Filmmaking in large scale productions …. I just don’t see the meaningful impact other than the fact that every bit helps.
This perspective is understandable, but it shifts when individuals understand the bigger picture: most businesses in the creative industries in Europe and other developed regions are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
SMEs are a vital part of the economy, and they have the potential to make a significant impact in sustainability by following guidelines. However, this knowledge needs to be taught in film and media schools to create change effectively.
The education sector must take a more proactive role and innovate new ways to implement sustainability practices. Despite the dreams of Schumpeterian economists and capitalists, regulation is needed as self-regulation has been shown to be ineffective. It is important to note that poorly crafted regulation is not supported, instead, well-crafted regulation that serves to protect people, the planet, and profits, also known as Elkington’s 3Ps is advocated for.
Building on Porter and Elkington
The question then becomes, “How can we teach sustainability in film and media schools?” Simply eliminating plastic waste at catering trucks is not sufficient. A theoretical framework has been synthesised by combining Porter’s value chain and Elkington’s three Ps that can be taught as a solution (Table 1).
This table provides an overview of various activities, including new social and environmental players, which can serve as a starting point for teachers. However, not all companies can afford to hire a dedicated person to focus on social and environmental issues. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) may not have the budget. To address this issue, the research proposes a more inclusive, tiered approach (Table 2).
This way, everyone can make a positive contribution. The research also identifies three areas of sustainability practices, building on the work done by organizations like Albert (Table 3).
Green production, green content, and green distribution are important factors when working towards sustainability. Green production practices help reduce the sector’s carbon footprint, while green content has the power to increase awareness and normalize sustainable practices on screen.
Green distribution is the largest sustainability challenge facing the industry. The film and TV sector relies on laptops, desktop computers, TV screens, and mobile phones, to distribute content. These technologies contribute a significant percentage of global greenhouse gases.
To address the problem of green distribution, there are a few potential solutions that have been proposed. One is to minimize the file sizes of streamed content, which could reduce some of the carbon emissions associated with video streaming.
However, this does little to address the issue of e-waste. The EU is considering regulation that would increase the lifespan of ICT products, such as smartphones, laptops, and desktop computers, but this will not solve the global problem of e-waste.
It is important for the education sector, industry, and regulators to work together and integrate sustainability practices into education to establish a new culture in the media industry. Both SMEs and larger companies in the industry sector must prioritize and integrate sustainability into their production practices and anticipate the possibility of increased regulation.
Collaborating with the educational sector and organizations like Albert helps gain a common understanding of sustainability in media, explore solutions for making global content distribution in the multi-verse sustainable, and obtain sustainability certification.
These efforts will help young professionals transform the sector into a more sustainable industry. And sharing this knowledge begins in the film- and media schools like mine. If you want to find out more, visit https://wearealbert.org/.
Kohle, F. H. (2022). Green, clean and sustainable: transforming education in Film, TV, and Media integrating the triple bottom line into the Film, TV, and Media value chain in a Dutch Applied Sciences University F. Kohle, PhD, June 8, 2022. Media Practice and Education, 23(4), 365-387. https://doi.org/10.1080/25741136.2022.2124034