Canadian Broadcasters Pushing for Greener Sets
Will we be seeing greener sets this summer? We certainly will if the newly formed Canadian Broadcasters for Sustainability has anything to say about it. Last month, this group of 22 broadcasters – including Bell Media, CBC/Radio-Canada, and Corus Entertainment – “committed to working together to increase environmentally sustainable change” in the audiovisual industry.
How does this translate into industry practices on the ground? To get some answers we spoke with two production companies that did their first green shoots last year: Montreal-based creative studio Koze Productions (whose Vidanges webseries took home a 2022 Vivats Award and the 2023 Numix Grand Prix) and Halifax-based production company IoM Media (now in its 30th season with the ever-popular This Hour Has 22 Minutes).
Given its theme, you’d think that the Vidanges webseries – which takes place in a city brought to a standstill by an eco-terrorist group – would be the perfect candidate for production on a green set. Yet, at the time when the project was first conceived, the idea wasn’t common. “When we started the project four years ago, we wanted to be eco-responsible, of course, but I can’t say that the idea of working on a green set came up for discussion,” said Koze Productions founder and president Vincent Chabot. “As luck would have it, we heard about Rolling Green (established by the Quebec Film and Television Council in 2021) just before we started shooting and decided to get with the program.”
Seeing that a standard had been set, Koze Productions set itself the goal of achieving the highest possible standard of eco-responsibility, and documented its approach in a green book posted last April. A committee was then set up and a series of promising initiatives were identified, both collective (such as setting up a waste-sorting station on the film site) and individual (such as asking actors and crew to travel to the set by bike or public transport).
Production company IoM (Island of Misfits) Media got its marching orders from the CBC, which has been requiring its productions to measure and offset their carbon emissions since 2021. “IoM’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes team had already raised the bar on the minimum required,” said the program’s sustainability manager, Elsa Tokunaga. “We were able to implement a number of changes based on the 5R Rule: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle.”
As part of phase-in measures, the Halifax team was able to reduce plastic consumption by introducing reusable utensils in the canteen, installing water dispensers, and encouraging the use of reusable glasses or cups on the set. It also reduced its paper footprint by printing on both sides of the page and using 100% recycled paper up from the 50% variety.
Not quite paperless…but quite a lot less paper
Koze Productions also had big ambitions on the paper front. The Montreal studio had hoped its team could go completely paperless. “I was inspired by Barbara Shrier. She’s been doing eco-responsible shoots for ages and doesn’t even print out scene summaries for the actors,” Vincent Chabot said. Unfortunately, the producer got a lot of blowback on this point and had to cut the target objective from 100% to 75%.
Another more successful initiative was leasing instead of buying wardrobe, sets, and props so they wouldn’t have to be disposed of when they were no longer needed
Another more successful initiative was leasing instead of buying wardrobe, sets, and props so they wouldn’t have to be disposed of when they were no longer needed. “We made arrangements with major costume designers and clothing stores like Simons and Le Village des Valeurs to lease what we required,” said Chabot. “Like any good habit it takes discipline. You have to ask yourself what the renting or leasing options are. You need to think outside the box to find the solutions that will get you where you want to be.”
Be open to suggestions from your team
Quite often the best solutions come from those doing the job. Elsa Tokunaga remembers simply asking the person in charge of the canteen if there was an alternative to the many individual plastic snack packages. A month later, the craft services took it upon themselves to build a distribution station for bulk snacks, made up of long plastic tubes.
A number of changes were introduced by production teams along the way Tokunaga said. “Any time a team would come to me with an idea, I was eager to help in implementing it. The conversations were always stimulating.”
Structural changes ahead
The This Hour Has 22 Minutes team explains in a case study why it chose to concentrate its efforts on what it could control internally. Asked about what sort of collective measures could help the audiovisual industry to go green, producer Tracey Jardine suggested improved access to electric vehicles and generators. “When we’re producing outside of the studio, transportation accounts for a significant proportion of the carbon footprint,” she said.
The Vidanges team’s green paper identified a number of shortcomings in municipal infrastructure. During a shoot, Vincent Chabot realised that the town they were in had no facilities for handling large volumes of material for recycling or composting. “Even though we did sorting at source using our own DIY sorting station, there was no easy way to dispose of the material. Fortunately, our caterer offered to take the compost,” he said. “But we had to take all the recycling, including paper and cans, home ourselves at the end of the day.”
According to Vincent Chabot, production companies still have a lot of exploration and innovation work to do before green sets become the industry norm. “But the methodology is being developed,” he said. And thanks to trailblazers like Koze Productions and IoM Media the methodology will continue to improve so that all sets can eventually get the green eco stamp of approval.