The Greening of Production

“I remember, in 2008, we gave away reusable water bottles to the crew as a gift and some were thrown my way,” said production manager Tasia Geras. “Today, almost everyone has their own bottle. It takes that long to change the culture.” The audiovisual production sector is beginning to heed the call to go green by downsizing its carbon footprint. But before that can really happen, crews must get the training and awareness-raising they need to change the way they work. 

Summer is the hottest season of all for audiovisual production in Canada in more ways than one. Tractor-trailers lining up on city streets, flanked with orange cones and workers in safety jackets, are no surprise in production centres like Toronto, Vancouver, and even Calgary and Winnipeg. But what is surprising to many is the energy consumed on a typical production run. A study commissioned by Telefilm Canada and carried out by Green Spark Group assessed the emissions of 22 Canadian productions from 2022–2023. According to the study, emissions from the productions represented an average of 28 metric tons (a metric ton is 1000 kg) of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent per hour of content, an amount that represents the annual emissions of 8.6 motor vehicles or the annual energy consumption of 6.6 homes. 

Telefilm posted Phase II of its Sustainability Action Plan in May 2024. International giants like Netflix and NBCUniversal already require sustainable production plans. And the CBC began requiring all Canadian independent productions with budgets of over $400,000 to report their carbon footprint using albert, a tool for calculating carbon emissions in productions, as of January 2022. While it’s clear that the industry must change, meaningful change will require training first and foremost.

Production Team Shooting Some Video Movie For Tv Commercial With Studio Equipment Set

Getting into training mode

Environmental initiatives are in full bloom across the land. The Canadian Media Producers Association (CPMA) held a Prime Time Conference on the subject in Ottawa in February, and the Producing for the Planet coalition, with a group of 72 Canadian independent producers as signatories to best-practice protocols for ecological production, was given a public unveiling earlier this year. Winnipeg-based Eagle Vision co-owner and producer Kyle Irving says his company was one of the first to join the advisory committee for setting up the coalition.

Irving pointed out that the tools available on site must reflect local issues from coast to coast. “Each region of Canada has its own ability to meet green standards. I live in Winnipeg, so a fleet of electric vehicles in the winter isn’t realistic. It’s important to recognize regional differences and uniqueness. You can’t have a universal standard for such a large country as Canada,” he said.

The first step in helping production companies embrace change is providing the various types of training they need. Green Spark Group was founded in Vancouver ten years ago and has been providing training and support for more sustainable production to clients in the entertainment business around the world ever since. By 2023, 1570 workers in the sector had taken one of their 111 training courses. Green Spark Group has collaborated with Creative BC for its Reel Green program, with Ontario Creates for Green Screen, and most recently with On Screen Manitoba (OSM), where a partnership was established offering year-long training to local industry.

On Screen Manitoba made the decision to invest in sustainable production training this year, with the ultimate goal of having a program like Creative BC or Ontario Creates. “On Screen Manitoba is actively working towards developing a formal sustainable protocol. Our goal is to establish a comprehensive, industry-wide sustainability strategy that addresses the specific needs of our local production community,” said OSM executive director Lindsay Somers. 

Making the most of your energy and materials

Green Spark Group director of sustainable strategy and engagement Andrew Robinson maintains that the biggest challenge is changing mindsets. “There’s always the concern about time and budget, there’s not yet an understanding,” he said, “Your budget will be different from how you’re used to spending, but the bottom line will remain the same.” He also believes that it’s essential to prepare the sustainability plan during the development phase, so it doesn’t become an extra step to incorporate once production is underway.

In terms of return on investment, Kistikan Pictures production manager Tasia Geras could see the payoff right away on the set of the Acting Good series produced in Manitoba for CTV Comedy. “A tad more expensive, our cast vans are all hybrids,” she said. “Have I seen savings on fuel? I can say there’s been significant savings.”   

As Robinson sees it, there are two major components that deserve special attention: energy consumption, such as fuel, and building materials. This is in sync with the Telefilm study that showed transportation was the highest source of emissions at 58%, followed by materials at 23%. The Acting Good production team decided on using recycled materials exclusively all the way. “It’s a bit more work to take things apart and repurpose them. Our lumber purchase was nil. We had budgeted $55,000 but only spent about $30,000 on paint and buying old sets,” Geras said.

AGS2 Photo For CMF Article
Shauna Townly and Billy Merasty on the set of Acting Good season 2. Photo: Heather Beckstead

In 2018, Kyle Irving set up Talon Production Services in Winnipeg to salvage building materials from local productions for reuse. “I was fed up with how on most productions we do, there was a great deal of inefficiency and often things would end up in the landfill. The best example is a stained mattress for a crime scene. We’d spend thousands of dollars on a mattress and labor from the art department to have a safe mattress for actors, only to see it go to the landfill. Today, producers can rent one from us for $150 a week,” he said. Talon Production Services is storing tens of thousands of accessories and construction materials in its 30,000-square-foot warehouse instead of them being sent to landfill.

Innovating like there’s no tomorrow

Ontario Creates carried out waste management audits on five different types and sizes of production. In addition to creating resources for the industry, it set up a partnership to reduce food waste. “Since 2020, upwards of $146,000 worth of food has been diverted from landfill. Unused food is donated to communities and organizations in need. This savings equates to over 171,112 pounds [85 tons] of greenhouse gas emissions diverted from landfill,” said Ontario Film Commissioner Justin Cutler.

Thanks to sustainability efforts by Ontario Creates, productions can also obtain their energy directly from the municipal power grid in 60 locations across the province, including two very strategic locations in Toronto. For one thing, this eliminates the need for diesel-powered generators.

All of which proves that thinking outside the box can put you on the inside track when it comes to reducing your carbon footprint.

Catherine Dulude
With more than a decade of experience, Catherine’s career has taken her from broadcast journalism to the audiovisual production industry. In 2018, Catherine launched her own boutique writing business, Ardoise&Co, to cater to the needs of the industry in Western Canada. She has since contributed to a few dozen shows in a myriad of ways: researching, writing, editing, social media marketing and discoverability strategies.
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