APDGREEN: A Green Conversation

APDGreen: A Green Conversation, is an initiative by APDG Member Imogen Ross

‘There are three pillars of sustainability: Environment, Social and Economic and these should be addressed in all production activities. Choosing where we buy items can influence our role in looking after people and the planet.

Social awareness and action within business is ever increasing but transparency and our decisions on what and where we buy is crucial to supporting sustainability globally.’

After the hot bushfires and flood-filled summer we have endured (and survived),so many of us are asking “What can each of us do to ensure that we as designers are not contributing to climate change and ongoing environmental degradation by our practises? How can we as individuals become proactive in shifting our industry’s relationship to constant consumption and destruction? What is ‘best practice’?”

Designers, art directors and art departments are no strangers to being asked to think about re-use and recycling, though it is often more for budget reasons than the planet. As part of the independent film and theatre industry, most of us still design, order, buy, make, use and throw out enormous amounts of materials, both recyclable and not, without much thought as to how we or our creative projects may be held accountable for this further down the line. There are few environmental regulations that cover our industry’s diverse design scope, and project by project, we all play a part.

This thinking is not new. APDG members started instigating sustainable changes in the myriad ways they design and the products they choose to use years ago. Let us build on this knowledge and use an ongoing conversation platform within the APDG to encourage, educate and improve environmentally conscious practices in our private design studios and shared production workspaces. Together we can become an even stronger voice for change.

These ‘green conversations’ may become a regular column here in the APDG newsletter for member’s ideas, suggestions and observations regarding sustainable practices in film, TV, live events and theatre. Different topics and questions will be covered, and feedback from the wider production design community is encouraged, as APDG builds an Environmental Sustainability resource (specific to our industry) together.

“What ongoing design solutions, studio practices or materials have YOU (or your studio/workshop) consciously changed, in response to a need/desire to reduce your carbon footprint?”

This question was recently asked of designers and art directors  working across very different production design practises. Thoughtful and articulate responses flooded in and over the next few APDG newsletters, these will be explored, using the solutions of different design departments as the focus.

To get the ball rolling, sustainability advocate, props master, film programmer and sustainability director for the Environmental Film Festival Australia, Jennifer McAuliffe weighs in with some very clear suggestions for PROPS DEPARTMENTS that encourage conscious on-screen/off screen sustainability actions by reducing single use items on set, responsible sourcing of products and the disposing/rehoming of props during and at the end of a production. 

  • Keep a collection of  high-use props such as Extras’ bags, reusable water bottles, reusable cups, notepads, stationary and other smalls to carry from job to job to reuse. This avoids buying new items, and keeps them in circulation. Tell the actors what you are doing and that this is a way they can help.
  • Buy secondhand and/or hire as a first preference over buying new wherever possible!
  • Present designers and directors with props from sustainable or environmentally friendly brands wherever possible to encourage sustainable procurement conversations within the design process.
  • Where props are created or materials required, try sourcing materials from tip shops, wreckers or recycle/reuse centers (https://recyclingnearyou.com.au/community-recycling-initiatives/)
  • Encourage all the props/office/ storage/costume/art department and workshop spaces to set up and use multiple waste stream bins that feed into available recycling collections: (paper/cardboard and co-mingled), landfill and organics, as well as collecting soft plastics to dispose of through REDcycle [https://www.redcycle.net.au/]. 
  • Suggest alternative recycling streams for ‘hard to recycle’ items with the aim to redirect as much as possible from landfill. Engage with organisations who collect offcuts and materials (eg. Reverse Garbage [https://reversegarbage.org.au/contribute/donate-your-stuff/], and supply them to childcare centers as educational and craft materials. [NB. Many organisations have limited storage capacity, so always check on their websites before the wrap to see what they currently need and will collect.]

As an example of her work in introducing sustainable practices in the production workplace, Jennifer says “On Whistleblower [https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8971476/] I put a 20L tub in the shared kitchen space at the studios to collect organics waste as the production company hadn’t engaged a commercial organics waste disposal service. I would take this home to compost myself as I had the space and multiple compost bins at home. This was carried on by another crew member in the construction team when I left. The 20L tub would easily be filled once or twice a week.”

Jennifer observes that kitchen composting and other pro-active tactics and on-set practices has led to the increase of set, props and food items being diverted from landfill waste streams and incorporated into the wrap process as Australian props departments donate usable household, office and perishable items to charitable organisations.

As recently posted by Remake [https://www.instagram.com/p/B8Z7ABSHYYg/], we must remember that sustainability is not limited to waste only.

‘There are three pillars of sustainability : Environment, Social and Economic and these should be addressed in all production activities. Choosing where we buy items can influence our role in looking after people and the planet.

Social awareness and action within business is ever increasing but transparency and our decisions on what and where we buy is crucial to supporting sustainability globally.’

Jennifer goes on to say “I would really love if more consideration and thought went into the sustainability of set building. doing things like using FSC certified wood in construction [https://au.fsc.org/en-au/buy-fsc-certified/10-reasons-to-choose-fsc], designing sets that allow for material separation or art departments looking ahead to donating or selling valuable material resources used in sets so that on wrap they can be collected immediately by those who want it.

There needs to be a circulation of set materials and built items within the industry and wider community so that we aren’t continually trashing them. In the future I hope we can establish a service like Ecoset or the sustainable lockup with the help of funding and space.

Polystyrene is a horrendous material that is massively used in our industry for the construction of set materials. We as an industry must explore more sustainable alternatives, support innovation ( for example the production of mushroom poly alternatives) and use more environmentally friendly paints [https://www.architectureanddesign.com.au/features/product-in-focus/five-of-australia-s-best-low-or-zero-voc-paint-pro]

Finally, I would love to encourage production companies to set goals for offsetting unavoidable carbon emitting practices and see energy consumption reduction strategies being put in place. Setting up a No idling policy for cars, in-office energy reduction procedures, solar panel use on location for greenrooms and the use of green generators just as a starting example.”

Jennifer has recently set up a Facebook group called Sustainable Screens Australia, dedicated to discussing film sustainability with Australian crew. It is a good way to connect to likeminded crew across the country to see what is being done. 

She also recommends checking out the Creative Industries Pact released by Green Spark Group recently and encouraging film studios and arts organisations to pledge. https://creativeindustriespact.com/

Kick starting environmental initiatives often requires buy-in from heads of department, so speak with them first and ask them to get on board to encourage all staff to participate. Lead from the head down!

Next newsletter, the APDGreen Conversation will focus on art departments, construction and set building practices, to ask designers and art directors what are the current best practises they are implementing to reduce their production’s carbon footprint. Please get in contact before May 3rd if there are environmentally conscious construction methods, alternative building materials and new technologies we can promote.

If you have ideas you wish to share or discuss, website links, sustainability articles relating to production design and personal stories of how you or your department has shifted studio / production practises, please send an email to Imogen at apdgreenConversation@gmail.com and keep the conversation going.


Useful Websites:

Facebook Buy/Borrow/Give sites: 

Sustainable Screens Australia Public Group

Melbourne Theatre Recyclers – Buy, Swap, Sell, Giveaway and Recycle

Young Blood APDG young designers: https://www.facebook.com/groups/APDGfreshblood/about/

ASRC https://www.asrc.org.au/get-involved/donate-food-and-goods/

Foodbank https://www.foodbank.org.au/support-us/make-a-donation/?state=nsw-act

OzHarvest https://www.ozharvest.org/fightfoodwaste/resources/#sc_s2

WIRES  https://www.wires.org.au/donate-goods

Textile re-use – Boomerang Bags https://boomerangbags.org/bb-communities/

Polystyrene waste http://www.polystyrenereforming.com.au/recycling/

E-Waste E-waste recycling drop-off points | Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, Australian Government]

Paint suppliers https://renew.org.au/renew-magazine/buyers-guides/an-eco-paint-buyers-guide/