• APDGreen Conversations: Going Around in Circles – environmental stewardship in the circular economy

Picture: Retrieved from https://www.pinterest.com.au/ymoletm/circular-economy-design

‘Data IS currency’ was reiterated several times by Sarah Tosone who works as a specialist in environmental management across Australian film and TV production, events and festivals. As a professional environmental steward Sarah is passionate about working alongside production designers and their Heads of Department (HODs) to aid a production’s carbon footprint move towards zero. Ensuring that a production’s environmental data is collated and kept for future productions is vitally important to ensure that production companies recognise the dollar/cost benefits they gain from activating sustainability initiatives on set.

Circular economies are a new way of looking at the resources we use as designers and creators in order to minimise, detoxify and transform waste into valuable and restorative resources.

Our current linear system is based on extraction, manufacture and disposal of resources i.e. ‘take, make, use and dispose’, which has a detrimental impact on the environment by creating waste and pollution at each stage of construction/deconstruction. A circular economy model, however, is a closed loop system, designed to keep all resources in play for as long as possible. 

I interviewed Sarah in August 2020 about the many ways in which a production can create circular economies in all departments by thinking creatively into the problems created by waste. She said

‘Circular economies are just a different way of looking at things which is what we creatives do. I like to look at things from a granular perspective and ask ‘What are things made of?’ It is sometimes better to work with more expensive but more easily re-usable or re-sellable items than go for cheap and nasty. It can be tricky to show the value/cost benefits but ‘Less is More’ in this regard. We cannot just be dumping valuable materials just because we are time-poor. We HAVE to look at the bigger picture.’

Sarah is active in promoting what an environmental steward does and wrote an article in October in IF magazine about how to engage with sustainability practices on set. [see https://www.if.com.au/tips-to-keep-your-set-green-through-covid-19/] . In it she describes the importance of not letting the recent pandemic and ongoing health concerns derail the many environmentally responsible steps that were happening already.

‘Changing habits takes time. The screen industry started gaining momentum before the pandemic but it will be devastating if we unnecessarily undo the progress already made. In 2020 with climate change and the global plastic waste crisis, environmental sustainability professionals must be included with the creation of new policies. This issue must be given the priority it deserves’

She points out how large live events and feature films generate an extraordinary amount of daily waste and unless the procurement protocols (WHAT to buy, WHO to buy from and WHERE does it go after use) are discussed in pre-production, it is often too late to introduce efficient waste streams on set, as everyone will suddenly be flat-chat doing their job. This is true across all departments, from the art department, construction, scenic, lighting, wardrobe, props, transportation, energy creation and catering. If a production company has the foresight to engage an experienced environmental steward from the beginning of pre production, it would enable HODs to work collaboratively with someone whose job it was to actively advocate and research ways in which to reduce, re-use and recycle materials/waste effectively within budget, time frame and crew capabilities.

‘Leadership trickles down from the top, so having an innovative mind is essential for a HOD and an environmental steward. As a generalisation, the film, theatre and live events industry is still very disposable and to shift the production mentality towards reduction and re-use is proving slow and cumbersome. Priority should be given to developing sustainable solutions across all departments and HODs could be supported to look at recycling and reuse problems caused by waste materials and solve them in original ways rather than assuming ‘this is too hard’ and literally dumping said problem in landfill. 

We can do this by staying abreast of new businesses and opportunities popping up in response to environmental needs. There is so much happening now with new technologies and needs. We cannot be seen to be dumping potentially valuable resources because we are time-poor.

The film industry has such an important role to play in this regard. We ARE the storytellers. Sustainable actions CAN be seen. We all need to work on our environmental fitness – to walk the talk both on screen and off screen!

APDG member Michael Rumpf has worked closely as a production designer with Sarah and added his thoughts about circular economies in regards to waste stream;

‘This may sound like a mountain of rubbish however, I think it’s really about adjusting the waste paradigm – how we produce it as a consequence of our work and how we incorporate its efficient and sustainable recycling/disposal in our work methodology going forward.’

Worryingly, the impact of COVID-9 safety measures has sent many hard-won sustainability initiatives reeling backwards by nearly twenty years. Caterers instantly returned to single-use packaging and cutlery, and the use of hand sanitiser and individual plastic drink bottles in every location has created significant PET waste …yet again. Costume and make-up departments are significantly impacted by COVID-19 restrictions, and non compostable wet wipes, disposable gloves and masks are now spilling out of the bins.

Art director Alice Lanagan voiced her concerns about this in September saying

‘While we are very proud of the efforts we’ve made [on a new Australian TV series being shot immediately post-lockdown], the coronavirus pandemic has sadly added a huge amount of waste to this production due to the requirements for individually packaged meals and beverages with single use plastic getting a major workout. I do think there is a huge opportunity for productions going forward to be more calculated in what they use and how it can be reused”

I checked a few case studies regarding how to engage on-set crew with sustainability awareness on We Are Albert and noted that one camera operator said he would never use a wet wipe again after shooting a shocking scene that highlighted how many wet wipes end up in our water systems, a problem that the crew were not aware of previously.

I asked Sarah what she thinks are the best websites and resources designers can access to promote current sustainability measures within their design studios, workshops and production departments and she immediately suggested that the Green Production Guide (used as the gold standard for environmental measures in the USA) is a great place to start. The Green Production Guide is free to download and has many resources for designers and HODs to access, including posters, data sheets and tick sheets.

Sustainable Events Alliance (SEA) has been developing best practice hygiene guidelines for the event and venue industry to implement reusables in a consistent and safe manner in a post COVID-19 world. These guidelines will be released publicly soon.

Sustainable Screens is a group of sustainable production practitioners committed to supporting and guiding development of a cohesive vision and industry action plan. As founding members, Jennifer McAuliffe, Tanzy Owen and Anna Kaplan have been working hard on bringing together key leaders in the industry for round-table discussions. In October 2020 they invited major broadcasting agencies, screen agencies and production companies from across Australia to explore ways they can come together to take action on climate change by creating industry-specific tools aimed at mitigating our collective environmental impact. While these resources are well-established in many other regions globally, Australia is yet to develop our own industry sustainability framework. 

Sustainable Screens approach is informed by extensive research and consultation with leading organisations driving this work globally, including Albert (UK), PGA Green (USA), Reel Green and Green Spark Group (both Canada).

They are exploring what an environmentally sustainable screen industry might look like and what frameworks, tools and resources are being used internationally. 

On the Sustainable Screen FACEBOOK PAGE designers and screen creatives are urged to share links to interesting resources, ideas and suppliers that are doing environmental good. For further reading, watching and learning, they have put together some handy links to get us further underway with our sustainability journeys:

Sustainability Resources to Share:
We Are Albert – Free carbon literacy training courses online and case studies
Green Spark Group sustainable production primer
Reel Green BC Top Ten Tips Video for sustainability

There is always so much more to this conversation.

If you are interested in adding your professional design voice and suggestions to an APDG Sustainability Protocols group, please send an email to Imogen Ross or contact Rebecca Whittington to offer your assistance or to find out more.

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