What are the carbon emissions of your content?
“One hour of TV produces 13 tonnes of CO2.”
A seemingly straightforward, albeit perhaps worrying, statement from Albert, the UK’s authority on environmental sustainability for TV & Film. Do you think the figure is correct?
We are by no means saying that the media industry does not have carbon emissions issues. And if the figure is correct, the UK’s 20,000 hours of yearly produced TV content might mean the annual loss of 780,000m2 of sea ice.
TV, media, and film companies are aware of the issue and are increasingly focused on becoming zero-waste, carbon-neutral and integrating sustainability and ESG initiatives.
But how do we calculate the figures? For example, does an hour of TV news have the same carbon impact as an hour of TV drama? And what parts of a TV or film production do you include in the calculations?
Defining your calculations
Calculating climate impact and finding the best, most proactive ways of launching climate initiatives are at the top of the priority lists across the media industry. Companies are increasingly focused on areas like renewable energy, sustainable transport and recycling and reusing materials wherever possible.
Media companies’ first step towards becoming sustainable often involves forming a baseline by examining and calculating current climate impact. The next step is finding ways of integrating measurable sustainability efforts throughout all parts of content production and publication.
One of the challenges is how to measure a production’s carbon footprint. Deciding which framework to use and what needs to be included in calculations can be confusing. For example, there is no single universally agreed definition of central terms, like net zero.
Learning from the experiences of industry peers and expert consultants can help, but each TV and film company – and production - will have unique features.
The many choices
Once you have chosen which framework to use, there is still much ground left to cover, even when looking at seemingly easily definable areas.
For example, if you want to lower energy consumption’s carbon impact, one way is minimising the use of fossil-fuelled power generators. An alternative is to examine the options for using biofuel. But how much lower are the total emissions of greenhouse gasses (GHG) from biofuels? And if you combine the options with purchasing carbon credits, how many would you need to reach carbon neutrality? Then there are issues about what energy use to include. How do you calculate energy expenditures for transportation to and from filming locations, for example, if it involves a single person or several crew members on board a commercial flight?
Going deeper down the rabbit hole brings up questions like how sustainable your lighting setup is or how to measure and document subcontractor sustainability performance. The list goes on.
Energy is a good illustration of the granular level of information your company needs to keep track of when it comes to sustainability and ESG initiatives.
One good example of how film and TV companies can approach documenting sustainability efforts comes from Jurassic World: Dominion.
The production team included a sustainability manager and kicked off with a meeting to hammer out the production’s specific sustainability strategy.
The strategy covered everything from fuel and food to integrating sustainability in building the film’s intricate sets.
Furthermore, the sustainability manager worked closely with the accounts department. The latter used a tagging system to catalogue the carbon footprint of any item or process. The result was that every item and process’ carbon emissions and impact could be accurately tracked and used to create a sustainability report.
Depending on the production and company, it may be preferable to work with external consultants on developing and tracking sustainability initiatives.
Need for a unique framework?
At BDO, we work extensively with companies on ESG and sustainability, including how to accurately measure and report on ESG and sustainability initiatives’ effects.
Through our work, we have frontline experience of the ways media is unique when it comes to sustainability and ESG. We understand how the media industry’s unique features can lead to grey areas.
Should, for example, a series like BBC’s Planet Earth’s ability to generate awareness of the natural world and the need to protect it through sustainable actions be calculated into ESG and sustainability reporting? And if so, how?
It is an open question, but one that warrants further thought. Moreover, it raises another question: is there a need for a unique ESG and sustainability framework for media? And if so, what would be some of its unique features?
In a time where COP26 is charting the general course for sustainability, these are extra pertinent topics and discussions for the media industry.