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It's not easy being green, Hollywood discovers

Just how green is Hollywood? Like any industry, the results are mixed. In some ways, Hollywood has walked the walk, but in others there is still significant areas of concern.
Image: Leonardo Di Caprio at the premeire for his movie about the environment.
Leonardo DiCaprio are active in helping to push climate change initiatives, but the movie industry is not as green as you might think.Mario Anzuoni / Reuters
/ Source: contributor

In the parking lots of Hollywood’s studios, the Prius reigns supreme as the current status symbol. Stars like Leonardo DiCaprio and Amy Smart are active in helping to push climate change initiatives. Efforts are taking place throughout the movie and television industries to recycle materials and cut down on water consumption.

Meanwhile, trucks that carry equipment from studios to locations and back continue to emit exhaust from diesel engines. Generators that provide power at locations also run on diesel.

Hollywood might not be quite as green as you would think.

“Movie production is an inherently high-polluting business,” said Frank Bohanan, a consultant with the GreenSpeed Automotive Group.

“You usually must move large numbers of people and equipment fairly long distances, often to remote locations," he said. "Once you get situated you have to power lots of lights and other equipment, many times by using diesel generators that are not especially clean. Throw in a few special-effects explosions, and you clearly have left a significant carbon footprint along with many other types of pollution.”

Like any industry, the issue is complex and the results are mixed.

The Motion Picture Association of America, the industry's trade group, is trying to improve Hollywood's track record. Dan Glickman, the chairman and CEO of the MPAA, believes Hollywood is doing its part.

“We are a very public business,” he said. “We have to be in the vanguard.”

Representatives of the MPAA meet regularly with studio executives to discuss ways the industry can be more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly, said Melissa Patack, the organization’s governmental affairs liaison.

“Each company has a number of people who work in this area,” she said. “Many are pushing ahead to the forefront, such as in the area of using biodiesel fuel in transportation.”

Such anecdotal evidence of efforts to implement green initiatives is abundant, but the industry as a whole has a difficult time putting forth uniformly consistent measures because so many studios and production companies act independently.

In 2006, UCLA’s Institute of the Environment prepared what it called its Southern California Environmental Report Card, in which it rated the region’s major businesses in areas of environmental concern. Hollywood received a letter grade of “A” under the heading of “environmental best practices” but a “C” in “industrywide actions.”

The MPAA believes the UCLA study is flawed and disagrees with its findings.

Greenhouse gas emissions, much of which come from transportation in Hollywood, is one area in which the UCLA report suggests that the industry could do better.

The report estimated that the film and television industry’s activity in California account for roughly 8.4 million metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent.

That compares to about 9 million metric tons for the hotel sector, 9 million for the apparel industry, 11.7 million for aerospace, 16.2 million  for semiconductor manufacturing and 33.4 million for petroleum refining.

"While the film and television industry in California is the smallest of the six sectors studied, it may be surprising that the (greenhouse gas)  emissions are even of the same order of magnitude as in the other sectors," the report said. "This may be due to the heavy reliance of the (industry) on transportation and energy consumption in its normal operations, combined with the sheer size of the industry in Los Angeles and in California.”

But the MPAA’s Glickman said that, besides trying to limit emissions to help the planet, companies are cutting down on such activities because the costs of energy have increased dramatically.

“The trucks go from the studios to the locations and back; they’re not running on locations,” he said. “The state of California has very strict idling rules. Also, because of the costs of diesel fuel and the rapidly rising costs of energy in general, the goal now is more efficient driving, only when necessary. I think you’re going to see much higher energy prices for a long time to come. That will have a revolutionary impact on how we operate.”

Jon Corcoran, vice president of corporate safety and environmental affairs at Sony, said his company is not waiting for rising fuel costs to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. “In New York City, for instance, we’re working with the mayor’s office of film, theater and broadcasting along with Columbia University to study the feasibility of using biodiesel in generators on productions,” he said.

The burning of diesel fuel is just one target in Hollywood’s green efforts.

At MGM, for instance, which does not have a lot full of sound stages and trucks but rather is housed in a tower of offices, the efforts are companywide and simpler.

“We switched to all paper pantry products,” said Jeff Pryor, executive vice president of corporate communications at MGM. “We switched to biodegradable, eco-friendly products. We established an excellent commuter program and a toner recycling program. We used to have seven dumpsters downstairs full of garbage; now we’ve cut it down to three.”

Pryor said the impetus for many of these measures comes from environmentally sensitive employees. “They’re the ones who say to upper management, ‘Why aren’t we doing this?’ ‘Why aren’t we doing that?’ ”

Sony’s green efforts include low-flow faucets and toilets, waterless urinals, drought-resistant plants and a new solar energy system at the Culver City lot, according to the studio’s own data. The studio recycled 54 tons of electronic waste and about 60 percent of its solid waste last year.

Sony is the only studio to have its environmental management system certified to the international ISO14000 standard, said Corcoran.

All the major studios now have divisions within their ranks devoted to making the companies more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly.

“All of them are making an effort,” said Debbie Levin, president of the Environmental Media Association. “Certainly there are going to be flaws. But being in the entertainment industry means there’s a spotlight on Hollywood, and you can’t proclaim to be green without backing it up.”

And, of course, there are the cars.

“It’s very interesting in the course of the last 2.5 years in the executive parking lot,” said Sony’s Corcoran. “The number of Mercedes is going down, and the number of Priuses is going up. It looks like a dealership out there.”