I spent yesterday at the BBC's Productions That Don't Cost the Earth seminar. My role was to run a workshop to train the Beeb's sustainability reps in culture change techniques. The session went very well - it generated about a hundred ideas in a 25 minute exercise (out of a 60 minute workshop), driven by the impressive knowledge and enthusiasm of the attendees.

But, as well as the 'work' element, I thoroughly enjoyed the plenary sessions which were open to production staff from across the industry. This is a sector in which I have little previous experience, so I learnt a great deal. The BBC has done a lot of work on behalf of the whole industry, most notably developing "Albert", a carbon footprinting tool for broadcasters which is now hosted by BAFTA. The reason why it is called Albert is the source of much debate and conjecture...

The keynote speech was given by yachtswoman/sustainability campaigner Dame Ellen MacArthur. My sailing experience is limited to the occasional jaunt around Strangford Lough as a boy, so the tales of derring do in her various solo around the world triumphs had me on the edge of my seat. One thing I could relate to was her evoking the glorious feeling when the wind first catches the sails and tugs, then you are off, skimming along the surface, working with nature.

Dame Ellen has now given up professional sailing to run the Ellen MacArthur Foundation which promotes the design of products for a circular economy. As you can imagine for someone who has spent a huge chunk of her life racing solo around the world for months without catching a glimpse of her competitors, when she sets her mind to something, she really goes for it. I was extremely impressed by both her passion and her depth of understanding.

Here are a few things I picked up from the rest of the plenary sessions:

  • In TV, 20% of the carbon footprint is in production, 80% is from the rest of us watching at home with all our widescreen TVs and set top boxes (remarkably similar to the manufacture/use ratio of, say, a car);
  • The production itself (cameras, set lighting etc) is a small part of that 20% - the bulk of the BBC's carbon footprint is in office accommodation and travel;
  • Albert means the industry has a standard footprinting methodology, so different broadcasters can compare their performance directly (some other sectors such as fast moving consumer goods are also working to do this);
  • The BBC is striving to rationalise overseas filming, so when Liz Bonnin went to Hawaii to present from the observatories there for Stargazing Live, she hung on to do a piece on volcanos for Bang Goes the Theory, rather than flying two different presenters and crews to the same location;
  • Not to be outdone, Sky has just moved into the most energy efficient broadcasting building in Europe (25% less energy than before), they're recycling 66% of their waste (with the aim of zero waste next year) and they're working to reduce the energy consumption of their set top boxes;
  • One of the challenges for the industry is that a huge number of production staff are now freelancers which means it is more difficult to embed a culture of sustainability;
  • On the other hand, the nature of the industry is that people are fiercely driven, intelligent and creative, which makes communicating sustainability easier.

And that last point concisely sums up my feelings about the day - the delegates and speakers had that blend of passion, intelligence and creativity that finding and delivering sustainability solutions requires. Inspiring.

Image source: http://www.ellenmacarthur.com/



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