January 2011

Green Filmmaking Is A Verb

Holly Roach

GREEN FILMMAKING (verb); the act of reducing carbon usage in production through proven and shared environmental practices

More than anything, green filmmaking is a very practical set of tasks carried out by a production in every department, utilizing the greenest possible options available within the given budget. As a philosophy, green filmmaking is like any other green business model. We think about the origin and the end life of the products and equipment we put into play. We reduce, renew, reuse, recycle and repurpose.

In a larger sense, green filmmaking can also be defined as a movement of shared knowledge in green production methods, carried out over time and all around the world. The greening of films has been going on at the grassroots level since the advent of environmentalism. Green practices carried out by film crews can often be simple, practical, day-to-day choices. Crews in New York and Los Angeles have been repurposing set dressing and recycling set waste for decades. We’ve won big environmental battles in the industry in association with NGO’s like the Rainforest Action Network, who successfully campaigned LA studios to ban the use of rainforest wood for set building. We even have the Environmental Media Association (EMA) as a certifying body for standards for greening of films. The EMA also spearheaded putting celebrities in electric cars for public appearances and on film productions.

Carbon Costs and Reductions

There are two methods of reducing a production’s carbon usage: reducing consumption, and offsetting usage. Reduction is a mainstay in sustainability practices. For a film, the challenge is anticipating the needs of the production in advance and as accurately as possible. Excess waste is as problematic as overnight shipping at high financial and carbon costs.

The carbon usage of a film is calculated by measuring the amount of energy a production consumes and the waste it generates. A carbon footprint is the total set of greenhouse gas emissions caused by an organization, event or product. A carbon offset is a reduction in those emissions to compensate for emissions created during the production of the film. With these offsets, it is possible to actually neutralize the environmental impact, and become carbon neutral or zero impact.

Best Practices

Local film crew and vendors are able to offer a host of knowledge in green film practices that come from experience. Film production is a structure in which hundreds of film crew and artists collaborate to actualize the vision for the film. Film crews are experts at creating standard protocols and operating procedures that evolve into what we call best practices. That makes a film production an ideal practical think tank for creating user-friendly systems of environmental practices. For example, if you can get 500 people on a movie set to successfully sort their plates after meals into compost, recycling and landfill containers, you have a system that translates easily to concerts, festivals and events.

Catering and Craft Services Department

Diverting compostable food wastes to local gardens and using compostable plates, coffee cups and service-ware is an important part of carbon reduction on a film. Craft services who supply the drinks and snacks on set can make a significant reduction by simply banning water bottles and setting up purified water bottle rinsing and filling stations. Organic foods are regularly used in meals, and efforts are being made locally to connect farmers’ market foods to movie kitchens.

Energy, Fuel and The Transportation Department

Since every department is based out of a large production truck, one can imagine the fuel costs of carting a movie company around on location for 40 days of shooting. An easy 20% reduction can be had with most diesel generators and trucks. A local movie vendor called Global Power Supply (GPS) has 21 various sized generators that run on B20, a diesel and 20% vegetable oil blend. Utilizing this blend translates to a respective 20% reduction in diesel usage, and jumpstarts a film’s reduction effort.


Films are high waste generating operations. The portable nature of a film incurs a great deal of shipping and packaging waste and disposable products.

Recycling has been a common practice in many production zones and particularly here in New Mexico. Paper, plastics, aluminum, cardboard and glass can be recycled at no cost at the Buckman Road Transfer station. Santa Fe is lucky to have a very proactive team leading the ongoing local waste recycling efforts. Composting food waste has been practiced by some recent productions filming in the area such as “Have you Heard About the Morgans?,” the sci-fi comedy “Paul,” and the Cohen Brothers remake of “True Grit.”

Green Jobs

Greening an industry creates jobs. A green production assistant (PA) position has been a recent addition to some film crews. PA’s are traditionally non-union additional personnel who assist in various departments. Green PA’s are a relatively inexpensive line item in the budget and are a measure of the green charter of a film.


Among others, the IATSE 480 film technicians union, local restaurants, farmers, and the Santa Fe Alliance have been exploring options to connect local business to films shooting in the area. Connecting local business with the needs of a film is one way to help reduce the costs of shipping needed materials and equipment in from distant locations. It’s also a smart economic development strategy for keeping movie money circulating within the community.

For more information, you can refer to the only book on Green Filmmaking in existence. It is from the IATSE 480 film technicians’ union, and is titled Green Filmmaking: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Repeat. ($14.95; to order, call 505.988.9512).

Holly Roach is an IATSE 480 Film Union location manager, a consultant, and founder of Green Production Resource, offering filmmaking and event production services. Visit http://greenproductionresource.net


Since Governor Richardson took office in 2003, more than 143 major film and television productions have been made in NM, with an estimated economic impact of more than $3.3 billion. There are 10,000 direct and indirect film-related jobs in the state, and more than 250 businesses and services directly related to the industry.

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