The motion picture (or film) industry holds a powerful and enduring sway over the imagination of people across the globe through images served up on the "big" screen. However, in watching film—or television—it is easy to overlook the sprawling industry that lies behind the scenes, bringing entertainment to life. Even less obvious are the environmental impacts of filmmaking, which involve energy consumption, waste generation, air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and physical disruptions on location.
This article assesses the potential environmental effects associated with activities in the film and television industry (FTI) from several perspectives, keeping in mind that only limited data are available for such an assessment. Indeed, our analysis relies heavily on information collected during a recent two-year study carried out by UCLA's Institute of the Environment under contract to the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB). The research is based in part on interviews with a cross section of individuals, but with limited access to proprietary information. Hence, our findings are more illustrative than comprehensive regarding current environmental practices within the FTI.
In this overview, we first provide estimates of chemical emissions in specific categories (air pollutants and greenhouse gases) associated with FTI activities. Next, we highlight examples of beneficial practices adopted by the industry to manage environmental impacts. We then review the industry's major trade publications to gauge the level of attention being paid to environmental issues. Finally, we offer a tentative grading of the FTI that reflects the achievements, and remaining obstacles, in reducing the environmental impacts of this complex enterprise.
To obtain a more fundamental understanding of the potential overall environmental impacts of the film and television industry, we employed a top-down approach based on the Economic Input- Output Life Cycle Assessment (EIOLCA) methodology.1 We explain the complex assessment below but our bottom line conclusion is that the film and television industry is responsible for a significant amount of both air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
Under the EIOLCA approach, an economic input-output analysis is first performed to determine the economic activity—both direct and indirect—in all sectors of the U.S. economy associated with $1 of final output value in the film and television industry. The second step in the analysis yields the levels of pollutant emissions associated with each sector that supplies (directly or indirectly) to the FTI. It is these emissions, in turn, that are employed as a quantitative measure of environmental impact, even though actual outcomes— such as air quality or health consequences— are not explicitly derived.
The sector-specific emissions reflect the pollution created by each sector activity, as explained below. These emissions are defined on a per-dollar basis of activity in each sector. Hence, the overall environmental impacts of the film and television industry—measured as total pollutant emissions—can be obtained by multiplying the overall output value of the FTI times each sector's activity caused by $1 of FTI output, times the appropriate sector emissions coefficient(s), and then summing over all affected sectors.2
The EIOLCA model divides the U.S. economy into 485 sectors, and determines economic links between each of these sectors. Firms in the film and television industry purchase goods and services from other firms within the industry, and from firms in the remaining 484 sectors. Each of these supplier firms, in turn, purchases goods and services from companies in other sectors, and so on. Thus, the input-output analysis yields the economic activity generated in all sectors directly or indirectly associated with the FTI; e.g., utilities, transportation, advertising, real estate, etc.
For each sector in the EIOLCA model, emission factors, or coefficients, are specified for key primary pollutants generated by the activities within that sector. Primary pollutants are those emitted directly into the atmosphere from identified sources, although there may be secondary sources as well that are not counted (which is most relevant to "particulate matter," or fine airborne particles). In the present analysis, we highlight the results for two specific categories of pollutants: "criteria" air pollutants and greenhouse gases (GHGs). The conventional primary criteria air pollutants include nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10). The GHGs consist mainly of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). Using the EIOLCA methodology, releases can be determined in aggregate for all of the direct and indirect activities connected with FTI output. The total output is given on an annual basis in metric tons. Aggregate primary emissions provide a crude measure of the environmental impacts (on air quality or health), and offer a first-order metric for carrying out relative comparisons with other economic and industrial sectors. In the case of GHGs, which are related to global climate change, the total emissions have been converted into equivalent quantities of carbon dioxide (metric tons per year) that would yield the same global warming potential as the actual GHG emission mix. For an analysis of California's contribution to greenhouse gas emissions more generally, refer to the article by R. Turco in RC 2001.
It should be noted that the emissions coefficients for each sector in the EIOLCA model are derived using a range of national databases, including the EPA's Toxics Release Inventory and National Emissions Inventory Database. Even so, emissions remain uncertain and variable and the derived aggregate values presented here should be taken as rough estimates. In focusing on the FTI, we use output data from the 1997 Economic Census for the purpose of estimating FTI activity in the Los Angeles metropolitan area (defined as Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura Counties), the entire state of California, and the United States. Five other industries were also selected for comparison: aerospace, petroleum refining, apparel, hotels, and semiconductor manufacturing. Transportation (in its various forms), though not included as a separate sector, is included as an input sector to the six sectors that our analysis focuses on.
Based on the methodology described above, we determined the total emissions of criteria pollutants that contribute to air pollution, as shown in Figure 1. Criteria air pollutants are emitted from a wide range of sources. In general, emissions of these pollutants are strictly controlled by air quality regulations. Nevertheless, total emissions amount to millions of metric tons per year. Each panel in Fig. 1 contrasts the total annual output from the FTI to emissions from five other benchmark industrial sectors. The first panel (far left) shows U.S.-wide emissions per $1 million of final output in each of the sectors analyzed. The remaining three panels give total annual emissions associated with the total economic activity of each of the six sectors within the specific geographic areas indicated: the Los Angeles metropolitan area (middle left), California (middle right), and the U.S. (far right). Note that the data in Fig. 1 (and those that follow) include all of the emissions that occur nationwide as a result of economic activity, say, in the Los Angeles area or California. For example, firms in California use power that may be generated and therefore cause emissions out-of-state. Also note that the Census Bureau does not provide sufficient information to assess the impacts of petroleum refining in the Los Angeles region (hence the blank entry).
The results in Fig. 1 indicate that, wherever data are available, petroleum refining is the largest source of criteria pollutants among the sectors studied. Nonetheless, the FTI in California accounts for an estimated 140,000 metric tons of criteria pollutants annually. Petroleum refining, by comparison, releases more than 550,000 tons. Emissions for the other four benchmark sectors amount to about 85,000 metric tons for hotels, 120,000 tons for the apparel industry, 155,000 tons related to the aerospace sector, and 210,000 tons from semiconductor manufacturing.
The film and television industry contributes to criteria emissions both directly and indirectly. For example, electricity consumption generates pollutant emissions at remote power stations. On the other hand, the use of vehicles for local transportation results in direct emissions in the area of operations. Within metro Los Angeles, the FTI makes a larger contribution to conventional air pollution than four of the other sectors, although some of the differences are marginal given the accuracy attainable with the EIOLCA approach (petroleum refining is not included in the Los Angeles analysis, but would be a dominant source of criteria pollutants; similarly, transportation per se is not quantified as a "source" sector in this analysis).
Figure 2 gives the results for greenhouse gas emissions from the same sector analysis as in Figure 1. The GHG burden is related mainly to fuel consumption; the total quantities shown are CO2 equivalents. The quantitative results are very similar to those for the criteria pollutants, and the analysis leads to similar conclusions. The greenhouse gas emissions associated with the film and television industry's activity in California account for roughly 8,400,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalents. This compares to about 9,000,000 metric tons for the hotel sector, 9,000,000 metric tons for apparel, 11,700,000 for aerospace, 16,200,000 for semiconductor manufacturing, and 33,400,000 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 GHG emissions are even of the same order of magnitude as in the other sectors. This may be due to the heavy reliance of the FTI on transportation and energy consumption in its normal operations, combined with the sheer size of the industry in Los Angeles and in California. With this rough assessment of the total impacts of the FTI, we now turn to some examples of best environmental practices we encountered.
In order to begin to analyze the extent to which the industry is attempting to minimize its environmental impacts, we interviewed 43 individuals from a range of areas within the film and television industry. We noted that many useful initiatives are already in place: some studios have advanced recycling programs in offices and soundstages; several programs exist to recycle set materials onsite, or to donate them to other organizations; and energy efficiency and green building practices are being more widely adopted. Nevertheless, our overall impression is that these practices are the exception and not the rule, and that more could be done within the industry to foster environmentally friendly approaches.
A major challenge—one that differentiates the film and television industry from many others—is the degree to which work is controlled by short-lived production companies rather than by long-lived firms in stable supply chains, making it difficult to institutionalize best practices. Moreover, especially in filmmaking, the currently prevailing tendency within the industry is to operate in a "stop-and-go" mode. While very little happens for lengthy periods during a project's early stages, activity switches into a fast mode once key agreements on finances or talent are arranged. Several of those interviewed indicated that more careful planning of the overall project and of actual shooting could ultimately provide cognizant individuals more time to consider and implement environmental mitigation policies. Despite these obstacles, we found a number of innovative environmental practices, two of which we highlight below.
The Day After Tomorrow depicts an extreme outcome of abrupt climate and weather changes associated with global warming. Inspired by his personal commitment to environmental conservation, the film's director and co-writer, Roland Emmerich, sought to ensure that the production of The Day After Tomorrow would not contribute to global warming. During the production of any motion picture, CO2 is directly generated by vehicles, generators, trailers, and various machinery. Future Forests is one of several organizations that contracts to offset CO2 emissions by planting trees or investing in climate-friendly technology. Future Forests estimated the carbon emissions and corresponding forest planting (or climate-friendly technology investment) necessary to offset the impact of those emissions. Future Forests determined that this film would generate approximately 10,000 tons of CO2. Several industry sources confirmed that the cost of the corresponding carbon offsets was about $200,000, which was paid by Emmerich and several of his associates.
An encouraging development is that another recent release, Syriana, was also made carbon neutral. For Syriana, Warner Brothers and Participant Productions together paid to offset the film's CO2 emissions through NativeEnergy, an organization with similar objectives although slightly different approaches than Future Forests.
The ReUse People (TRP) is a nonprofit organization that deconstructs buildings. The two sequels to The Matrix, known as The Matrix Reloaded or The Matrix 2, and The Matrix Revolutions or The Matrix 3, were both released in 2003 by Warner Brothers. Parts of both films were shot at three huge sets and on the streets of Oakland and Alameda Point. The "cave" set consisted of 90 tons of material, consisting mainly of wood and polystyrene blocks. The "tenement" set consisted of 300 tons of material, representing 8 building fronts. The "freeway" set consisted of more than 7,700 tons of concrete, 1,500 tons of structural steel and 1,500 tons of lumber. As a result of a joint project between Warner Brothers, the city of Alameda, the Alameda County Waste Management Authority, and The ReUse People, 97.5% of all the set material was ultimately recycled.
The ReUse People dismantled sets and handled processing and distribution of the salvaged materials. Thirty-seven truckloads of lumber were reused in housing for low-income families in Mexico, and all the steel was recycled. Even the k-rail from the freeway set was crushed and sold off as base rock. TRP's work force of 18 people worked 124 days to complete the project. According to the Alameda Waste Management Authority, the 11,000 tons diverted from the landfill represented 10% of the total annual solid waste stream for the city of Alameda.
We encountered several other similarly impressive practices in a variety of productions. For example, the sitcom According to Jim has largely eliminated the use of paper in scriptwriting and editing by using Tablet PCs; the craftsmanstyle house featured in the 2001 New Line Cinema release Life as a House has been recycled into the Kenter Canyon Elementary School Library; Warner Brothers uses re-refined oil for their fleet by collecting and recycling used oil from existing vehicles; and Sony Pictures has received ISO 14001 certification for its environmental management system. The Environmental Media Association (EMA) and the Entertainment Industry Development Corporation (EIDC) both maintain online environmental production guidelines
In addition to the economic sector analysis, and examples of environmental best practices, we also surveyed the coverage of environmental issues in the most important FTI trade publications, the Hollywood Reporter and Variety. Our informal content analysis of these publications basically counted articles with genuine environmental focus that appeared from 1991-2004. The results are summarized in Figure 3. The analysis suggests that attention given to environmental issues peaked around 1993, but then tapered off during the mid-1990s. However, beginning around 1996/97, a trend toward an increasing frequency of environment-related themes developed. A significant acceleration, in fact, occurred during the most recent period (2002 through 2004). The majority of these stories focus on the environmental content of productions rather than environmental actions and policies. Until 2003, the EMA awards concentrated on films and shows that included environmental messages. In a positive development, the 2004 EMA awards included, for the first time, a separate category for environmental "process" improvements based on EMA's Green Seal checklist. This is likely to draw further attention to environmental practices during film development, production and distribution.
As might be expected for such a diverse industry, encompassing a wide range of organizations and individuals, it is impossible to assign a single grade for overall environmental performance. Some aspects of the industry's environmental record deserve an A: e.g., the best practices highlighted earlier. In fact, because there are a growing number of people in the industry working to achieve higher levels of environmental performance, it is probably inappropriate to assign low grades to lagging elements during this period of rapid transition. Nevertheless, the lack of obvious industry-wide rules and standards suggests that the FTI as a whole has yet to devise effective approaches for implementing progressive environmental practices. It is possible that more is being done than we are aware of. In fact, on the basis of confidentiality, we have been made aware of additional environmentally proactive behavior within the industry that is not reported here. While green production guides such as those issued by the EIDC and the EMA have value, the limited publiclyavailable information on environmental performance, and the lack of third-party verification mechanisms, do not favor a conclusion that the FTI is doing all it can. As an enterprise, the industry obviously recognizes that its environmental messages— both on the screen and off— represent a powerful tool for public education. However, policies to mitigate environmental impacts within the industry remain to be implemented in a more systematic and transparent manner.
Environmental best practices: Grade A.
Industry-wide actions: Grade C.
The report, "Sustainability in the Motion Picture Industry," on which this article is based, was produced under contract to the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB) by Charles J. Corbett and Richard P. Turco, April 13, 2006. Detailed references and sources can be found in that report.
We thank our UCLA student team, especially Joanna Hankamer, Shannon Clements and Jeannie Olander. Other students who contributed are Fatma Cakir, Patricia Greenwood, Penny Naud, Kimberly Pargoff, Michael Rabinovitch, Linh Goc and Todd Steiner. Professor David Rigby collaborated to estimate the environmental impacts of the film and television industry. Professors Barbara Boyle, Mary Nichols and Gigi Johnson shared contacts and insights. Many individuals generously provided time for this project. Finally, the UCLA team received exceptional support from the contract managers at CIWMB (Judith Friedman, Brenda Smyth, and Kristy Chew).
1. Carnegie Mellon University Green Design Institute (2005); the Economic Input-Output Life Cycle Assessment (EIO-LCA) model is available at: http://www.eiolca.net. After the analysis in this report was carried out, the EIOLCA input-output data and sector definitions were updated, and we are currently reanalyzing the estimates presented here.
2. A correction is made to account for the difference between the definitions of "final output" and "size" of a sector; refer to the full report for more details.
Professor Corbett's research and teaching focus on environmental issues in business, and revolve around examining links between good business practices and environmental protection. This has included studying the effects and global diffusion of ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 certification; and, most recently, the environmental footprint of a project-based industry such as the film and television industry.
Dr. Corbett has published in his field's top academic and business journals in several countries. He is a member of the editorial board of Manufacturing and Service Operations Management, an associate editor of Operations Research, past associate editor of Management Science, and guest editor of three special issues of Production and Operations Management on Environmental Management & Operations.
Before joining the faculty in 1996, Professor Corbett was a visiting scholar at the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University. He holds a PhD from INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France, and was an AT&T Faculty Fellow in Industrial Ecology during 1997-1999. He served as Associate Dean of the UCLA Anderson School's MBA Program from 2003-2006.
Richard Turco is the former Director of UCLA's Institute of the Environment, Professor and past Chair of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, and a member of the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics. He received his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Physics from the University of Illinois in 1971. Dr. Turco's work includes research on the stratospheric ozone layer and the ozone "hole," the causes of climate change on Earth, regional air pollution and airborne particulates, and global chemical cycles. In 1983, he jointly developed the theory of "nuclear winter." Over the last decade, Dr. Turco has headed a research group building an advanced air quality model for the Los Angeles basin. The Surface Meteorology and Ozone Generation (SMOG) model was the first to explain the formation of dense elevated layers of pollution over Los Angeles. Dr. Turco's 240 publications include a textbook on current environmental issues, "Earth Under Siege: From Air Pollution to Global Change". He was honored with a MacArthur Fellowship in 1986, and the Leo Szilard Prize for Physics in the Public Interest.