London 17 October 2013.  Today I attended a seminar hosted by the British Film Institute focusing on sustainability in the film industry.  I was struck by many parallels from the event sector: there is a new sustainability management system standard BS 8909, which was published in 2011 and in fact matches very closely to the pioneering BS 8901 that was developed a few years earlier for the event sector.

We heard from managers of studios, production companies and various consultants to the industry, as well as BFI’s in-house Head of Sustainability.  Typical for an industry in the early stages of getting to grips with sustainability, there was a general nod towards the broader agenda embracing social, ethical and economic dimensions, but the specific case studies and actions highlighted were firmly in the environmental camp: waste, energy and carbon.

A number of speakers referred to the old chestnut of struggling to justify investing in more expensive equipment for longer-term returns in the form of resource savings.  That misses the point.  Where they should be looking is at their procurement process as a whole.  If you embed sustainability criteria into your tender specifications at the outset – for everything you buy – this puts an onus on suppliers in a competitive market to come up with cost-effective solutions.  This allows the client organisation to make informed choices across a whole range of goods and services.  It would also help reinforce and spread a strong message that sustainability matters within the industry.

The neat thing is that it doesn’t need to cost you anything to improve processes.  Through procurement you can assess numerous broader sustainability issues from local, small suppliers, jobs and skills issues, ethical standards and diversity, as well as more technical elements relating to material types, transportation, running costs and reuse or disposal solutions.  The film industry uses lots of materials on a short-term temporary basis, which is an inevitable recipe for wastage. I’d venture there is massive scope for improvement here, and it starts at the beginning with specifying your requirements upfront.

One thing that did impress me was the statement from the BFI itself that they are looking at sustainability as a criterion in their award of funding for film projects.  This is important leadership and I hope they will see this through – there are lots of practical issues to make it work effectively and fairly, but the principle is excellent.

Thinking back to events, and the sport sector in particular, wouldn’t it be great if governing and funding bodies took a similar approach.  It’s great to see a wide range of sustainability initiatives being driven from within a sector, but it needs strong leadership support from top industry bodies – and high-profile individuals – to establish the critical mass and enabling environment for real change to happen.

The new British standard provides a great framework to support these developments in the film industry and maybe like its event predecessor, BS 8909 will go on to become a global standard under the ISO banner.

I asked where the biggest impacts are and where the biggest difference could be made.  The most convincing answer spoke of the big studios and production companies in the US.  Sustainable blockbusters – now there’s a thought.  Next stop Hollywood!

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