Global Green Media Network: Digital transition in screen arts

29 June 2022


Global Green Media Network: Digital transition in screen arts

The University of Cambridge’s Centre for Science and Policy hosted a Policy Workshop at Sidney Sussex College on 22 April 2022, as the closing event for the Global Green Media Network (GGMN). The international project has been looking at the technological changes, industry initiatives, and economic drivers involved in the ‘greening’ of the global film, TV, and screen arts sector. It has explored how different parts of the world’s screen arts industry are reducing their carbon emissions and setting environmental agendas within the media sector.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the GGMN has been running since 2019, with international membership but with events mostly focussed on the UK due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the events so far have been held in London and at COP26 in Glasgow, as well as online workshops in Hong Kong and Colombia.

The final workshop was chaired by Emily Farnworth, Co-Director, Hughes Hall Centre for Climate Engagement, University of Cambridge, and introduced by Hunter Vaughan, Senior Research Associate, Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy, Cambridge. It focussed on the use of digital technology in screen arts, which has been a core concern for the GGMN - it is now central to practice at every stage of the screen arts production process. Sometimes greater use of digital technology in film and TV is seen as generating environmental benefits, and it can be seen to “de-materialise” some processes but digital technology depends on materials too, including the mining of rare minerals, use of energy in server farms and undersea cable networks, as well as in the disposal of waste.

You can read the full report of the workshop by clicking here.

The workshop recognised the huge digital dependencies that exist among some of the largest global production and distribution companies, including Amazon and Netflix. Questions were raised about what can legislatures do and what should sector bodies and intermediary organisations do, to address a wide range of sustainability concerns?

As new studios and digital infrastructures are built, participants suggested that consideration should be given to potential impacts on the local communities where these are built. For instance, infrastructure put in for film and TV productions could benefit communities once the production is over if renewable energy generation is built or charging points installed for electric vehicles. It was discussed that such long-term socially-oriented solutions are currently lacking in the film and TV industries.

Gareth Kirkman, Project Manager, Business and Industry Development UK, British Film Commission presented next. He said that it had increasingly been recognised that the film industry requires systemic change to reach net zero targets. Pietari Kääpä, Associate Professor in Media and Communications, Centre for Cultural and Media Policy Studies, University of Warwick, added that there is a gap in academic research on the issue of environmental performance by the screen arts sector. Over the last 20 years or so, academic research in environment and media has increased, but it has mostly focused on the content of media output.

Some international good practice was raised by workshop participants. In Germany, diesel generators are likely to be banned from the centre of towns and cities. The Sardinia Film Commission has established a Green Film Shooting Protocol, as has Creative BC in British Columbia. In South Florida, there are marine managers that film productions must work to avoid damaging the marine environment. In Michigan, tax incentives for film production were provided if the films could be linked in some way to the Pure Michigan tourism campaign. For the Flanders Film Fund, the sustainability requirements have to be met before the last 10% of funding is released. The BFI also does this, requiring the productions it funds to meet standards for equality, diversity and inclusion, and care for the mental health and wellbeing of the workforce.

Finally, the role of the biggest stars in the entertainment industry was discussed. Some actors are prominent spokespeople for environmental issues, but as the most high-profile actors also have lifestyles which can have significant environmental impact, there can be problems with relying too much on their contribution to greening the screen arts sector.

Overall, it was clear that reducing carbon emissions and improving environmental performance in the screen sector would require more regulation and a set of clarified criteria supported by transparent and measurable standards. It was recommended that a “coalition” between environmental and social protocol is needed, and further expertise required to investigate how environmental standards could potentially be linked to tax incentives and public funding.

Photo by Zarak Khan on Unsplash