Hollywood Goes Green, Tries to Clean Up Environmental Record

Movie studios trying to reduce carbon footprint by using green technology.

October 28, 2009, 4:47 PM

Oct. 29, 2009— -- Hollywood, a town known for excess; for awe-inspiring special effects, bright lights and big stars. All that glitter and glam adds up to one big carbon footprint. But some of the movers and shakers in town have been trying to change that. By "greening" some of the biggest studios, Hollywood is working to clear its environmental image.

Warner Brothers is leading the way, having recently deconstructed an outdated sound stage to build a newer, more efficient model. They were able to reuse or recycle 92 percent of the old building and what rose in its place is a sound stage that runs on solar power and was built using sustainable wood.

The cement used in its construction is also particularly environmentally-friendly. "It has 35 percent fly ash content," says Shelley Billik, Warner Brothers vice president for environmental initiatives, "and fly ash is a waste product of coal-fired power plants. So it's essentially a byproduct that would normally be land filled."

In addition, the Mill, a building used for set construction for the past 70 years, has been retrofitted with a solar roof and energy efficient lighting.

But it's not just the buildings themselves. Warner Brothers is trying to clean up its production practices too. It started with the first-ever carbon neutral film, "Syriana" in 2005. The production's carbon footprint was calculated, and carbon credits were purchased to offset the production.

Now however, Warner Brothers is actively looking for ways to keep their films green, "It's not just how you make it climate neutral at the end," says Billik. "How do you approach the production differently from the beginning to have a smaller impact?"

The upcoming star-studded film "Valentine's Day" was arguably the greenest production yet. The "base camp," where trailers for wardrobe, makeup and the cast usually sit idling on generator power all day, was instead run on hybrid energy. The films executive producer, Diana Pokorny, could hear the difference. "Normally you'd walk onto a base camp, and there would be the hum of generators," she said, "and there were days it would be completely silent 'cause we were running completely on solar power." This saved the production 18 metric tons of CO2.

Hollywood Goes Green, Tries to Improve Environmental Record

And it's not just the silver screen going green. Television has joined the fight. In 2007, Fox's hit drama "24" heeded the call of its parent organization, News Corp., and became the first carbon neutral television show.

"It was obviously a very improbable kind of show I think to start doing it with," says Howard Gordon, the show's executive producer, "because we blow stuff up. And we have car chases." But with the help of Clear Carbon Consulting, the show's carbon footprint was calculated at more than 2,000 tons.

And through practices such as using biodiesel generators, energy-efficient lighting, electronic distribution of scripts and production schedules, recycling and reusable water bottles, the production could illuminate 43 percent of its CO2 output. The rest was offset through carbon credits that helped run a wind farm in India.

Critics argue that such carbon credits discourage people from changing their habits, allowing them to write a check and continue polluting.

News Corp.'s manager for energy initiatives, Vijay Sudan, disagrees, saying, "This isn't a way for us to say, 'We're gonna go about business as usual, just as we always were. And we'll just write a check at the end of the year to offset ... what we've done.' It's recognition that, at the end of the day … we can't get to zero on our own, just through the reductions, and the sort of efficiency projects. There is offsetting that has to be done. But that is sort of our last resort."

As the big studios do their best to "go green," some of Hollywood's brightest stars are joining in. Of particular note is Academy Award nominated actor Edward Norton. Norton's father was an environmentalist before it was in vogue and now, as the mainstream continues to embrace environmental issues, Norton has used his celebrity for good, supporting various environmental causes.

For some time Norton has been involved with a Kenyan tribe called the Massai. He first came to Kenya to climb Mount Kilimanjaro nearly 10 years ago. He found a beautiful country crippled by drought, leaving much of the world's fastest-growing population without water. Vegetation there is scarce and what little exists has been overgrazed. Since that first visit, he has helped raise money to conserve the ecosystem in which the Massai live. But recently he, too, decided it was time to take more steps.

"We thought a long time about how can we actually engage these guys so that it's not just us over here raising money for that work over there," Norton says.

The answer was the New York City Marathon. He set out to train alongside three Massai in hopes of raising money and awareness. On Nov. 1 their hard work will pay off on the stage of one of the world's most-famous running race.

Through it all, Norton set up a Twitter account, something he never thought he'd do, to help raise even more money. And he has -- hundreds of thousands of dollars so far.

The aim of the project is not to simply save the ecosystem the Massai depend on. "Protecting the ecosystem can't be about just protecting it from people. You've got to figure out how you address the needs of people."

Not to be left out of the party, some in the music industry is also making strides toward a cleaner, greener way to spread its entertainment. When performers hit the road, they can leave behind a lot of mess.

From gas-guzzling tour buses and equipment trailers to thousands of fans traveling from near and far, live concerts can be messy when it comes to the environment.But one of their own is trying to change all that. Adam Gardner is a member of the band Guster. In 2004, he and his wife, Lauren, formed Reverb, a company committed to helping bands like Gardner's clean up their act.

"We're in this big tour bus that burns a lot of fuel so we were feeling badly as a band about our environmental impact," Gardner says, "when Lauren brought the idea of Reverb to me and said do you think it would work I said absolutely. I know five people right off the top of my head I can call who are in big bands that would love to have reverb help them go green."

And so since its creation, Reverb has worked with the likes of Dave Matthews Band, Jack Johnson, Maroon 5, Coldplay, Kelly Clarkson and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, to name a few. Reverb has helped these bands reduce their collective CO2 output by more than 62,000 tons in the past five years.

From hiring local sustainable caterers to setting up recycling backstage to educating fans on how they can be more aware of the environment, Gardner says it's the little things that add up,"Some simple things, like using rechargeable batteries on stage. You go through batteries like crazy on stage, so rechargeable batteries actually save you money and waste at the same time. Reusable water bottles are another example -- eco-friendly and it saves money."

For more coverage of environmental issues watch Planet Green's "Focus Earth."