AWAY WE GO: A Pilot Study of Sustainable Film Production Practices

The motion picture industry is a multi-billion-dollar business with significant capital and global influence. Film production relies on many different sectors to complete the production of a movie. Given that the average cost to make and market a major motion picture is over $100 million1, changes within the movie industry could attract wide attention and positively influence the practices of other sectors.

The goal of this pilot study was three fold: first, to reduce the carbon emissions of the production, AWAY WE GO (working title), in measurable and verifiable ways; second, to decrease other adverse environmental impacts of film production; and third, to stimulate awareness and action among contractors and vendors that would spread green attitudes and impacts beyond the scope of the production.

By prioritizing four principal areas of the production – transportation, energy, waste and construction/set materials – the production team was able to achieve substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions as well as environmental impacts. It is important to note that this pilot study was initiated in order to evaluate the potential reduction in carbon emissions that might be achieved during the shooting of a feature film, only the pre-production process and the actual production itself. It is understood by all involved that the comprehensive work of making a movie from concept development through post-production and distribution has much higher carbon emissions which can only be measured by monitoring the full multi-year process.

For transportation, the production team reduced the number of shoot locations, rented hybrid vehicles and reduced truck idling time. For energy used in generators and production vehicles, they pioneered the use of alternative fuels (biodiesel made from reclaimed fry grease and soy – chosen because this was the least controversial in terms of source). For waste management, they hired contractors with experience recycling and removing separate waste streams, thus a substantial portion of their waste was redirected away from landfills. Finally, construction chiefs and art directors made an effort to favor low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints, and set materials were donated to organizations that could make future use of them.

The carbon emissions level from the AWAY WE GO movie production was calculated and verified to be approximately 975 metric tonnes of CO2. For information regarding the full report please

Highlights of the carbon-reduction achievements included:

• On location, in Connecticut, B5 biodiesel from reprocessed, reclaimed fry grease was used. In Arizona, the fuel used on set was 5% biodiesel blend produced from soy. In Florida, a 99% soy biodiesel blend was used to operate non-critical generators, and no problems occurred with these generators.

• Including the fuel used to power the generators and vehicles, a total of 18,094 gallons of diesel fuel were used. 6,570 gallons, or 36.3%, were a biodiesel blend that ranged from 5% to 99%, equating to approximately 2,209 gallons of pure biodiesel consumed during the production.2

• The blended biodiesel average cost was 12.7% less than standard diesel fuel. In terms of the carbon emissions generated by combustion, biodiesel fuel emits 7% less carbon per unit than regular diesel fuel. Had the film used blended biodiesel fuel for all of its diesel needs, the movie could have saved $33,000 over the course of the production.

1 “Research and Statistics”. Motion Picture Association of America. 2005. UTC 23 October 2008. <>

2 Fuel generated from waste grease is often considered to emit 10% less carbon than traditional diesel and similar statements have been made by the scientific community about sustainability produced by biodiesel production. Regardless, the analysis conservatively focuses on point of combustion.

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• Hybrid rental cars were driven 45% of the total rental car miles driven during the production. • Prius hybrid car service was used 32% of the time. This service would have been used more often had

there been wider availability.

• Using hybrid cars saved the production $15-$41 for each hybrid rental in fuel cost. 150 hybrid rental cars were used during the shoot.

• When hybrid vehicles were not available, the production team rented compact, high-MPG cars. They used public transportation and carpooling whenever possible for commuting to and from the production office.

The AWAY WE GO production team implemented numerous other environmentally beneficial strategies:

• By distributing branded aluminum water bottles to members of the cast and crew, and providing refilling stations on all locations, the crew was able to avoid sending over 14,000 plastic water bottles to landfills over the course of the production.

• The production used three-perf film stock, which uses 25% less stock and 25% less chemicals in the manufacturing and the processing.

• The craft services team purchased organic food from local purveyors throughout the shoot, generating economic benefits to local farms and suppliers of organic ingredients. Plastic plates, cups and utensils were replaced with sugar and corn-based dinnerware, keeping hundreds of pounds of plastic and Styrofoam out of landfills.

• The wardrobe department used low-energy washers and dryers every night for the maintenance of costumes.

• The sound department used both recyclable and rechargeable batteries whenever possible and made special efforts to dispose of other batteries properly, keeping them out of landfills.

• The production team adopted sustainable habits in the production office, programming copiers and printers to double-sided settings, using porcelain plates and mugs, stainless steel utensils, and installing CFL task lighting wherever possible.

Efforts in waste redirection produced substantial results. In Connecticut, which housed the central office and ten- out-of-fourteen shooting locations, the production generated an estimated 53,991 pounds of waste, which were separated into 19,986 pounds of compost, 6,361 pounds of recyclable material, and 27,643 pounds of general waste. An estimated 49% of all waste was diverted from landfills.

The positive environmental results of the production team’s efforts far exceed the carbon emission reductions measured. They helped blaze a trail for their industry colleagues and left important lessons for future production teams to benefit from and expand upon. Their experiences will influence the making of many feature films for years to come.