Like many producers passionate about the environment, Michael Kaliski felt one of the best ways to create change was to create films with an environmental message. But after years of producing “conscious content” that seemed to reach only a niche audience, Kaliski had an aha moment: to reach a larger audience, he had to get the message of sustainability into films and shows people were already watching. He chose to focus on some of the most important, yet subtle, messaging found in film and TV — advertising — with the goal of inspiring people to make better consumer choices for the planet.
It started with a simple idea — “What if we have Brad Pitt drinking out of a reusable water bottle in a film instead of drinking a Mountain Dew out of a plastic bottle?”
“We imitate what we see in real life and on screen,” observes Kaliski, “and that’s where we take our social cues from, our heroes. And our heroes aren’t just Iron Man; our heroes are Julia Roberts in a romantic comedy. I think this initiative could create a massive shift … which is crazy to say, but I think it has that potential.”
For Kaliski, that massive shift began with his founding of the first-ever, green-product- placement company, Good Planet Media. Good Planet places and integrates healthy, sustainable and ethical products in films, TV shows and digital content with the goal of shifting consumer behavior on a global level toward more conscious choices.
Started in 2010, Good Planet Media is already finding success in Hollywood placing green products like Monte Vibiano wine and O.N.E. Coconut Water in the film Expendables 2 and Chico Bags and Hint Mints in Long Time Gone. Green-product placement isn’t limited to just products. Kaliski recently signed California vegan restaurant Café Gratitude as a client, getting it featured in an episode of The New Normal on NBC.
It wasn’t long before Kaliski landed the product of his original, Brad Pitt–based concept: a reusable water bottle! After signing “the anti-bottle” company Vapur and placing their bottles in a few productions, it was only natural to offer the crews the use of the bottles too. Kaliski is well aware of the rampant use of plastic water bottles in production and hoped the use of the reusable bottles would divert some bottles out of the trash. The producers and crew were receptive and soon he was being asked to help green productions in addition to his green product placement services.
Good Planet Media jumped right in and has greened a variety of productions including Fox’s Touch, a David LaChapelle ad for Clinique and a Ben Folds Five Fraggle Rock music video. In his work, Kaliski often uses PGA Green’s green vendor database GreenProductionGuide.com as a trusted resource. But Kaliski and his team learned that there’s more to greening a set than finding the perfect organic caterer. “On set, we are eco-production ninjas,” he smiles. “We don’t want to disrupt the flow of production. Producers are often worried we will be a ‘tree-hugging gorilla in their midst’ that will slow everything down.”
Another worry of producers? You guessed it: budget. But Kaliski confirms they often end up saving the production money in unexpected ways. For example, Good Planet Media recently greened a series of commercials for Old Navy. The biggest hurdle to greening that production was also the biggest object on set — a massive system of giant tubes for actors to slide down. (Numerous poor souls went into the slide wearing baggy jeans and came out happily wearing perfectly- fit jeans, of course.) The production tried to sell the tubes to a sci-fi show for a fraction of the value, but the sale didn’t happen. It would have required a significant cost to dismantle and haul away the tubes, not to mention the cost to the environment of having it sit in a landfill. Instead, Good Planet Media arranged to donate the slides to MUSE School in Calabasas through his partnership with Lauren Selmen at Ecovations. MUSE School happily accepted the donation and gave the production a tax write-off of $67,000 for the value of the tubes. It was a true win-win: The production was sustainable and saved money on the hauling, the value of the write-off more than covered Good Planet Media’s fee and the school kids got a new playground. Most importantly, the Earth had one less massive pile of junk sitting in a landfill.
“When all the pieces come together on a production, when our products are being used and we’re reducing the impact on the planet, it’s really satisfying,” Kaliski says. “But what really gets in my heart is when people come up to me on set and thank me for what we’re doing, because they’re aware of how wasteful their own industry is and want to do something about it but don’t know how to start. The ripple effect is very exciting.”
While the visual of a major star like Brad Pitt drinking from a reuseable water bottle in a film no doubt influences millions of people, maybe Kaliski’s passion and vision have just as much potential to create a massive global shift toward conscious choices on set … one crew member at a time.