The global entertainment industry generates millions of metric tons of carbon dioxide a year. A Spanish director has set up a company to try to cut that number substantially.
This article is part of Upstart, a series on young companies harnessing new science and technology.
The Goya Awards — Spain’s equivalent of the Academy Awards, held this year in February in Valencia — are a glamorous, televised affair. At the event, the actors Javier Bardem and Cate Blanchett each collected trophies.
Behind the scenes, the organizers were attempting something decidedly less glamorous: cutting the ceremony’s carbon emissions.
They did so with help from Creast, an entertainment-industry sustainability company founded in late 2019 by Eduardo Vieitez, a Spanish film and advertising director. Creast, which advised the awards in the run-up to the ceremony, prevented the release of 100 metric tons of carbon dioxide — the equivalent of 20 car trips around the world and enough to fill 50 Olympic-sized pools — into the atmosphere, according to a news release from the organizers, the Academia de Cine de España, the Spanish film academy.
By having staff members take trains instead of flights and stay in hotels close to the ceremony venue, the Goyas’ organizers said they cut transport-related emissions by 55 percent. And by knocking beef off all menus — for staff and attendees — and serving vegetables, chicken and fish instead, they reduced catering emissions by 40 percent.
Mr. Vieitez, who has been in the film business for two decades, working with brands like Sony, Samsung and BMW, established the company and its app during the pandemic. “I have worked in more than 20 countries, and it always struck me how unsustainable our processes were,” he said.
He started Creast with 300,000 euros (about $305,000) in seed funding from himself, his relatives and friends. The start-up attracted 100 clients in its first year, he said, including Telefónica, IBM, Nestlé and Amazon Prime Video. It now has a staff of around 30 people, including environmental technicians based in Spain, and software developers based in India, he said.
When working to advise award shows or film and TV productions, Creast teams look over scripts, budgets and production designs before shooting starts and assesses the project’s carbon footprint based on information on the number of locations; the transportation and accommodation needs, depending on whether crews are local or flown in; the energy requirements for filming and post-production; and materials used for props, costumes, and on-screen vehicles.
Once a production gets under way, Creast team members are physically present to carry out checks on site, including measuring lighting and sound pollution and reviewing the sustainability certificates of vehicles and accommodations for cast and crew.
Creast charges 0.1 percent of the production budget as a fee, Mr. Vieitez said. Creast keeps their fee low because rather than gather detailed and granular data for each new production, the company uses data from past productions (compiled using machine learning and artificial intelligence) to partially extrapolate the environmental footprint of comparable film shoots or events.
Earlier this year, the San Sebastián Film Festival in the Basque region of Spain, which runs from Sept. 16 to 24, invited Creast to help cut its emissions, said Amaia Serrulla, who leads the festival’s sustainability efforts.
Creast teams have already made recommendations, Ms. Serrulla said, including that the festival work with local suppliers, use recyclable and reusable packaging and implement top-down LED lighting (rather than bottom-up, which is not as sustainable). They also advised cutting back on paper, so the festival is printing half as many festival guides as usual — and charging for them.
The festival, supported by a region that prides itself on its cuisine, did balk at one piece of the Creast teams’ advice: “They recommended not using meat,” Ms. Serulla said. “We have vegan options and vegetarian options, but we are not going to take meat out of the menu for now.”
The global entertainment industry generates millions of metric tons of carbon dioxide a year, according to the Producers Guild of America, a trade organization representing American producers of television, film and new media. That’s more than the aerospace, clothing, hotel or semiconductor industries, the Guild said.
“Climate change is the most pressing global issue facing us today,” said a March 2021 report by the Sustainable Production Alliance, a consortium established in 2010 that includes some of the world’s biggest film, television and streaming companies. The report added that a major production from a studio had an average carbon footprint of 3,370 metric tons, or 33 metric tons per day of shooting. Roughly half of that was from fuel consumption generated by air travel and utilities.
The British industry has similar issues. A report released in 2020 by the British Film Institute and other organizations found that on average, a major studio production generated 2,840 metric tons of carbon dioxide, or the equivalent of 11 one-way trips to the moon. Air travel alone produced as many emissions as 150 one-way flights from London to New York, or 3.4 million car miles, according to the report.
Creast joins an existing effort to gauge the industry’s carbon emissions, which includes guides and tools like online calculators that allow users to measure their industry footprint themselves.
One widely known tool is the Green Production Guide, established in 2010 by the Producers Guild of America and the Sustainable Production Alliance to help cut the entertainment industry’s emissions. Its founders include industry giants such as Amazon Studios, Disney, Netflix and Sony Pictures Entertainment. The site offers a calculator with which a production’s footprint can be measured and an international database of sustainable goods and service providers working in the film and TV production industry.
In Britain, Wearealbert.org, a consortium of British television industry participants set up in 2011, has a carbon calculator that has been used by more than 1,300 production companies for more than 7,500 productions, according to its website. The calculator adds up the environmental cost of transportation and accommodation, production spaces (offices, studios and sound stages), time spent in the editing suite and the use and disposal of materials used (paint, for example).
Most film productions are working with tight budgets, “so the simpler a tool for greening production, the more likely it is to be used,” Sean Cubitt, a professor of screen studies at the University of Melbourne, wrote in an email. He said, though, that he was not familiar with Creast.
A challenge, he explained, is that movies and television shows are increasingly doing preproduction, production and postproduction in several places.
“Bigger productions will have their virtual sets built in one country, their effects designed in another, and their editing done in a third,” Mr. Cubitt said. “That used to be true only of mega-productions like the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, but the supply chain model is now pretty ubiquitous.”
As a result, the environmental costs are generated in multiple locations, making sustainability a much more complicated objective to achieve for companies such as Creast.
More important, Mr. Cubitt said, the industry remains a huge polluter because of the media servers used by streaming services, which he said were “already responsible for about as much carbon emission as the airline industry before the pandemic.”
In other words, production companies that are “flying crews to remote locations and trashing them” aren’t “the really big culprit,” he said.
“Let’s share the blame here,” he wrote.
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