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Saving the planet or ‘greenwashing’? Behind the scenes of movie industry trying to go eco-friendly

Nebojsa Malic
Nebojsa Malic

is a Serbian-American journalist, blogger and translator, who wrote a regular column for Antiwar.com from 2000 to 2015, and is now senior writer at RT. Follow him on Twitter @NebojsaMalic

is a Serbian-American journalist, blogger and translator, who wrote a regular column for Antiwar.com from 2000 to 2015, and is now senior writer at RT. Follow him on Twitter @NebojsaMalic

Saving the planet or ‘greenwashing’? Behind the scenes of movie industry trying to go eco-friendly
From Hollywood to Europe, the film industry is hopping on the environmentalist bandwagon by hiring “eco-producers,” dumping bottled water, recycling props and going vegan on-set. Saving the planet or virtue-signaling? You decide.

Civilization has suddenly collapsed. Panic and riots sweep the globe as energy, food and other resources suddenly become unavailable. This apocalyptic vision is the plot of ‘Collapse’ (L’Effondrement), a TV series premiering Monday. Its producers, France’s Canal+, say they want to avoid such a scenario from becoming reality – so they hired an environmental consultant and went “green” during the shoot this summer.

All the catering on-set was vegetarian and made with local produce, if possible. There was nothing disposable on the snack tables. Everything was sorted into recycling bins. Makeup was organic, and the cotton wads used to apply it made either out of recycled or recyclable materials. The crew even used hand-painted wooden labels instead of gaffer tape, and collected cigarette butts to “design urban furniture,” whatever that means. 

Pay slips were digitized and the cast and crew went around in shared minibuses instead of private cars – until they had to use airplanes, that is. There was even talk of filming some scenes during the day instead of at night, to save on electricity, but the producers ultimately decided doing so would make no narrative sense. This is all according to a reporter from Le HuffPost, embedded with the production in July. 

Movie stars are among the most outspoken climate and social justice activists, even as they fly around the world on private jets. Meanwhile, the film industry emits an estimated one million tons of CO2 – the carbon footprint of 110,000 people – every year, according to Le HuffPost, and movie shoots account for a quarter of that number.

Sensing a business opportunity here, ever-vigilant environmentalists slid into the moviemaking business as ‘eco producers’, offering advice on how to save the planet – and making a different kind of ‘green’ for themselves in the process, of course.

If you thought the French TV shoot was eco-woke, the word in Hollywood is go big or go home. Universal Pictures has a whole website explaining which of its blockbusters have gone ‘green’ and how: from eliminating plastic water bottles and paper cups to eliminating paper in favor of electronic devices. You’re not supposed to ask about the power consumption of those, however. Nor are you supposed to notice that movies are about selling dreams:

Green tips and facts were put onto call sheets to educate and inspire crew.

Another common thread is crews sharing vehicles, recycling props and set pieces, or donating costumes and catering surpluses to local charities. One production even used “renewable diesel made from 100% used cooking oil” to heat their stages. Greta Thunberg would approve – even as emissions regulators shriek in horror.

One of the most prominent examples of ‘green’ filmmaking has been 2014’s ‘Amazing Spider-Man 2,’ which “secured 49.7 tons of materials for donation or for reuse on future productions, saved 193,000 disposable plastic water bottles and achieved a 52 percent diversion rate from landfills,” according to the Hollywood Reporter.

These tricks saved an estimated $400,000, Columbia Pictures president Doug Belgrad boasted. While that may sound great on paper – sorry, tablet screen – against the film’s $200 million pre-advertising budget it amounts to a measly 0.002 percent.

Obviously, there is a lot to be said for not being wasteful. Picking up one’s own trash, or better yet not generating as much, is a no-brainer in any industry. These eco-efforts, however, don’t seem to do much to actually reduce the carbon footprint or help the environment. 

Just like buying ‘carbon offsets’ lets industries not actually reduce emissions, this is more about buying indulgences. Eco-producers get paid, the movie industry gets to ‘greenwash’ its shoots and signal some virtue, and the moviegoers get to feel better without much effort. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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