PGA Green: Do you consider it part of our responsibility as producers — with our access and reach — to take the lead with being green? Lesley Chilcott: Ours is an inherently wasteful industry. We create temporary worlds and we tear them down, so the trick is to try and minimize your footprint in any way possible. I do think that part of your responsibility as a producer is to give back or mentor. That can be volunteering at a non-profit, or sometimes it’s just easier to do little green things every day.
Tell us about your non-profit unscrewamerica.org. I started it in 2008 to encourage people to convert your regular, now old, incandescent light bulbs to LEDs. Unscrew your regular light bulbs and screw in more energy-efficient ones. The site is also to educate that CFLs are a stop-gap measure until more great LED lighting is available. If you must use CFLs, then use the low-mercury options (two micro-grams of mercury or less). We provide links to both CFLs and LEDs that we like in the light review section. I bought 50 different light bulbs and tested them and found about 18 to 20 that I liked and that had a nice quality of light.
Do you use a carbon offset calculator on your productions? Yes, I use one from Native Energy. When we calculate certain things in our industry, we don’t often calculate all the pollution and waste we create. More so than other industries, we have the opportunity to reinvent ourselves every time with every new job. How are we going to do this and be mindful of the environment? Say we learn that people from different departments didn’t mind carpooling to the set or location — it saves us money and it’s less waste.
If there’s not a reduction in emissions, then are carbon offsets really a solution? If you’re just buying carbon offsets at the end of a job — then you’re not really doing anything. But if you’re doing everything you can to reduce your carbon footprint, and you buy carbon offsets at the end of the job, then that is effective because you’re thinking about ways to reduce as you go. I advocate the idea of having an Eco-Captain on every job. It can even be a P.A./Eco-Captain. One of the biggest successes I’ve had is to ask my crew on the first day of shooting, "What could we do differently? What can we give you to help you to use less waste?” And the Eco-Captain gives me a report at the end of the job.
Tell us a little bit about An Inconvenient Truth and carbon offsets. An Inconvenient Truth was the first movie to put carbon offsets in its end credits. What you want from your carbon offset company is a company who can prove that their donation actually made an offset project happen, as opposed to it was happening anyway and they gave it a little bit of money. It’s an eco project that would not have happened without the funding from carbon offsets. In the industry it’s known as "additionality.”
What’s the journey been like with An Inconvenient Truth? Laurie David, Lawrence Bender, Scott Burns, Davis Guggenheim and I had this project. Starring: Al Gore ... Subject: global warming ... Format: slide show. (laughs) No one, least of all us, expected this to turn into an Academy Award– winning movie, a screening at Cannes, standing ovations at Sundance. Now, six years later, the movie is required viewing in several countries—in junior high and some high school curricula. Other countries have always been ahead of us on reducing their carbon footprint and realizing their connection to the environment. They have instituted concrete steps to lower their impact.
Has there been a shift in awareness? When we came out with the movie in 2006, magazines were doing their first "green” issues and the timing was very good. There were new reports from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and multiple articles from The New York Times and people were more vocal about it. Environmentalists had been working on this for years, but in May of 2006, this sort of all came to a head. All of the polls indicated that awareness increased drastically. Now six years later, there’s definitely been a huge slip. What remains positive now is that most large companies have sustainability officers and people have realized it’s good for the earth and good for their bottom line to put green practices into their business plan. The cat’s out of the bag and can’t be put back in ... but there’s still a lot of work to do.
Do you see producers — especially those concerned about the environment — as pushing boundaries? I do. I am a person who finds producing very gratifying. I think that with all of the entrenched interests and historical ways of doing things, you do have to push boundaries in production and come up with less wasteful ways. One of the biggest conflicts right now is that all of the projects, no matter the medium, happen so last-minute. When things happen last-minute, you tend to skip the eco-step because you don’t have time; you’re busy just trying to pull off the job. If you have your standby things that you always do on a project no matter what, then continue to do those things — but take a few seconds during the job to ask what else you can do.
Is it personal accountability that ultimately makes the difference? It is — it’s definitely personal accountability, but I don’t think you should do it in a vacuum. You know if you have your Eco- Captain or you have a couple of other people who are just as concerned as you are, then four heads are going to come up with a better way than one.
Tell us about your work in documentaries — what inspires you? I think that when you have a chance to tell a story or someone’s story and you’re able to show a type of truth — a side of them that people didn’t know — or even an experience — there’s something so gratifying in doing that. Once you get to show somebody’s truth that maybe people didn’t know about—that in a way is the ultimate story.
What would be your ultimate green story? I would like it so that phrases like "greening your production” no longer exist. Ultimately, PGA Green and other initiatives disappear because being eco-minded is inherent in all of the decisions that we make. The Eco-Captain would be obsolete in 10 years because all of these things would be designed into what we’re doing ... not only because it’s good for the environment, it’s good for the budget too.
Thank you! Please keep up the good work!
Lesley Chilcott’s 3 Easy Green Tips
• If you are not already, try using a file-sharing program like Dropbox. If everyone has access to the same files for a particular job, it cuts down on printing needs, especially color printing, as all the files are accessible to everyone who needs them.
• Elect someone on your crew to serve as the Eco-Captain; on longer jobs, you can rotate this role to different team members. Get feedback from your crew on what can be done.
• Eat/serve less meat in catering and craft services. I’m not saying to eliminate it, just replace some of the meat options with healthier non-meat ones. This cuts down on food waste, food miles, and environmental impact.