The Creative Industries and Climate Change – Reflecting on BEYOND 2022
David Gochfeld, Nina Willment and Helen Brook at Beyond 2022
The environmental credentials of virtual production have been heralded alongside its creative potential, but the panel were more sceptical. Making film and TV shows can be environmentally damaging when cast and crew need to travel, especially if flying, as “transport has the largest impact in terms of carbon emissions, accounting for just over 50% of total emissions for tentpole productions” (Arup, 2020: 6). Shooting film and TV shows using virtual production techniques can save a lot of travel, but as we discussed, running LED walls, powering servers, streaming from cloud services and using multiple workstations still requires a lot of energy. Moreover, the essential electronic devices used have environmental and human impacts from the extraction and processing of rare earth minerals, through manufacture, to use and disposal.
Organisations such as SAIL and BAFTA-albert provide carbon literacy training, and shows commissioned by the BBC, ITV, UKTV, TG4, Sky and Netflix require certification from the latter. This includes calculating the carbon footprint of productions, and while calculators such as albert’s have been criticised for not being accurate enough, and for privileging carbon over other greenhouse gases and pollutants, it is a necessary and important starting point.
Applying principles of the circular economy can help too. As part of the panel, Alexandra explained this approach focuses on production and consumption where products can be shared, reused, leased, refurbished, repaired, or recycled to reduce their impacts. What this might look like in the screen industries is difficult to imagine, but might include the reuse of sets, scenery and props, and designing electronic equipment which is upgradable and repairable. There is a danger that the current generation of LED panels used in virtual production will soon be replaced by newer models, with the older ones scrapped or ending up on an e-waste pile somewhere in Asia. As Nina suggested, allowing their reuse by colleges and universities is a good alternative. Similarly, Helen wondered if sets and scenery could be shared or rented out amongst theatre companies and other performing arts organisations.
A further alternative would be to take a degrowth perspective. Advocates of this approach argue we need to reduce production and consumption and move away from a growth-oriented economy. Degrowth is seen as a radical way forward but is increasingly identified as an alternative, particularly as it integrates environmental issues with concerns about human exploitation. It is not yet mainstream and, as David noted, it would take a massive shift to convince the creative industries to produce less art, music, film or games etc.
Whatever the approach, it is clear more needs to be done. The creative industries do not have the impact that the energy or textiles sector have on the environment, but ‘whataboutism’ isn’t going to save us from the intersecting environmental emergencies we face. Nor is a business as usual approach with more carbon counting. Things need to radically change and quickly.
Published on 5 January 2023Filed under: XR Stories