TV’s green pledges move up a gear

The year 2021 is likely to be seen in future as the point when UK broadcasters and producers finally got serious about mitigating their impact on climate change.  

From practical steps to shift production on to a sustainable footing to ­weaving environmental issues into storytelling and helping audiences to understand what’s at stake – all formalised in the Climate Content Pledge announced at Cop26 – TV’s green ambitions have never been more apparent.  

TV’s war on carbon

Bang (credit: S4C)

Many TV producers have been making great efforts to cut their carbon footprint over the past few years. There is still much more to do behind the camera, but more attention is now being given to environmental messages on-screen. 

The panel assembled for an RTS Cymru Wales event this month boasted the two winners of the Edinburgh TV Festival Green Award. Roger Williams’s bilingual cop series Bang won the inaugural award in 2020, while Sky Sports, represented on the panel by its manager for responsible production, Jo Finon, won this year. 

How green is our telly?

“No one takes a taxi without me knowing about it. Every little bit of movement gets tracked. I have a lot of spreadsheets and things are always being added, so I never take my eye off any of it.”

Alison Sill, a freelance production co-ordinator fresh from the set of BBC TV drama Guilt, filmed on location in Edinburgh, is bubbling with anecdotal evidence of just how much effort she and her team have put into hitting their sustainability targets.

How to cut TV’s carbon footprint

Each hour of television produced leaves a ­carbon footprint of 9.2 tonnes, which is the equivalent of two households’ annual consumption. This startling figure is the average across all genres – quadruple it for drama.

That was the top line given by Roser Canela Mas of Albert, the pan-industry body set up to help make television production sustainable, at an RTS panel discussion, “Producing sustainable TV – myth or reality?”.

Can TV save the planet? asks RTS Futures panel

Television soap operas have an important role to play in communicating environmental messages. That was one of the conclusions of an RTS Futures session, “Can TV save the planet?”, which discussed how it is not only the likes of David Attenborough and Chris Packham who can alert audiences to the impact of climate change and other environmental challenges.

Can TV Save the Planet? | RTS Futures

An RTS Futures panel discusses the initiatives encouraging production teams to embed sustainability into the programmes you see on screen - from drama, right through to comedy, and of course, high-impact environmental shows. They also offer practical advice about how everyone can play their part in making productions more environmentally friendly, like carbon calculating, sustainable lighting, and meat-free meals.

Richard Curtis fronts panel about how to tackle environmental issues on screen at the RTS and Global Action Plan event

Television cannot be accused of ignoring the environment. Our destruction of the planet has long been a staple of serious TV documentaries. And in drama, zombies, pandemics and nuclear catastrophe offer stark visions of our future if humanity fails to mend its ways.

According to Richard Curtis, however, environmental programming doesn’t have to be “boring, didactic or terrifying”. The UK’s king of comedy reckoned it can also be “funny, interesting, educational and personal”.

RTS and Global Action Plan present Making a drama out of a crisis - with special guest Richard Curtis

Research commissioned by environmental charity Global Action Plan this summer shows three quarters (77%) of young people in the UK want to see environmental issues included in drama programmes on TV more than they currently are. 

Richard will be introducing five new film makers, finalists in Global Action Plan’s Flickers of the Future competition who are already working on visions of a positive sustainable future where people and planet thrive.