Last week Target invited me to Universal Studios in Los Angeles to watch a shoot for one of their commercial that is slated to run on television later this year. Watching a film, television, or commercial filming can be like watching CalTrans road work: generally not a whole lot of action is going on, folks are standing around, but somehow the work eventually gets done.
But last week’s commercial shooting was different from others I’ve attended or had stumbled upon in random neighborhoods like Koreatown, Silver Lake, and yes, Hollywood. Not only recycling bins, but composting bins were everywhere. Just about everyone had a steel water bottle. A production trailer ran on part biodiesel blend, but mostly off of solar. And someone was always manning the garbage bins, making sure the right waste entered the correct bin.Target partners with EcoSet, an environmental production company founded as a response to the environmental impact of the film production industry. Shannon Schaefer Bart, a film student from Minnesota, first got her feet wet in the local Minneapolis entertainment industry. Bart saw firsthand how wasteful the film industry was and decided to start tackling issues like waste diversion. Working on the Coen Brothers’ movie, A Serious Man, she took the opportunity to propose more waste prevention, recycling, and composting. In 10 weeks, the production diverted 11 tons of waste from landfill or incineration, and donated heaps of reusable office and production materials into the local community. She launched EcoSet in January 2009 and began developing more sustainable solutions for commercial productions, and then Target called.
For two years, Target has engaged EcoSet on their advertising shoots in Los Angeles. Just a few of the new developing best practices for film production on which Target and EcoSet are working include:
- Food: Anyone who has worked on a set can see the waste resulting from all that catering, whether it’s Dean & Deluca-like quality for the starts or rancid Chinese-take out for the extras. EcoSet works with local caterers to cook as much organic, local, and sustainably sourced ingredients as possible. Snacks were everywhere, but they were bought in bulk–no mini bags. Everyone on the set is encouraged to use china or cutlery. For those who are on the go, all the to-go items are compostable. And all that food waste is composted with verified from a local waste management firm.
- Clothing: They sell a few clothes at Target, and coordinator Erika Backberg works with local non-profits to ensure that the racks of used clothing from the shoot go to local organizations who can use the items, like a local battered women’s shelter. Other beneficiaries include schools, local non-profit theater productions, and local artists.
- Water: No bottled water here. Everyone has a steel bottle, and refilling stations are everywhere. To date, EcoSet has avoided the use of over 41,000 plastic bottles during 53 broadcast shoots.
- Production: Those palatial trailers seen on movie and commercial shooting sets are huge energy hogs. We toured one hired out by Target and EcoSet that boasted solar panels on the roof; access to a biodiesel blend in case the amount of solar energy generated was insufficient (usually not the case in Southern California, unless all the stylings have blow dryers humming at once); interior siding made from salvaged whiteboards; an exterior not black, but white, to reflect sunlight; and Energy Star rated appliances.
EcoSet has even more goals: to have all wood on their sets be Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified (currently most is reused), to ensure that low or no VOC paint is the norm, and other materials from props to film waste is donated, repurposed, or recycled. Their work is growing outside of California: they have worked with Target in locations including Portland and Vancouver.
To date EcoSet has diverted at least 57 tons of waste from landfills. And they are making headway and changing minds in an industry that has many reputations, sustainability not among them. And I am looking forward to watching their next shoot next time I’m in LA.