By Beth Bell
There are some real powerhouses in the world of sustainable tv and film production. To highlight the stellar efforts in this sector I spoke to Emellie O’Brien, the woman behind the one and only official New York City event that commemorates and celebrates Earth (angel) Hour.
Emellie O’Brien is the founder and president of Earth Angel, the only sustainability consultancy servicing film and television production on the East Coast. For over five years, O’Brien has become a leading expert in the field of sustainable entertainment production through her work with studios such as Paramount, Sony, HBO, CBS Television, Disney, Amazon Studios and Marvel Studios. Her sustainability leadership on The Amazing Spider-Man 2 contributed to it being acclaimed by some as the most eco-friendly blockbuster in Sony Pictures’ history. She is the author of “Going Green & Saving Green: A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Sustainable Filmmaking” – a Producer’s Guild of America Green report.
Earth Hour is a worldwide grassroots movement uniting people to protect the planet, and is organized by World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Engaging a massive mainstream community on a broad range of environmental issues, Earth Hour was famously started as a lights-off event in Sydney, Australia in 2007. Since then it has grown to engage more than 7,000 cities and towns worldwide, and the one-hour event continues to remain the key driver of the now larger movement.
EARTH (angel) HOUR is a tribute to the World Wildlife Fund’s Earth Hour. As New York City’s first organized Earth Hour event, attendees get to participate in a global movement, celebrate achievements in sustainable production, and support local environmental efforts. The event includes food and drink, live entertainment, door prizes, as well as a lights-out ceremony.
TriplePundit: This was your 3rd year organizing Earth (angel) Hour. What are some significant changes about this year’s event compared to past years?
Emellie O’Brien: Even in the early stages of planning for our 3rd annual Earth (angel) Hour, I knew that I really wanted to bring it up a few notches. Years one and two were a great chance for us to test the waters and see all of the possibilities for this event. Our main goals this year were to heighten the visibility of Earth Hour and the event in New York and engage more participants and attendees. We were really able to meet and surpass these goals by partnering with Mitchell Grant, the Operations Manager of RXR Realty’s Starrett-Lehigh Building in West Chelsea. This partnership allowed us to not only engage more attendees, but to engage the entire Starrett-Lehigh community and other buildings in the RXR network.
3p: Attendance at this year’s event was four times year one’s. Why do you think it’s important to continue bringing awareness to Earth Hour?
EOB: Earth Hour is such an important movement because it stretches across borders and shows people that they have the power to bring change to their own communities as well as the global community. Earth Hour famously started off as a grassroots movement and, especially in times like these when many people feel that their government is not working for them, it is imperative to remember that they’re not helpless and that they themselves can be vehicles for change. Another great thing about Earth Hour is that instead of highlighting all of the negativity associated with climate change, it helps people to celebrate all of the amazing work and progress that is being made in the field of conservation.
3p: The fantastic vantage point of the event venue showed that very few NYC buildings went dark for Earth Hour. What more can entertainment media do to bring awareness to this event?
Yes, Canoe Studios in the Starrett-Lehigh building was a great place for us to see the Empire State Building go dark for Earth Hour but it absolutely highlighted how far we have to go. It’s always really helpful to have actors as environmental advocates and support causes like Earth Hour but we’ve found that there are some other ways to engage the buildings that make up New York City’s skyline. For example, Mitchell Grant is starting to put together an organization called the West Chelsea Energy Alliance (WCEA) that will encourage buildings in the neighborhood to not only support climate action but participate as well. We all know that buildings in New York use huge amounts of energy but I don’t think even Leonardo DiCaprio could get them to reassess their energy usage, that decision to make a change has to come from within and that’s what WCEA is working to do.
3p: Have you seen high profile participation change over the last few years? I’m thinking of when Amazing Spider-Man 2, which you worked on to great success, did a whole media/PR blitz around Earth Hour.
EOB: Every year the movement is certainly growing. I was fortunate enough to have worked on the Amazing Spider-Man 2 when Sony made Spider-Man the first superhero ambassador of Earth Hour, which was really my impetus to bring Earth Hour to New York in a more organized way. Hopefully we can find some more superheroes who are up to the task in the coming years.
3p: Given the political climate in the U.S. at the moment, as a sustainable business leader, how do you think we can combat inertia and climate change fatigue on the part of entertainment (and other) businesses business leaders and the general public?
EOB: I think the current political climate has a lot of us sustainable business leaders feeling helpless in the face of such adversity. But this is precisely when sustainable business leaders need to come together to combat this feeling of helplessness by informing and empowering consumers. In the entertainment industry, this can play out in different ways. While consumers will not necessarily make a decision to consume content because it is sustainably produced, productions that make efforts to produce content in an environmentally conscious way should promote their efforts and share the data on their impact to encourage other productions to do the same. At the end of the day, it takes collaboration, education and inspiration to overcome these kinds of seemingly impossible obstacles.
3p: The Starrett-Lehigh building management wes very engaged in running the building sustainably. What are your thoughts regarding personal, localized and city level responsibility to help mitigate climate change and make public shared spaces more habitable in the long term?
EOB: When it comes down to it, we are all just individuals sharing a city and it is up to all of us at every level to work towards addressing the issues of climate change. I think there’s enormous opportunity to further the climate change mitigation discussion on the local city level because you can target issues that are specific to those communities. Whether it’s air pollution, land degradation or water shortages – municipalities facing these problems are poised to address them best. Ideally individuals, businesses and local government will lead the way and engage their peers and communities in these actions.
3p: In other words, if you’re a production heavy city, sustainability initiatives can be pushed forward by the municipality, if it’s not happening on the studio, production company, or initially the production level. Have you found this to be true in your experience?
The New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment is a great example of the City of New York pushing forward new standards as far as sustainability in the production world. Earth Angel is currently working with MOME to develop NYC Film Green, a first-of-its-kind designation that recognizes the work the productions put in to be more sustainable and mindful of their impacts. This designation aligns with Mayor DeBlasio’s OneNYC plan to make New York the most sustainable big city in the world and a global leader in the fight against climate change. The complexity of sustainability in the entertainment industry will ultimately require ALL stakeholders to come together on this issue. From businesses to government officials to entertainment professionals to non-profits, concerned citizens and more, we need to engage more of these diverse interest groups in order to see significant advancement and progress.
Photo credits:1,2,4,6- Mohammed Sadek, 3-Hans Glick, 5-EcoDeo/Daniel Feighery
Beth Bell is Founder + President Green Product Placement