When you think of industries which are polluting the planet, do you ever stop to consider the impact of content creation? The albert initiative in the UK aims to help content creators reduce their carbon footprint and they have recently launched a news initiative. In this episode we ask: What are the steps productions can take to reduce their impact on the planet? We hear from Sky Sports about how they're putting this into practice.
Listen to Hear:
- Practical steps productions can take to address their carbon footprint
- The challenges facing news in addressing the issue of climate change
- The influence the industry can have on the audience
Our Guest This Episode
Operations and Training Manager
Katy oversees operations and training at BAFTA albert. Her background is in both TV production and as a freelance sustainability consultant for the live events industry. She received an MSc in Carbon Management in 2015 from The University of Edinburgh. She is passionate about her work at albert as the collaborative nature of the project inspires sustainability far and wide.
Manager of Responsible Production
In 2020, Jo assumed the role of Manager of Responsible Production, showing Sky Sports’ commitment to change and the Sky 0 target to be net zero carbon by 2030. As part of her role, Jo is responsible for Sky Sports award-winning sustainability strategy and driving improvements for the whole outside broadcast industry. Jo is also an albert Ambassador and a Trustee for the MAMA Youth Project charity, which supports individuals from underrepresented communities entering the TV industry.
With over 10 years’ experience working in live TV in areas such as Contracts Management and Operations Supervision, Jo has always been passionate about implementing changes to improve working practices both for the crew and the environment.
I worry for our industry that we are going to haemorrhage young audiences if we don’t start putting the climate into our all sorts of stories because this is what they care about
Katy Murdoch, Operations and Training Manager, BAFTA albert
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Craig Wilson: Hi! Craig Wilson, here, and thanks for joining me for the latest Making the Media Podcast.
Now, sustainability may not be the first thing you consider when you think about your production. It's much more likely to be the story or the visuals or just how you're going to get the whole thing done, but the impact of our industry on the planet is coming more into focus and initiatives are now in place to help bring down the carbon footprint of our work. This is something which has been pioneered in the UK over the last decade, through the work of what is known as Albert. Initially part of the BBC, but now part of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, or BAFTA, this year it launched a news consortium. But what does it do and how does it help the industry understand the impact of their work on the planet?
I have two guests on the podcast to explore all of this. Shortly, we'll hear from Jo Finon from Sky Sports in the UK. But we begin by talking to Katy Murdock from Albert, who I asked to set out the organization's aims.
Katy Murdoch: We've got two specific aims at Albert. One is to help the industry to eliminate their negative impact—so, things like carbon emissions and waste, and the other one is to help enable creatives to in turn, inspire audiences for a sustainable future for all. So, it's recognizing the industry's got a carbon footprint, and, you know, does cause environmental damage. So, we need to get our own house in order, but it's also recognizing that there's an opportunity here for us to use our huge influence for good and for this really existential crisis that we're facing and as humanity.
CW: I mean, people might associate large carbon footprints with oil companies, you know, kind of, or energy producers—things like that. So, is the carbon footprint of the creative sector such a large concern for us to have to deal with?
KM: Different genres actually come with different carbon footprints, so comparing a feature film that comes in and with these huge generators, and films, you know, in quite rural locations with huge crew and travel around for months on end 'cause they only film, you know, 3 minutes of content a day compared to a studio entertainment show that runs on renewable energy where they film eight quiz shows back-to-back. You know, it's very, very different. So, every genre comes with a different impact.
But it's not insignificant and the whole of the UK has this net zero legislation now that we all need to adhere to, and our industry is not exempt. But yeah, you're quite right—our industry isn't the biggest emitter in the world, but the public's eyes are on us to lead by example because we are the ones who influence really. So that's why it's important to both utilize that inspirational, aspirational impact that we have for good—showing the audiences all of these behaviors that they can take on themselves to assist and do their own part. But we've got to get our own house in order, otherwise we just look like hypocrites really.
CW: So, what, in practical terms, can Albert do and advise people within the industry?
KM: It's that old management idiom, isn't it? That you can't manage until you measure, so we first of all have a carbon foot printing tool which allows at the production level for a production to work out what the emissions are going to be associated with their production so they will plug in things like how many hotel rooms they’re going to use, how many air miles they think they're going to use.
We have a carbon action plan that is really user friendly and talks the teams through actions that they can do to reduce those emissions, and then ultimately, we have a certification scheme that allows the production to certify as sustainable if they've done all the right actions.
Those tools are there for helping with that first name of reducing carbon foot printing. But in terms of helping creatives in the industry with this inspirational piece, we've got other quite exciting tools, actually. We’re just about to release our new Planet Test, which is for setting a kind of bar or standard to say: If your production is at all talking about any topic that's key to the transition to a sustainable society. And that doesn't have to be a show about the planet, you know, it can be a show about homes or cooking or fashion because we've got to change our behavior in all of these areas, right? To solve climate change. So, it talks creatives through a kind of fun quiz through what they can do. It makes suggestions on what content they can be incorporating to assist.
We're not saying you need to go out and only tell climate change stories. It doesn't need to be that explicit. It can be done in a much more, you know, implicit way, and we've got training and events and do some quite fun reports on the content side of things as well. So, tools for both aims.
CW: ‘Cause I guess part of it is I think we spoke a little bit before about public service broadcasting here in the UK and people associate public service broadcasting with things like the provision of news, when in reality, dealing with social issues is actually something that any strand of programming can do.
If a soap, for example, was to cover issues related to climate change, I guess that would fall directly in that kind of influencing aim that you have within Albert.
KM: Yeah, I'm glad you use that as an example. I think it's a really good one. We can come to news in a minute cause it has its role and they’re perhaps not doing as well as they could do, but not all audiences watch news and not all audiences watch sport and quite a vast, vast amount of people do watch East Enders or you know Coronation Street and Emmerdale, and you could incorporate a story within the dialogue there about, say, climate migrants, which would be really fruitful for lots and lots of interesting storytelling and characters and things. But also, you could just have a character driving an electric vehicle, not even mentioning climate change or anything to do with sustainability, it just becomes the sort of backdrop for a new normal, really.
CW: We talked a little bit about news, there, and one thing I know that has been launched fairly recently within Albert is a news initiative. Maybe you can tell us a little bit about that?
KM: Yes, the way Albert is funded is that we have a directorate who are larger broadcasters working in the UK and globally, who are responsible for our strategy. Below that, we have a huge consortium of larger production companies as well as some of those producing broadcasters and we meet quarterly and they're the people who use our tools, and we really work to really serve them, if you like. To make sure that what we're providing really helps them with their own sustainability.
The consortium is huge. We've now got close to 100 members, so we've split it out into genres, and we have a news consortium and a sports consortium recognizing the unique challenges and opportunities of those areas of broadcast. So, the news consortium was launched in January, with the likes of Sky News and an ITM sitting on it and others. And as I said, we meet quarterly, and we've just launched some training for journalists to get them to recognize where perhaps they could be doing more. And what news reporting on climate could look like and should look like in 2021.
CW: And in terms of things like news as a carbon footprint because news, you know, tends to be quite high volume of programming, but in relatively fixed locations. But, of course, people do travel. You know, if a story breaks somewhere, your people do travel to get to places. So, is it advice around things like travel things like emissions that you try to help them with as well as that educational part?
KM: Yeah, for sure. And again, they do need to practice what they preach if they're going to start putting the climate angle into all sorts of news content, then they need to also get their own house in order, and again, you're absolutely right, you've identified that it is travel and the energy which are the largest parts of the carbon footprint making up news content. And you know, there's less so in kind of waste saying materials if you compare it to drama, and so it is about helping newsrooms to switch to renewable energy suppliers and to put in place sort of travel policies.
We've seen under COVID across the board, across all genres, really, the utilization of more remote filming. I don’t know about you, but I loved seeing Jon Snow's bookshelf during lockdown. But utilization more of cloud and local crews as well and all these things help reduce travel and it's not just about you know, using electric vehicles, news vehicles, it's also about reducing news travel. And, you know, people are really engaged in that, actually, and want to work in a sustainable way.
CW: So how are companies actually putting this into practice? And how do they ensure that this is much more than a simple box-ticking exercise? Let's hear now from Jo Finon from Sky Sports.
Jo Finon: Sky, as a whole, has been incredibly progressive when it comes to the environment. And, of course, inclusion as well. But with the environment, I think they were one of the first media
companies to come go carbon neutral in something like 2004 or 2006. And I believe they were the first broadcaster to set their net zero targets—to be net 0 by 2030.
So, it's massively important to Sky. We are really progressive with it. We're really driving the change, and what's great is that other broadcasters are absolutely running with this as well. So, we're all going in the same trajectory, which is brilliant.
CW: And you've got the corporate strategy; you have the needs of production. How do you then translate these two things together to make a practical difference, I guess, for what production does?
JF: So, we started with the plastics, which was just an obvious one because you were looking at it and it's just very wasteful. And actually, it didn't have a big impact on production. It was something that for which, we could find a good alternative, which was a water coolers or the reusable coffee cups and things like that. So, it was implementing change which didn't have an effect on production, but was tangible, so people actually saw this.
But yes, absolutely. We started with plastics, and the elephant in the room was a massive diesel generator that the traditional broadcasts were running off, right? So, we always knew that this was not it—we've got to absolutely make more significant changes, but that can never, ever be at the detriment of the production. We always need to make sure that Sky Sports has set ourselves an incredibly high standard of broadcast, and we would never jeopardize that for anything that we introduced from to improve environmental standards.
So, everything that we do, we make sure we test and triple, triple test. So, things are sometimes a bit slow in the process. And we need to make sure that things are introduced in a sustainable manner. We don't just have one-off things. We always make sure that things that we introduce our long lasting. So, anything that we introduce on one sport, we always try to make sure that that's available in other sports.
So, things like biofuel, for example. We initially in 2018 moved to the best fuel available at that time, which was a gas to liquid fuel in all our outside broadcast generators. We knew that that wasn't the end goal here. We knew that that was still wasn't a sustainable fuel that was still a fossil fuel, but in the meantime, we were researching, so it was the best option at that point.
In the beginning of this year, we were able to test and roll out a biofuel in our generators, which is massive. Like, that means that our industry or Sky Sports productions have moved away from fossil fuels within our outside broadcast generators. That's such a move for us and also for us to lead the industry that actually we're showing that we have got faith in this fuel that we are endorsing it and other people have picked this up as well.
CW: You described their work with you know generators and going from one fuel to another. Is it the case that you have to accept at the moment that things that you introduced perhaps aren't perfect, but they're better than the alternatives you've been doing and they're part of a journey for you to get to the next place you want to get to.
JF: Absolutely, it will always be a journey, and we know what our end goal is. Our end goal is that we use shore power or stadium power. We don't want to have to be driving around generators around the country. We want to be using local infrastructure, but we’re not there yet. And until with there, then we've got to try and find the most sustainable option.
So, all of this is a journey and that's where it's tricky because we've got to look around to see actually what is the next move, what is available, and always open for ideas on that, which, that's what's really exciting is that we are engaging our staff, so this is not just on me. This is absolutely part of everyone that works at Sky and specifically Sky Sports. They are aware of Sky Zero, our net zero strategy to be net zero carbon by 2030. They are aware of how important all of this is. We've got representatives across the operational department and editorial. So that people within each department they've got a spokesperson, they've got an in to me, so that we are all thinking about this. This is everyone's responsibility to actually think about how we can improve things and what could be our next green solution for whatever the issue is.
CW: ‘Cause I guess with something like that it's important to embed this within the organization and not just see this perhaps as a box ticking exercise.
JF: Or Joe’s issue, you know. So, if I got knocked over by a bus tomorrow, like, I don't want this to just fall down and not be embraced anymore. That's not sustainable in itself. We need to encourage ownership and that's when it gets really exciting to staff engagement with this is key. If you can't have a [inaudible] then at least you can get your staff engaged and get some champions there to really drive changes to your own company.
CW: A side effect, I guess, if you like, from COVID, of course, has been the move to more remote production and I guess one of the other things that also does is it potentially opens you up to more diverse staff because you're looking for people who perhaps live in other locations but are able to carry out the job working remotely.
JF: Absolutely. So, the opportunities [inaudible] production are brilliant. We want to encourage regionality, so yes, we've got our production hub at Osterley. But also, we are looking at what could be in the future for some regional options, specifically around Scotland or those kinds of areas. But crewing, as well, that's absolutely key from an operational perspective, and so the camera operators, the sound the people still on the ground when it comes to remote production, we still need those people and we want to encourage regionality as much as possible. We don't want the northern
people driving all the way down South because that's not sustainable. It's not good also from our well-being perspective and a work-life balance.
CW: One thing that you mentioned there was, you know, looking at new technologies of you know, IP technologies, looking at cloud technologies. And I think some people look at cloud technology and think well, this is a way where I can save on power and cooling, I can save on office space because I'm moving something out of my own facility. But, I guess, from an environmental perspective, there is still an environmental impact of working in the cloud. So, I'm wondering what your view is on that.
JF: Everything that you do you have to review where the energy is moved to, right? So that's something we’re still in the very early days with that and making sure that the people that we're working with are reputable credential-wise. Because yes, you're absolutely right that people think “oh, it's out of our hands.” But no, we are still responsible for the carbon that that is producing. So, we need to absolutely be auditing that.
We are very early in our auditing stages when it comes to production. We we only started that in 2019 so the impact of cloud technology is very new to us, but we are aware that we are responsible for that. We can't just forget about that cloud supplier problem—actually know that's part of our production that's something that we're talking to Albert about, we're talking to other people are about to try to understand what that impact is and actually what the concerns are there. And what you need to ask as a supplier.
Our starting point is always, “Are they in renewable energy? What are they doing as a company when it comes to their own offices, what they're doing from a staff credential perspective, the modern slavery initiatives and all of that inclusion includes recruitment, so there are benchmarks, but there's always new things that are coming up.
CW: One other thing, that's a kind of constant, and this is something we spoke to Katy about is, and I know news is a new initiative that the Albert have and will Sky Sports News now fall into to part of your portfolio as well. So, is it the case that for different types of genres you have to look at different ways that these kinds of initiatives can be applied?
JF: Yeah, and what's impactful for that genre as well—all that production. So, something like Sports News is incredibly efficient. That department is fantastic when it comes to their footprint. So, if asked to understand their footprint, it's been, we're on that journey which we've started reviewing that we've done a couple of Albert certified events like Transfer Deadline Day, recently.
So now we understand what our footprint is and we need to see actually how we can make some impacts for something like newsrooms. That's more around the infrastructure of the studios or the building that that's in place. Sky is actually quite an efficient building in itself, so we're winning on
that one. So, then it's about your travel policies and the equipment that people are using. But actually, news in itself is a really brilliant case study because it is so efficient, and they're so used to being streamlined in the way that they operate.
CW: So, Sky Sports is obviously, you know, a large producer of content, but it's only one. And the industry in the UK—I think Albert has been around for about 10 years now and various different initiatives have come in. So, it's also the case that you look elsewhere in the industry for best practice and look to see things which are being done in other places that you potentially could implement.
JF: Absolutely. So, can't just introduce one thing and sit back and say, “Job’s done.” Like, “Let's put our feet up.” We need to be getting inspiration. We need to be thinking about what's the next thing. We do. talk to other broadcasters. Other broadcasters are absolutely doing some great things there. BBC had a hydrogen generator on Springwatch, I want to say. Which is really interesting. That's absolutely something that we've reviewed and that might be something that we looked to in the future. Currently, that's not something that we can do at the moment, but it's exciting that other people are thinking about this. “What else is available?” But sadly, there's actually not that much new going on in our industry at the moment, so I'm actually looking for inspiration elsewhere, so I look at the event industry as well. To see what they're doing. Is there anything that we can piggyback off with those traveling circuses that they have which are very similar to actually a sports outside broadcast.
CW: So, while this is all extremely positive, I wondered if there were times when they were push back from productions. Let's hear from Katy again.
KM: Considering we do 10,000 carbon footprints per year for productions, we get very few complaints. But there are some, and they're always around the time it's taken to complete certification, it's falling on the shoulders largely of production teams like production coordinators, so it's sort of an added thing that they've now got to do. A bit like health and safety was. Or, you know, the risk assessment was a few years ago. There was sort of an uproar about that. And now it's part of everyone's job. Uhm,
The people, though, that are complaining about this time it takes—and I must stress, it's very very few, I can count one hand how many we've had this year, how many complaints. It's often on fairness grounds, so people who are in regions saying, “Well, I'm producing, I've got to produce, you know, and shoot in, say, Scotland, so how do I get around the no domestic flights kind of rule? So, there are kind of fairness arguments as well, and I think that's quite interesting human psychology, isn't it? It's often the cause of argument.
CW: But is it seen as something now that's more than—you know, you talked about health and safety there and I think that for a while, health and safety was seen as a box ticking exercise. So, I'm
interested now that this is seen as not a box ticking exercise, but it’s actually seen as something that's fundamental to the right way of doing things.
KM: And there's huge bodies of research out with Albert, but, you know, but that's you know… There's much more employee retention and engagement if you are working in a sustainable manner. You could do their bit at home and at work, so I think because of the public consensus around the importance of climate change, I think it is definitely by and large seen as more than a box ticking exercise.
CW: And has it also helped the fact that this also seemed to be very much coming from the top. You've talked about the different organizations that are involved. You talked about the support that comes from them and I guess it has to come from that kind of area first in order for it to then be sustainable through the rest of the production chain.
KM: I think it's great that there's these mandates. I think we could do with a little bit more regulation, but these mandates come from very top levels of the broadcasters, but straight to production. And I think there's probably this middle level of management that needs to be seen to be doing more, perhaps by production teams. So, i.e., execs, commissioners to be taking on their own piece of the puzzle, because I think at the moment there's still a lot of responsibility falling on individual production teams, small freelancers, smaller production companies. And if execs step in and make up the rules, then there's less onus on production managers having to tell DOP's and directors and senior news journalists that this is how they got to travel, or this is, you know, what they've got to do. So, I think that middle management need to do their piece too.
CW: Now it wouldn't be a Making the Media podcast without that final question, would it? So just what is it that keeps Jo and Katy awake at night? Here’s Katy first.
KM: I worry for our industry. That we're going to hemorrhage young audiences if we don't start putting the climate into all sorts of stories. Because this is what they really care about. And it’s already a big risk to the industry that they're not relevant to younger people. And if we keep showing private jets as aspirational or fast fashion, then we're going to continue to lose those audiences. So, I really want the industry to see this as an opportunity to remain relevant.
JF: For me it's the what's next. Like, that really does keep me awake. That really, that's always in the back of my mind. It's that I need to be getting the inspiration, I need to be thinking about actually, what's next? Because we’ve grabbed that low hanging fruit now. Now the challenges are the big, big operational changes. And actually, that starts to get more interesting and some could say more complicated. It's more interesting, but it’s actually implementing changes is going to be really, really interesting because it's going to be more around workflow or new technology and that for me is exciting and nerve wracking because it's totally uncharted waters. We don't know what's next, and it's up to me to go and find it. So, any help, anyone, would be really useful!
CW: I'd like to thank both Katy and Jo for their contributions to the episode. I hope it's prompted a lot of thinking about what can be done now and, in the future, to make our industry more sustainable. And if you think others would be interested then please subscribe and of course, share the podcast to your friends and colleagues. Let me know what you think. Feel free to get in touch. I'm on both Twitter and Instagram. My username is @CraigAW1969. Or email us—our address is MakingtheMedia@Avid.com.
If you want to find out more than check out the show notes. There, you'll find some information regarding remote productions and how organizations are looking to take advantage of things like working from home or working remotely in general. You can also hear a podcast with one news general manager talking about how they've put in place measures to help their own staff well-being.
That's all from the podcast for this time, thanks to my producer Matt Diggs. Thanks as always to you for listening. Join me next time for more Making the Media.