Can India’s film industry call lights, camera, climate action?

Can India’s film industry call lights, camera, climate action?

India-based director Biswajeet Bora’s 2015 film Aisa Yeh Jahaan not only showcased the alienation of urban denizens from nature, but more importantly, it demonstrated that even the film industry can - and must - take climate action.

Bora decided to go beyond the regular film production process, and instead, worked closely with the Centre for Environmental Research and Education (CERE) to ensure his film project would not leave any carbon footprint.

Mumbai-based CERE specializes in environmental sustainability. To realize Bora’s vision, CERE went through every activity involved in the film’s production and pre-production (the planning stages before a film shoot). The film’s carbon footprint – the amount of greenhouse gas emissions – was calculated by factoring transportation of people and equipment by air and road, catering, set construction, hotel stay, and so on.

CERE used scientifically-determined emission factors for each activity and calculated the film’s emission as 78.47 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e).

The idea was to remove the same amount of carbon produced in making the film from the atmosphere. CERE recommended offsetting the emissions by planting 560 indigenous trees of a mixed variety. The deed was completed for a fraction of the film’s budget in parts of Mumbai and Assam, where the film was shot.

Film production has a considerable amount of carbon footprint. India's first carbon-neutral film Aisa Yeh Jahaan (2015) reminds us that even the film industry can - and must- take climate action. Image credit: Kartik Chandramouli

And so, in 2015, “Aisa Yeh Jahaan” became India’s first carbon-neutral full-length feature film.

Janjri Jasani, head of sustainability services at CERE, says, “Film and television is a resource-intensive industry. It should use resources efficiently to reduce footprint. Offset when you cannot.”

CERE pitched the idea of a ‘Carbon Neutral Film Certification’ to many other production houses. Unfortunately, one project later, things didn’t move beyond the pilot. Jasani says, “Production houses may have balked at the cost of offsetting or just not have known enough about the subject (climate change and carbon footprints) to take on this challenge. Given the lack of interest at the time, CERE scaled down its focus on this.”

Siddharth Nakai, a sustainability consultant with a television network and founder of Greening Advertising Media and Entertainment (GAME), says, “The film and media industry is not seen as a carbon-intensive industry like a manufacturing plant or a fossil fuel operation, but it can have a substantial environmental impact because its energy and fuel consumption are different stages.”

He also admits that it has been tough to make a breakthrough and bag projects. But he sees mindsets and convenience as the villain here, and not money.

Nakai believes that the entire process of pre-production, production, and post-production (e.g., audio/video editing) can work with some guidelines. “For example, on sets, rechargeable batteries can be used for audio equipment. That saves a considerable amount of use-and-throw batteries that end up at the landfill and make the environment toxic.”

Zooming out to the bigger picture, sustainable practices could reduce the environmental impact of film production, which, among other things, uses energy, generates waste, and burns fossil fuels through transportation.

Unrecycled solid and electronic waste at landfills breaks down and contributes to methane emissions, which is a more potent greenhouse gas as compared to carbon dioxide.

A 2006 UCLA study found that the U.S film and television industry created 15 million tons of carbon dioxide.

There are other ways in which production houses or studios have tried to reduce their environmental impacts. Vectar Project, a film-studio in Manchester, United Kingdom, plans to excel in ‘zero impact filming’ and has begun using an only-LED light setup powered by solar. Another documentary film, Bosque de Niebla (2018) became carbon neutral by compensating its emissions using United Nations-certified carbon reduction credits.

Vivek Gilani, the founder of CBalance, a Mumbai-based company that helps organizations manage their carbon footprints, says, “Instead of focusing on every frivolous aspect, we can identify the carbon hotspots and work to reduce those.”

Jasani concurs that producers are free to offset emissions in the way they like, but the industry accounting its carbon footprint is essential. She says, “Tree planting is not the solution for all environmental issues, but they provide a lot of other ecological services.”

As the entertainment industry is projected to grow in India, its resulting emissions and waste are bound to rise too. Gilani says, “The industry should recognize and declare the issue.”

There are faces in the film industry who are vocal about environmental issues, and Jasani believes it would be encouraging if they speak up and have conversations about its impact as well.