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Review/Preview: Jo Coombes on Eco Production

Review/Preview: Jo Coombes on Eco Production

Jo Coombes, founder of sustainability in production initiative AdGreen, on making production greener.

When it comes to the health of our planet, are we any further ahead with lessening the impact we have on the environment? 


There have been some encouraging steps forward: the British government pledging to ban microbeads from 2017, Tesla’s solar roof tile announcement, and perhaps most excitingly, the UK being on the verge of ratifying the climate change agreement set out after the Conference of Parties 21 conference in December 2015. The agreement legally binds countries that have already endorsed the deal to act on the 2015 pledges made in Paris to keep the world’s atmospheric temperature below a rise of 2 degrees, despite current pledges putting us closer to 3 degrees at the moment.

Bringing it closer to home, what have we seen in our own backyard? Let’s look at the bad first: there have been some environmentally dubious product launches such as Nescafe’s Azera Coffee to Go as well as controversy over whether we should work with unethical or unsustainable brands. Conversely, early in 2016, president of the IPA Tom Knox pushed the ‘conscious capitalism’ agenda, heralding the “virtuous relationship between social responsibility and profitability”. The Comms Lab, a collective of agency strategists and social impact specialists, has been helping agencies to become more ‘purpose led’. Many clients have run interesting campaigns showcasing their efforts to solve large-scale environmental and social problems. Take Unilever, which has been focusing on the UN’s 17 Global Goals campaign, launched in September 2015, as seen in their campaign So Long Old World; or P&G brand Ariel, which addressed gender inequality in India earlier this year with Share the Load; or Whirlpool, which donated washer-dryers to US schools in a bid to improve attendance by offering low income families the facilities to wash their kids’ uniforms.

But at a more localised level, what are we, as production companies, doing when it comes to behaving more responsibly? Our clients, and even our agencies, may have grand plans to tackle climate change but why aren’t they asking us to recycle plastic bottles or reduce food waste? We’re putting whole sets in a skip and throwing away mountains of paper cups. What about flying in crew from the US or jetting off to Cape Town as soon as the temperature drops, in order to service their creative? Who should be offsetting those flights?

The tide is turning, though, and people are waking up to the importance of greener solutions. As a freelance production manager I’ve been working to raise the profile of sustainability initiative AdGreen, which I set up in 2014. I’ve been ‘greening up’ the shoots I’ve worked on, documenting the results and using my experience to put together an easy checklist and resources for others to follow. This means saving paper by not printing call sheets, donating any edible leftovers, and trying to reduce polystyrene and energy use. It’s been an interesting ride, and largely positive. There were initial worries: was I going to look stupid if the coolers ran out of water and I had no backup plastic bottles? Would there be mutiny if I didn’t give the sparks a call sheet? Answer: no. Now I’m an out-and-proud eco-warrior.


Get ahead of the law

Keeping the agency in the loop is important too: I try to send notes that they could include in the (hopefully digital) PPM book. Last summer, I worked on a shoot for Unilever brand St. Ives with Dark Energy. Via their agency, R/GA, they requested that we reduce food waste as much as possible when working with the items featured in the print and TVC campaign. This was all I needed to make them aware of the full range of waste reduction and sustainable measures I had in mind. After the shoot I put together a case study to share the experience with other green production converts; cut to the autumn and we’ve been discussing how to embed sustainable practices into every shoot moving forward, not just those with a particularly eco production manager on board. 

I’m also working with another AdGreen ambassador, Frankie Singler from Park Pictures, to help Ogilvy’s TV department expand on their ‘Environmental Considerations for Production Teams’ document, which is currently sent to each production company on their first Ogilvy job and referenced in the PIBs. Not only are these steps in the right direction, but they mean we’re ahead of the curve, providing us with the opportunity to collaborate now on what’s achievable, rather than be dictated to, once restrictions around waste and emissions get tighter to meet targets set out in the Paris Agreement. Hopefully in time greener shoots will become best practice and then, common practice.

Let’s hope things continue in a positive direction in 2017. We have our sights set on creating a committee between the APA, IPA and ISBA, so that the industry can work together to improve communication and embed sustainable practices across the production chain.

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