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Don’t come a cropper over sustainability and waste

Regular readers will already be familiar with my huge levels of fan-girl support for ITV’s Coronation Street and the way in which Britain’s longest running soap has successfully embedded sustainability into the programme – from facilities management to production processes, right through to on-screen action and character dialogue.

Watch closely and you’ll see that it’s not just Corrie’s king of ethics Roy Cropper who now carries a reusable bag. Other characters have adopted sustainable behaviours, whether it’s home-composting, reuse and upcycling or ditching plastic straws.

Coronation Street was one of the first TV productions to earn a three star certification rating from the BAFTA albert consortium, a broadcast industry project specifically created to speed up the adoption of best practice in environmental sustainability across the sector. A growing number of productions have since joined the three star listing including Tonight, Poldark, Humans, Peaky Blinders and Downton Abbey.

Aaron Matthews, Head of Industry Sustainability at BAFTA
Aaron Matthews, Head of Industry Sustainability at BAFTA

I have admired the ambition of albert ever since I first saw its logo appear on TV credits, especially because transforming a fast-moving and diverse sector like the broadcasting industry is an enormous challenge. So it was with much interest that I read about BAFTA albert’s latest initiative Planet Placement, launched in April, promoting a new resource for the sector to explore how film and TV can further address climate change issues on-screen.

With a keen interest in how broadcast media engages its audiences, I was intrigued to find out more about the development of Planet Placement and was put in touch with BAFTA’s Head of Industry Sustainability Aaron Matthews.

“Planet Placement version 1 was written three years ago,” Matthews explains. “It was a list of positive environmental actions for the TV industry to consider showing on-screen. However, as a PDF document that didn’t really explain the benefits for producers for taking action, we got very little traction.

“We created it in the first instance not because we were inspired by any particular programme, quite the opposite in fact. Rather than identify and celebrate existing examples of good practice (which are largely limited to recycling),” he adds “we wanted to throw down a clear challenge to the TV industry – to put the planet into everything. The current version has been in development for a year. It is a

collaboration between albert and the brilliant people at Futerra.”

In May, shortly after Planet Placement’s launch, albert published its research report Subtitles to save the world, supported by analysis from Deloitte. You may have seen it on social media. Search for #CatsvsClimate. The report investigated the current coverage of key environmental sustainability themes within a year’s worth of programming, excluding news programmes, and identified the most common themes, including the frequency and sentiment of any mentions.

Its findings reveal that following an analysis of 128,719 programmes’ subtitles between September 2017-18, climate change related themes (including Food, Travel, Resources and Energy) received just 3,125 mentions compared to 14,454 references to cats. Topping the chart was, unsurprisingly, Brexit (68,816), with cake coming a close second (46,043).

Commenting on the report and the ambitions of Planet Placement, Matthews asserts that “to help shape society’s response to climate change we cannot rely solely on the current affairs and natural history programmes, we must think creatively and look for other ways to bring sustainability messages to our screens that are both optimistic and inspirational.”

The team is now setting up free training sessions for anyone working in the industry, across all genres, to explore what a creative response to climate change could look like. Matthews is looking forward to revisiting this data over the next couple of years, to see how things have changed.

I ask him also to fast forward to 2035, to predict how sustainability will be reflected on the small screen in just over 15 years into the future.

He tells me “It is easy to realise that TV programmes about travel, food, fashion and interior design often bring money into the on-screen conversation”. Indeed. As viewers, we’ve become used to dialogue involving the cost of makeovers, travel, moving to the countryside or other lifestyle projects.

Matthews now wants equivalence, “In 2035, or hopefully sooner, we want the planet to be brought into the conversation as cash”.

Find out more about the work of albert at wearealbert.org

More info about Planet Placement and its research can be found at www.planetplacement.co.uk/subtitles-to-save-the-world

The other is the Planet Placement launch event (11392140)
The other is the Planet Placement launch event (11392140)