Increasingly, post and production companies have made sustainability a large part of their work and private lives. The non-believers might call those who have thrown themselves into being green “crunchy granola” or “tree huggers,” but the truth is those stereotypical labels just don’t fit anymore. The movement has broadened to the mainstream.
Being environmentally aware has become commonplace for many, even going beyond reducing use of disposable plastic water bottles or switching to reusable bags for groceries — both of which are incredibly important and incredibly easy to introduce into your life
There is much information to share from those who have succeeded in reducing their carbon footprint.
When four-year-old audio post house Lotus Post relocated to the business district in Santa Monica two years ago, co-owners CEO Michael Perricone and COO David Marcus used the opportunity to look at the size of their carbon footprint and design the studio with sustainability in mind.
The newest iteration of Lotus Post (www.lotuspost.com), a 6,000-square-foot facility, hosting six stages of varying sizes, provides audio services of all kinds, primarily for independent feature films.
While some might feel daunted by the task of getting green certification, that wasn’t the case with Lotus, since both Marcus and Perricone were already environmentally responsible in their private lives — Perricone drives a Prius; Marcus bikes to work. In addition, Santa Monica itself was very environmentally aware; it was through the city that Lotus found Sustainable Works (www.sustainableworks.org), which is helping them achieve their certification, something they describe as a “rigorous process.”
The mission of Sustainable Works, according to its Website, is “to ensure that the concepts of sustainability and the actions associated with living a sustainable lifestyle are integrated into the daily activities of individuals, institutions and businesses.”
“An official certification involves a whole range of appliances and adjustments to the facility and how we operate our business, including getting rid of all GMO-based foods,” explains Perricone.
“Our mantra is to buy only organic food for our clients,” adds Marcus. “In a broader sense, this is part of our company mission statement. It speaks to a style of doing business. It’s not like we are denying clients junk food, but we want to offer a different approach. We have this organic soda — it’s a Coke alternative, and it’s every bit as good. Our core clients live in this area and appreciate what we’ve done. We try to make it fun and keep it light.”
As part of the green certification, Lotus Post switched to recyclable corn-based cups. This is significant considering the audio world, especially its voiceover talent, love their bottled water — but those bottles don’t love the environment. Marcus and Perricone tested a variety of different water delivery systems and realized a five-gallon water container was the best way to go. It’s served in glass pitchers with the aforementioned corn cups.
Another thing they do is monitor recycling and have dedicated bins for waste and e-waste. They bought an energy-saving printer and use recycled toner cartridges. They wanted their cleaning products to be less toxic, so they only use ones that are Green Seal or EcoLogo certified.
In an effort to eliminate paper waste and reduce unwanted junk mail, Lotus Post removed its company name from national databases. While Marcus recognizes that the audio post business still needs some paper, they do their best to eliminate what’s not necessary. “We do print ADR review sheets; that’s one of the basic tools of our business, but we determine what is the absolute minimal amount of printing.”
The devil is in the details, as they say, but there are some bigger things to be done as well. Marcus points to their large re-recording studio, Stage One, which is 53-feet by 30-feet by 18-feet. Rather than go with traditional acoustic insulation made of fiberglass- or petroleum-based products, the partners found a product made by Knauf that is made of plant material. “It actually has better acoustic properties than the Owens Corning acoustic treatment,” says Perricone. “That is in the core of the company, literally in the walls of the place.”
The last thing they have to do to achieve their green certification is continue the process of changing out incandescent lamps in the studios to LEDs. “We have over 100 light bulbs in all the studios; those were 150 watts that we are replacing with 9 watts each; we will be saving a lot of power,” says Perricone.
Not only are the bulbs sustainable, in the end it saves the studio money. “We looked at the cost benefits and determined our monthly power bill will go down significantly,” reports Marcus. In an effort to save electricity they have also added automatic dimmers and timers on lights.
The studio’s sustainability efforts are pervasive. Office equipment is Energy Star compliant, and they have lowered water consumption by adjusting commodes and toilets.
Charging stations will soon be added in the parking lot, since many clients drive hybrid or electric vehicles. One-third of Lotus employees bike to work, including mixer Rick Ash (Arbitrage, The World According to Dick Cheney, Temple Grandin), who pedals 12 miles each way!
Lotus Post is committed to providing high-end sound finishing with a conscious and mindful approach to the planet. As Marcus points out, the company name has a meaning too. “Lotus is a flower that grows from the root that plants itself on the bottom of the river floor and grows from that. So Lotus itself is a sustainable icon.”
Those behind LA/NY-based edit and finishing house Union Editorial (www.unioneditorial.com) have always been environmentally conscious, but they discovered first hand what “information is power” means. “We were always aware of our carbon footprint, but there were things we weren’t doing because we didn’t know that we could,” explains president/executive producer Michael Raimondi.
He says a wake-up call was when the studio became one of the sponsors of GLASS.org, a big LA initiative from about four or five years ago designed to get the advertising and production community to stop using bottled water.
Being part of that opened their eyes to what else could be done. One of those things was using corn-based drinking cups and potato-based forks and spoons. (They first tried corn-based utensils but quickly learned they melt.) “I didn’t know that stuff existed,” says Raimondi.
That is when Union started pushing even harder to reduce its footprint, but their efforts could only go so far without cooperation from their building’s management. “We pushed them and they responded,” he says. The building began by replacing all the lights in the bays with energy-efficient bulbs. They also stepped up their existing recycling efforts by adding composting and composting disposal to the mix.
Raimondi (right), who is an original member of the West Coast Fireflies, (www.fireflieswest.com) — a cycling group that rides to raise money for City of Hope — admits Union’s transition was probably easier than most since the studio’s partners had already made environmental awareness part of their culture. “There are five partners in LA and four of us drive a Prius, and have for a really long time. No one needed to sell us; it is basically what we believe in.”
He points out that he’s not the only one who bikes at the company. “There are a lot of guys here who cycle, and we pushed each other to commute to work on bike. Of the around 35 people here, seven or eight of us bike to work.
Biking to work means needing a shower, so Union struck a deal with the gym next door, and the building added a shower as well. This has helped encourage clients to start pedaling to the studio. “It’s funny,” says Raimondi, “because this stuff is contagious. It also becomes more than a green initiative, but a healthy one as well.”
Raimondi has also taken on the scourge known as the plastic bag. “At post houses, people hang out for long periods, and they are eating all the time, meaning we are grocery shopping every day. Having our runners bring reusable bags with them is huge. Even in LA, where they don’t have plastic, the paper bags aren’t great.”
When Union does send out reels and screeners they do so in reusable bags, but that process is becoming a thing of the past. “We do 90 percent of reels and master delivery online, which saves a fortune and is better for the environment,” he says, adding that their New York studio follows the same green practices.
Actually, most of what Union does is paperless, including banking, and when they do print they use recycled paper. For most boards and treatments they use iPads and look at them online. “There is no reason to print out a full-color 60-page treatment when you can look at it on your iPad,” he emphasizes.
Raimondi realizes that some studios might be concerned how clients react to the changes but assures us that once the clients get used to it, it all gets easier. “For instance, the bottled water thing was the hardest part, because people are so used to going to the refrigerator and grabbing a bottle of water. A, the bottled water is bad. B, people take three sips and put it down. Ninety percent of the time we were throwing away almost full bottled water. It’s just so wasteful.”
Union installed a filter system and puts pitchers in bays. If they do get a request for a bottle of water, Union has glass bottles of water to hand out. “We cut our consumption of bottled water by 95 percent,” reports Raimondi proudly. “Not only does it makes you feel good, it’s so much more economical. We used to spend a fortune on bottled water.” Another thing that saves money and helps reduce their carbon footprint? Anything that’s battery operated uses rechargeable batteries.
Union Editorial has been increasing its work on feature films lately, including The Brass Teapot, as well as Hateship with Kristin Wiig, Guy Pearce and Nick Nolte.
Isadora Chesler (below, left) is a senior producer at LA-based agency Rubin Postear and Associates, best known as RPA (www.rpa.com). She had worked with RPA as a freelancer for many years before coming on full time about a year-and-a-half ago. She always knew the agency to be environmentally conscious and was aware they had a well-established “green team” in place.
“Over the years, RPA has been implementing all sorts of different programs, including one that makes sure every-day materials in the kitchen are as eco-friendly as possible,” explains Chesler. “For example, we have corn cups, biodegradable cutlery and recycled plates and bowls. We have recycling bins and signage all over the agency reminding people of good practices.”
When new RPA employees are hired, they get an RPA-branded package intended to help them make the right environmental choices. It includes a reusable grocery bag and a pint glass, both branded with the RPA logo. “While biodegradable corn cups are a good choice, an even better choice is to reuse glass,” explains Chesler. “They are trying to keep you away from using all disposable items, even if they are more Earth-friendly than most things. It’s about getting you to think about a long-term solution that’s non-disposable. So that is built into the DNA of RPA.”
Why is the agency so involved in promoting green practices? According to Gary Paticoff, senior executive VP/executive producer at RPA, “We work in such a temporary timeframe. It’s important to have the social responsibility to minimize any negative impact that we might create during this process. With all that we are capable of doing, being environmentally conscious about how we operate doesn’t seem like a difficult philosophy to embrace.”
Chesler came on board sharing a similar philosophy. Before joining RPA, she helped Mishawn Williams and her GLASS.org initiative (Union’s Raimondi mentioned this earlier), spreading the word about people’s dependence on plastic water bottles. “Mishawn was on the vendor side and I was on the agency side, but we both shared an awareness about what was going on at the time, which was single-use plastic water bottles popping up as a regular thing on sets, in post houses and in agencies.”
Williams asked Chesler to help her set up the program, gather production companies and elicit a push from the client side. “We realized the power came from the client, and if me as the agency client asked production and post companies to take those things off of sets, that we’ll pay for non-disposable water canisters and have a water station, they would do it. Other agencies and then post houses would contact me and ask me how they could do it too.”
Then, slowly over the years, success. “There was a shift, and it became a permanent solution where companies like Method completely changed thanks to gentle prodding from us,” she explains. “It’s not only environmentally safe, but it’s a huge cost savings to have a filtered water system and not rely on these plastic bottles.”
GLASS was so successful in its mission as catalyst, they were able to step back and let others run with their philosophy. Companies started to pop up based on the practices GLASS set forth. One of those was EcoSet (www.ecosetconsulting.com), run by Kris Barber, which is often called on for RPA shoots.
“They come with a team, in relation to how large your crew is, who set up water stations and provide reusable water bottles, and composting, landfill trash and recycling bins everywhere — by camera, the video village, by craft services. Everyone sorts their own trash, and now landfill trash is a small bag where the composting and recycling bins are the normal-sized trash cans.”
EcoSet also takes set materials, the wardrobe, props and donates them to film schools and charities; food banks get the food. “They move those items for you; you don’t have to do anything, and at the end they give you a report about where things have gone,” she says.
“On a Honda shoot last year, one of the set pieces was a huge semi with carrots on it and there were thousands and thousands of carrots. If we didn’t have EcoSet, all carrots would go into a trash bin, but instead they went to an animal rescue place and were fed to the animals. They make sure everything will be used and appreciated and have another life instead of heading to a trash bin because it’s easier for the crew while breaking down. So it’s evolved way past water bottles.”
Back at RPA, they encourage ride sharing by offering a huge discount on parking. They also tell employees to shut down computers, turn off the lights at night, and as much as possible, print double-sided. “Those things add up over time,” advises Chesler.
The agency also transitioned to digital prepro books. “We don’t provide the binder anymore, even to clients,” she says.