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Allen Hershkowitz’s Blog

Backstage at the Oscars: Greening the Event

Allen Hershkowitz

Posted February 23, 2013 in Curbing Pollution, Green Enterprise, Health and the Environment, Living Sustainably, Saving Wildlife and Wild Places, Solving Global Warming

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For the past six years, my colleagues and I at the Natural Resources Defense Council have coordinated the environmental stewardship work at the Academy Awards, this year known simply as “The Oscars.” The work began at the instigation of Laurie David and that year’s telecast producer Laura Ziskin, a major environmental activist, during the 79th Academy Awards in 2007. Back then the Oscars pioneered the use of ecologically intelligent practices into the world’s most prominent awards show, and since that time environmental stewardship has been an essential feature integrated into the planning and production of the Academy Awards telecast and related events. Moreover, because so many of the talented people who put on the Oscars also work at the movie studios, in TV and on other telecasts, the work pioneered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has influenced other awards shows and film and TV productions globally.

The commitment to this cause by the Motion Picture Academy has never wavered, and I speak from first-hand experience when I say that working with the Motion Picture Academy on environmental issues reminds me of working with Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League: these culture-shaping organizations are serious about ecological stewardship. When they commit, they do it right. Is there more to do? Always. Is the Oscars event without impacts? No event is. But the leadership on environmental issues shown by Academy President Dawn Hudson (and Sid Ganis before her, who launched the greening work); by Ric Robertson, the Academy’s long-time COO; by beloved Michael Seligman, who more than anyone puts the show on the air (“Everyone works for Michael” is the mantra at the Oscars); and by Kathy Erickson, Russell Saunders and Joe Lewis, and so many other uniquely talented people and contractors involved in putting on the show that you love to watch, is exhilarating for this life-long environmentalist who has been a Senior Scientist at NRDC for 25 years.

When a culturally influential organization like the Academy Awards adopts greener practices, the benefits are threefold. First, purchasing environmentally intelligent products and services creates direct environmental gains at the facilities and events involved. Second, publicizing their environmental achievements sends the message to fans that being greener is an important part of how these organizations do business. Finally, when highly visible organizations adopt greener practices, that sends a powerful message up the supply chain that greener products and services are a priority – and this often means that those greener products and services become available to other members of the industry as well.

When I showed up at my desk in the Dolby Theater two weeks go to begin taking stock of what we had put in place over the year, every production staffer, and I mean every production staffer, was aware of the fact that environmental considerations are a priority for the Academy. In fact, Christine Tong, one of the production people coordinating implementation of environmental work (and so many other things), scolded me with “I don’t know what you’re doing here” after I was unable to get compostable carry-out trays donated to the event at the last minute for the 900 member crew building the set. I love her. (And what a gorgeous set it is this year.)

To assure the integrity and progress associated with reducing Oscar’s ecological footprint, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has collaborated with my organization, the Natural Resources Defense Council, since the greening program was launched in 2007. Once again, for this year’s 85th Academy Awards, the energy supplies, paper products, waste management services and food for all events have been selected with sensitivity toward reducing the threats we face from global warming, species extinction, deforestation, toxic waste, and hazardous chemicals in our water and food.

I have no doubt that everything will go off without a hitch during the telecast and a greener, happy Oscars event is once again in store. What follows is a short summary of some of the ecological accomplishments of this year’s 85th Academy Awards related to energy, waste management, paper products and food.

1) Energy

Renewable Energy Credits from wind power projects totaling 183 MW were purchased from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation to cover the telecast and two weeks of preparation. Two 5KW hydrogen fuel cell light and power units were deployed to light the installation construction crews and were then redeployed to power the security magnetometers for the press entrance areas. B-20 biofuels were used as fuel for 3760KW of power generation across the entire production site. This year, two 300KW uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) units were installed for the main television production stage, along with a 300KW UPS for the International Broadcast production compound, eliminating the need for seven days of generator run time, reducing fuel use and associated air emissions by 4000+ gallons of fossil fuels, and reducing associated tailpipe emissions from delivery vehicles. As a result of the 2007 energy audit set up by NRDC of the Dolby Theatre (then known as the Kodak Theatre) and performed by LADWP, all incandescent lighting has been replaced with LED or fluorescent lighting. For the Governors’ Ball, 18,000 LED points of light have been installed in the chandelier.

2) Recycling and Waste

The Oscars’ Red Carpet is made from 100 percent recycled content, was reused from the previous year, and will be reused for next year’s Oscars. Of the approximately 50 tons of the non-food waste produced by the telecast and related events, including the deconstructed set, approximately 70 percent will be recycled or reused. In production areas and offices offstage, disposable water bottles have been eliminated (staff were given refillable bottles), and recycling bins were easily accessible throughout all backstage work areas of the Dolby Theater.

3) Paper Products

Programs, invitations, RSVP cards, envelopes, and parking passes were printed on FSC-certified, chlorine-free paper that included at least 10 percent postconsumer recycled content. Paper-use reduction and doubled-sided copying for staff lists, credentials, media guides, and other production information saved more than 10,000 sheets of paper. Bathroom towels, facial tissue, and bathroom tissue were made from 100 percent recycled content with a minimum of 20 percent post-consumer content. Napkins at the Governors' Ball contain 95% recycled content, with a minimum of 20% post consumer content.

4) Food and Waste at the Governors’ Ball

The Governors’ Ball served local produce obtained from 80 different farmers and seafood that was Seafood Watch Certified. Prepared unused food was donated to LA Specialty Chefs to End Hunger. Floral arrangements were composted (some were donated). Plywood used in the design at the Ball was repurposed and all plastics, metal, glass, paper, and cardboard were recycled.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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