What the broadcasters’ new sustainability initiative means for producers, the industry and the planet
BAND OF BROADCASTERS
When a coalition of Canadian broadcasters announced at the Banff World Media Festival in June 2023 that they were banding together to tackle environmental sustainability in the screen sector, producers were surprised—but not unpleasantly so.
Marsha Newbery, who is Senior Director of Sustainability and Business Affairs at Thunderbird Entertainment, is passionate about climate action in her industry. “Climate change is a massive issue—perhaps the biggest issue that is being faced globally—and big problems can only be solved through collaborating,” she says. “The fact that the broadcasters are going to collaborate as a group on sustainability initiatives, to develop a unified approach, is very welcome. It’s the right move, and it’s an inspiring move.”
The coalition was spearheaded by the CBC, which rolled out its Greening Our Story environmental strategy in 2021. The strategy includes commitments to reducing carbon and lowering energy consumption, as well as folding sustainability into its procurement practices (all original CBC productions with budgets over $400,000 must use the albert carbon calculator to track their emissions).
Lisa Clarkson, Executive Director of Business & Rights and Production Sustainability at the CBC, says that after the launch of Greening Our Story and a string of industry sustainability events, she was fielding calls from other broadcasters who were curious about the strategy and how it worked on the ground. That was the seed for the Canadian Broadcasters for Sustainability initiative, and it would soon germinate. A growing group of broadcasters began to meet to discuss the possibility of collaboration.
The degree of cooperation—the coalition is currently comprised of 22 broadcasters—is striking. As Clarkson puts it, “There’s never been a group of broadcasters of this size and scope that has come together in the history of our Canadian industry to tackle a shared challenge. Never.” She is similarly forceful when speaking about why the group felt the need to collaborate in the first place: “At no time has it ever been more critical—ever—for the health of the planet.”
The group is made up of broadcasters of varying sizes, both public and private, and has representatives from both the French- and English-language markets. The broadcasters are also at varying stages of their sustainability journeys.
Cara Nye works at small accessibility-focused channel AMI-tv, where she is Director of Content and Development. She admits that when AMI-tv was approached to join the coalition, her first thought was, “We recycle. What’s the big deal?” She laughs about this now. “I was really, really naïve,” she says. “And as I started participating in the meetings, I started to get really excited and proud to be a part of this.”
Nye is able to take what the CBC and other larger broadcasters have already implemented and apply their learnings to her own network. The sharing of learnings is one of the initiative’s greatest advantages, and it stands to accelerate the greening of the screen industry (Nye says that AMI-tv will be moving toward use of the albert carbon calculator in due course).
This is not to say that AMI-tv doesn’t have its own learnings to pass on. Nye notes that the small budgets her network operates with have made her especially attuned to the bottom line, and aware of how greener choices—using electric cars, reducing catering waste, eliminating single-use plastics—can actually cut costs in the long run. She looks forward to sharing this arithmetic with producers.
WHAT WILL IT MEAN FOR PRODUCERS?
Producers may applaud the broadcaster initiative, and at the same time wonder what the initiative could mean for them in terms of sustainability requirements. Will every broadcaster require the use of the albert carbon calculator for every production, no matter the size? Will sustainability requirements become uniform and potentially overwhelming, particularly for a small production company?
Blue Ant is a member of the coalition, and an interesting case study: the company operates two units, one for broadcasting (channels like Cottage Life and T+E) and one for production. Julie Chang, Blue Ant’s EVP of Business Strategy and Co-Productions, says that because it understands the needs of both businesses, “when we speak as a broadcaster, we aim to do so thoughtfully.” That includes its contributions to the Canadian Broadcasters for Sustainability group.
“Every single production is a unique snowflake,” says Chang, noting that its ability to achieve sustainability is affected by many factors—program type, budget, company size, location. “We discuss all of that internally, and it’s that knowledge that we share to the larger broadcast group.” (In other words, Blue Ant’s got your back, producers.)
Marsha Newbery at Thunderbird is hopeful that the broadcaster group will be collaborative not only with each other, but with their producer partners, “particularly on any policy change or contractual change that would require downloading of obligation on producers.” She points out that producers are “master problem solvers” and the experts on their productions: “We’re going to move faster and more effectively together, so if there’s something that involves producers, I hope they’ll talk to us about it. We’ll be very willing partners. Climate change is so urgent that we can’t really lose time.”
For her part, the CBC’s Lisa Clarkson says that the BANFF announcement was a first step, and that communicating the coalition’s actions and progress with the rest of the industry, particularly producers, is “a very high priority.” The group has yet to determine what form that communication will take, but she’s confident they’ll figure it out quickly.
Chang, at Blue Ant, understands that any new sustainability requirement, whether or not it’s developed in consultation with the production community, might meet with some natural resistance on the part of producers. But, over time, “it will become muscle memory,” she believes.
MORE GREEN ON SCREEN
Newbery feels strongly that producers “can care about two things at the same time”: they can be responsible about budgets, and can also be invested in taking climate action on their productions. Let’s add a third thing: looking out for new business opportunities.
Referring to the fourth goal of Canadian Broadcasters for Sustainability (see following page), Newbery brings up one benefit of the broadcaster initiative that a non-producer might overlook—a bigger market for sustainable content. “That would be a positive development,” she says. “And if development executives see interest in that sort of content, they’ll go looking for it.”
This ripple effect can only mean more opportunities for producers to pitch green content—and, from there, a more informed public and, ideally, a cleaner, greener planet. Who could argue with that?