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This story is part of The Hollywood Reporter’s 2023 Sustainability Issue (click here to read more).
HBO Green’s overall aim is to lower the carbon footprint and implement sustainable practices across all production. But specific to HBO and HBO Max, all of the company’s scripted fiction shows where they are the lead producer (which includes Euphoria, Succession, White Lotus and more), regardless of where they shoot globally, have to adhere to the HBO Green program.
The program consists of six categories: fuel, energy, waste, materials, community and on screen. In practice, this looks like eliminating single-use plastics, composting, donating excess food and materials once wrapped and reducing emissions with regard to the fuel and energy categories. On average, “56 percent of our show’s emissions come from fuel, which is in line with the industry averages,” says Heidi Kindberg, vp sustainability at Warner Bros. Discovery, who focuses on HBO and HBO Max sustainable production efforts.
In order to reduce carbon emissions that primarily come from fuel, productions have to reduce fossil fuels, which results in the company opting to use utility power instead of generators whenever possible.
“With the Gilded Age, which shoots in New York, they actually installed power lines — like they put in power poles and a whole power system in the backlot area where they were shooting,” Kindberg says. “So season one they used generators, and then between seasons one and two, they installed this power, and then season two, they used zero generators when they shot there because the power eliminated the need for them entirely. They invested financially and they eliminated the emissions.”
HBO Green’s in-house sustainability program works closely with all productions on efforts to try to reduce their carbon emissions before working with nonprofit organizations like Cool Effect, which helps offset any carbon emissions HBO Green cannot eliminate in the production process by funding high-quality projects that prevent or remove greenhouse gas emissions. As of December 2022, HBO had offset two tiers of emissions for 96 percent of the shows the studio made in 2021 and 2022.
Kindberg says the HBO Green team does “a lot of work to replace those diesel generators with battery power,” adding: “Over half of our shows last year use battery power. And Warrior was the first show to trial a battery generator in South Africa.”
In front of the camera, HBO works to make sure the content is in line with these behind-the-scenes ethics, making sure that character behavior and message placements are a priority.
“We asked our shows to model the sample behaviors on screen — this can be anything from carrying a refillable water bottle and composting, to things that are more impactful like eating plant-based meals, going to vegan restaurants, showing solar panels on rooftops, having characters drive EV or take public transportation or ride a bike,” Kindberg says. “We talk about [all of these things] in our modern-day setting shows to put those things on screen because it’s normalizes them. And then if those behaviors are adopted by viewers, they have the potential to have a carbon reduction impact in real life.”
In 2010, Sony Group established “Road to Zero,” the company’s sustainability and environmental climate plan. “It was a commitment for us to have a zero environmental footprint by 2050,” says Sony vp sustainability John Rego. “We have a science-based target to become net zero by 2040 and carbon neutral by 2030.” This reduction in footprint primarily focuses on four areas: biodiversity, chemicals, resource conservation (like, eliminating single-use plastics) and a carbon and climate focus, focused on sustainable productions.
Since Sony Pictures began focusing on sustainability on the content creation side of the business in 2012, about 75 percent of the shows reached “sustainable production status,” Rego says, which is achieved through “training, implementing low carbon impact activities and making sure it meets the status that’s recognized in the industry.” Sony works to not only meet their own internal standards for productions but also strives toward seals from organizations like the Environmental Media Association to meet external standards across the industry as well.
Low-carbon solutions on productions have become the standard, prioritizing things that seem relatively trivial in the background — like using dry cleaning bags or focusing on recycling and composting — as a way to make a major impact across several sets over time.
And beyond the world of sound stages, Sony Pictures also brings this standard of ethics to productions taking place offsite. During the shoot for Spider-Man: No Way Home in Georgia, the studio worked with the nonprofit Trees Atlanta to plant trees in the area and also to help support the removal of invasive species in an effort to nurture the local habitat.
“The tree planting is a fabulous way, I think, of just talking symbolically about how our productions have a positive impact on the communities in which we shoot,” says Rego.
Amazon Studios’ $2 billion corporate venture capital fund known as the Climate Pledge Fund, designed to invest in startups that can help decarbonize their business, is working in collaboration with Moxion, a mobile energy storage product and technology company. Though Moxion has been composting on set and using solar vehicles for a couple years, it struck Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund principal Nick Ellis as a unique opportunity to support some of the studios’ green efforts.
They first met about converting from traditional diesel generators to Moxion’s clean energy batteries about 18 months ago but over the last six months have started using some of their productions as “ideal testbeds” for the new batteries, starting with Sitting in Bars With Cake starring Bette Midler.
“[What appealed to us] was the versatility of the solution,” Ellis says. “It can be used in a variety of different applications on set at our warehouses for backup power, or in our data centers for temporary power. And then the zero emission power profile of the unit was unlike anything we’d seen on the market before.”
The production team on Sitting in Bars With Cake noted that the clean batteries were significantly quieter than diesel generators. “Most of these folks try and isolate these diesel generators as far away from them onset as possible … [but with these] that was not that case, they were happy to have it close by to monitor it more easily,” Ellis says. And secondarily, the batteries — which can be charged at off-peak times primarily with renewable energy — “actually gave them an opportunity to design and create new shots more quickly, with less cabling running around which made it much safer on set,” Ellis adds.
Typically, studio lots have multiple diesel generators on every production for weeks at a time, times however many productions are currently shooting.
“Moxion has indicated that these zero emission batteries that they’ve produced reduces the amount of emissions equivalent to about 32 cars driving around on the road for a year — which is to say, there’s a lot of emissions that come from most diesel generators that are operating on sets,” Ellis says.
Later this year and into 2024, Amazon Studios plans to deploy more of Moxion’s clean batteries on more productions domestically, and then expand internationally soon after. The company is also focusing on experimenting with these more sustainable generators in different operating temperatures and environments. “We started here in Southern California, in Los Angeles, and some of our other productions we’re looking at are in the southeast and the northeast,” Ellis says. “We know that running batteries in colder environments, or just more outdoor, varied environments, is going to be a test for Moxion at every turn. And we want to experiment with that and make sure it really meets all of our requirements across our studios productions.”
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