Green Giants

When it comes to being environmentally responsible, Hollywood's major studios are stepping up to the plate in a big way.


The House of Mouse has a goofy name for its brand of corporate green-think ("environmentality"), but its goals are dead serious. Last month, it announced an ambitious plan to cut companywide greenhouse gas emissions in half over the next four years and reduce electricity consumption by 10% over the next five. The strategy was formulated by its 22-month-old Environmental Council, made up of 150 senior executives from around the globe and across its corporate spectrum.

"Environmentality is something that's in our nature, if you will, starting with Walt Disney and his 'True Life Adventures' and his big belief in conservation," says Gordon Ho, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment executive vp worldwide marketing, the council member who heads Disney Studios' "green team."

Although 91% of Disney's greenhouse emissions are generated by its theme parks, resorts and cruise ships, the council isn't overlooking Burbank, where an array of solar panels was recently installed on the roof of Soundstage 2 and the latest "green guidelines" are being utilized on productions like "Race to Witch Mountain."

That's not all.

"We're now recycling all the trailers that are printed on film stock and the packaging of our DVDs and CDs are recycled and made into a number of items, from park benches to television chassis and car doors," Ho says. The company also is using its iconic brand to sell eco-consciousness to consumers, with products like the feature-length documentary "Earth," opening today. ("Earth" is the first film from the studio's new eco-friendly motion picture label, Disneynature.) For every person in the U.S. who sees the film during its opening week, the company will plant a tree in the highly endangered Brazilian Atlantic rain forest.


While other companies plant seeds of environmentalism, this one lays down sod. In 2006, News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch instituted the Cool Change Initiative, proclaiming that all the media conglomerate's holdings, including Fox, would be carbon neutral by 2010.

The studio has been on the greening fast track ever since, installing more efficient lighting, extending the reach of its two water chiller plants (up to 50% more efficient than regular air conditioners) to additional buildings, using biodiesel generators on location and switching over to biodegradable food containers and utensils (made of corn and sugar cane polymers) that, once used, are diverted from its regular waste and sent to a composting facility. It's also been greening productions like "24," which this year declared itself TV's first carbon-neutral show.

For the "American Idol" finale and the "Teen Choice Awards" last year, Fox arranged for solar energy systems to be donated to the productions, which were in turn donated to schools. Its television department also has acquired a fleet of Toyota Priuses for the use of location managers and PAs, along with four 5-ton diesel hybrid prop trucks. In addition, the studio has instituted a incentive plan that gives employees $1,000-$4,000 toward the purchase of a hybrid or alternative fuel vehicle, depending on its fuel efficiency.

"We've had literally hundreds of employees take advantage of it," says Lisa Day, Fox's energy initiative manager. "Sometimes, when I'm leaving the parking garage, I'll count the hybrid cars that I see, and I get in the double digits after only one level, which is kind of a kick."

NBC Universal

At NBC Universal, green is about action and image. Its wide-ranging environmental initiatives operate under the umbrella of "Green Is Universal," a program launched in May 2007 that simultaneously promotes sustainable practices in-house and with consumers, while branding NBC Uni as an eco-friendly corporation that cares.

Under the GIU banner, news pieces and PSAs promoting sustainable living run across all 42 NBC Uni brands and 28 Web sites, while Universal Studios hosts public drives to collect hazardous waste (including automotive products, electronics and paint), and employees at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York use a closed-loop recycling program that repurposes things like cue cards to produce new boxes and DVD cases for the offices.

"We also greened the Super Bowl this year, using car-pooling, hybrid vehicles, biodiesel fuel, eco-friendly products for a crew of 500 and the purchase of carbon offsets for our travel," says Beth Colleton, who left her post as the NFL's director of community ventures 10 months ago to become vp at NBC Uni's Green Is Universal unit. Through these and other initiatives -- including newly instituted green production guidelines for film and TV -- NBC Uni hopes to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 1% by 2012. "A quarter of our black car fleet is already hybrid, and we're increasing that again this year," Colleton says. "Anywhere and everywhere we can look to explore these alternatives and options, we are."


The focus of the studio's environmental efforts is its new chilled water plant. No, it's not a massive drinking water dispenser. "It's a centralized heating and air conditioning system," says Michelle Richards, Paramount Pictures' executive director of environmental health and safety. "Instead of having individual boilers and air conditioning units in all the offices and buildings, it's going to be a single system."

The initial stage is scheduled to come online in the first quarter of 2010. When completed, electricity used to air condition the studio is expected to drop from 2.5 kilowatt tons a year to 1. The studio has also begun work on a new postproduction facility, scheduled to open next year, that it hopes to have LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified.

In the meantime, it's moving forward with efforts to green its productions, like Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Island," which recycled a forest of dead trees used in one of its sets.

"They filled eight 53-foot semi-trucks with mulch," says Anita Woerner, Paramount Pictures' vp government and community affairs.

In 2007, Paramount's Home Entertainment gave its DVD in-store displays an eco-friendly redesign that resulted in a savings of 2.2 million pounds of corrugate paper that year. On the lot, employees are being encouraged to green their lives and workspace through a desk-side recycling program and last year's Give Your Car a Vacation campaign, which called on people to carpool or use public transportation that attracted nearly 600 participants. The incentive? The chance to win a draw for a new Smart Car.


It's said that if one were to rip up the floor of Stage 27 on Sony's Culver City lot -- home to MGM Studios from 1924-86 -- it would reveal the remnants of the yellow brick road from the 1939 classic "The Wizard of Oz."

The dynamic plays out in a far less romantic fashion with the studio's energy infrastructure.

"We're in an old facility, so updating to new technologies brings with it tremendous advances in energy efficiency," says Jon Corcoran, vp corporate safety environmental affairs for Sony Pictures Entertainment.

The studio recently completed the installation of a 235-kilowatt solar energy system on the roof of its Jimmy Stewart Building, and two new facilities scheduled to open on the lot this year are being built according to LEED guidelines. Already completed is the studio's new data center in Chandler, Ariz., that uses 100% renewable energy, which they expect will reduce its carbon footprint by up to 19,710 tons over the next three years, equivalent to removing nearly 3,240 cars from the road.

In 2008, the studio recycled 48 tons of electronic waste. It also has instituted an electronic production management system for its television operations that distributes and stores all production-related documents (call sheets, crew lists, script revisions, production reports, etc.) via computer, dramatically reducing paper usage.

"The goal is there to be a gain on both the sustainability side, as well as the financial side," Corcoran says of the studio's green goals. "In a perfect world, we get wins on both."     

Warner Bros.

Long before climate change became a hip topic in Hollywood, Warners was taking pains to green its operations.

"The beauty of that is that we've been able to grow that program for many years and we've really seen a major reduction in our energy footprint," says Shelley Billik, who was hired to head the studio's recycling program in 1992 and now serves as vp environmental initiatives.

Much of that reduction is thanks to the solar energy system installed atop its Depression-era mill building in 2002, which was recently expanded from 72 kilowatts to more than 500 kilowatts.

But the biggest news on the lot is the new "green" soundstage, Stage 23, made with lumber harvested from responsibly managed forests, recycled metals and nontoxic paint and adhesives. It also boasts Ice Bear cooling technology that uses off-peak electricity for daytime cooling and a perimeter of pervious asphalt, which allows rain water to percolate into the ground instead of running off into the Los Angeles River. The coup de green: the building it replaced was carefully deconstructed so that 92% of its materials were reused or recycled.

On a day-to-day basis, Billik's office helps individual projects green themselves with a piece of software called the Carbon Calculator. After production wraps, she refers them to Encore, a program which donates computers, furniture and construction materials to nonprofit organizations and schools such as Habitat for Humanity and the L.A. Community College District.

"I'm not here to wave the flag and say, 'We've done it all and we're perfect,' " Billik says. "There's much more coming."