By Sally Mills, Head of Operations and Sustainability Lead, BBC Studios Productions

In August, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirmed unequivocally that humans are warming the planet and we are dealing with an unprecedented scale of climate change.

For BBC Studios Productions sustainability sits at the heart of what we do. Onscreen, our programmes such as Greta Thunberg: A Year to Change the World and Climate Change: The Facts have raised awareness of important climate issues, whilst Blue Planet II sparked a global campaign, galvanizing behavioural and policy changes, including a new international framework agreed by G20 against marine plastic litter.[2] And sustainable behaviour is portrayed in our many other types of programming too, such as storylines in EastEnders tackling recycling, Doctor Who referencing the impact of waste and electric cars being showcased on Top Gear.

Offscreen, how we act sustainably to protect the planet and reflect the concerns of our staff, audiences, customers and partners is equally important to BBC Studios Productions. We have a long history of working with the BBC and other broadcasters and partners to drive sustainable production practices: in fact, the industry standard BAFTA albert sustainability training, footprint calculator and certification was named after EastEnders’ Albert Square.

Across all of BBC Studios we are actively reducing our carbon footprint, energy consumption and waste. We are carbon neutral and along with the BBC Group, we are aiming for net zero emissions from our direct operations by 2030. Specifically in BBC Studios Productions, prior to the global pandemic, we also set an ambitious target to albert certify all productions from the financial year 2020-2021. When Covid hit, squeezing production budgets and increasing the time and attention needed to keep both our people safe and our shows on air, the additional albert target was a massive challenge to the teams.

Despite this, we’re very proud that in the first year of our target, 100% of our productions achieved albert footprinting and 98% of our productions were albert certified, including those produced by our independent production partners Lookout Point, Baby Cow and Sid Gentle. Workshops, dropboxes, factsheets, internal and external Q&A sessions and embedded networks to stimulate sharing were all created to achieve this outstanding result, but ultimately all credit must go to the production teams who worked so hard to make this possible.

And we learnt so much. The push for albert certification fed into some incredible innovation with both Winterwatch and Springwatch using green-hydrogen powered generators – hailed by the industry as both ground-breaking and world-leading. It also inspired operational creativity in a Covid year, with increased use of local crews (no international flights were used in making The Year Earth Changed for Apple) and clever use of Zoom for talent appearances, for example on The Big Night In.

On our recent dystopian drama The Watch for BBC Amercia, ‘Green Goblin Awards’ were awarded each week to members of the production team for their sustainability efforts, sparking a range of imaginative ideas, including building dog kennels from offcuts from the set, recycling rainwater and creating eco-bricks for making furniture.

Of course, we’re still on a journey and albert certification is just one part of the journey. But with over 2000 hours of programmes created in a typical year for the BBC, Amazon, Apple, Channel 4, Discovery, ITV, NBC Universal, Netflix, UKTV, YouTube and others, albert certification remains core to our operations. BBC Studios Productions have both a responsibility and an opportunity to continue to drive innovation, ingenuity and positive change to support our audiences and future generations.

And we will strive for more, increasing both our innovative activity and also the scope of its application – for example learning from the BBC’s A Suitable Boy’s (produced by Lookout Point) experience filming in India, to support carbon action plans for other productions in our international territories.

BAFTA albert has a wealth of valuable advice for production companies to support them.

Top tips based on this and our own experiences include:

  1. Brainstorm ideas with the entire team when creating your green memo and ask people to pledge against their delivery: everyone has a role to play and this will ensure the most innovation and the largest impact.
  2. Encourage and reward individual innovation: Productions have to juggle a huge variety of tasks. Recognising this and incentivising supports motivation.
  3. Start early – and gather evidence along the way: And remember there is always something you can do. albert can accommodate super-fast turnaround shows.
  4. Share best practice: Genres can learn from each other, but don’t forget that people working in support functions may also be interested.
  5. Agree consistent principles: These need to be pragmatic for busy productions but will aid you in both the data inputting and reporting.

2021-2022 continues to bring Covid challenges and will no doubt throw many other obstacles in our way, however BBC Studios Productions continues to be committed to keeping sustainability at the heart of what we do.

Sally Mills will be chairing a session on the latest sustainable production practices at the Climate Creatives Festival on Tuesday 5th October?

Jon Creamer

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