It was in 2009 when Hattie Park and Richard Smith from BBC Sustainability approached us at EastEnders to help them test a carbon calculator they had built alongside the Energy Saving Trust.
The idea was to collect data from across the production, from light bulbs to paint pots and hotel rooms to mileage, to help ascertain what EastEnders’ carbon footprint was. At the same time we were testing out the functionality of this revolutionary film and television production carbon calculator albert was born, which has now become industry standard.

It was then that our Eco-Enders crusade was started, but it certainly wasn’t easy. One of the issues of being based at BBC Elstree is that the site was built in an era when sustainability and efficiency were not close to the heart of the building regulators!

We started by installing mains water into our studios urls to save filling them up with bottled water. In 2010 we then progressed to Switching on’ to ‘Switching off’ and encouraged production office staff to switch off their monitors when going home. We designed posters and displayed them around the offices and emailed them to everyone. I’m sure it had some impact but it was impossible to measure. EastEnders is a vast production with continual freelance churn and it was difficult to keep momentum amidst relentless production schedules.

We kept trudging on with making small changes: eradicating polystyrene cups, getting recycling bins installed, taking steps to improve the recycling rate from the site, switching from single serve plastic coffee filters to reusable flask coffee filters and printing blue scripts double sided.

We made our first big leap in early 2014 when Workplace took the opportunity to build two new stages for EastEnders. BBC sustainability provided funds to equip them with brand new low energy lighting. The energy savings on these studios have been amazing. For any tech geeks out there, it’s given us a saving of approximately 90,000 kWh per year. Or for those more on my level, it’s a carbon saving (approximately) of one person taking 50 return flights from London to New York. Although there has been considerable outlay, the pay back in terms of the financial savings is about seven years.

albert launched the certification programme in 2014: The ‘diet plan’ for your carbon footprint. Although EastEnders has many advantages over some programmes because we have been running for so long and never stop, some systems and processes have been embedded for 30 years so changing culture, in between making over 200 hours of TV a year, can seem like a tall order. But we’ve never given up. We’ve ridden the roller coaster of Eco-motivation and apathy and striving for albert certification has really helped focused our efforts.

Our biggest injection of enthusiasm came following the carbon literacy course in June 2015. Somewhat reluctantly, a number of HoD’s gave up a day out of their busy diaries to attend this one day course. I say reluctantly only because, as we all know, it’s so difficult to give a whole day over to a course because when do you then pick up that day’s work? And what has carbon literacy got to do with production, right? But every single person left the day slightly aghast at what they’d learned about the urgency of climate change and really understood how everyone needs to play their role in taking responsibility for sustainability, both in their personal lives and on production. From this we set up a steering group with a representative from every EastEnders’ department that meets quarterly to engage, motivate and share all our sustainability projects and ideas.

We have spread the word to our suppliers by requesting their own company eco policies and have brought them along on the journey with us. Our caterers are no longer allowed to use polystyrene cups and must provide recycling on location and we now use solar power honey wagons when we can.

We have dramatically reduced our paper usage by a about half across scripts, risk assessments and our weekly internal gazette and have reduced paper usage across all other use by about 20%. This has saved over 1000 reams of paper and over £1,750 per year. We now use recycled paper and other recycled stationary as standard. Some of our pens are made from recycled water bottles and we intend to continue to reduce the paper usage across other widely distributed documents.

We no longer issue rushes on DVD and instead work online using Box, saving 2500 DVD’s per year as well as all the road transport associated with sending all these DVD copies around.
We recycle costumes, sets and paint and paste pots from Design. Our BBC car provider uses low emission vehicles and we are looking at taking a smaller generator out on location to be more efficient with the fuel we burn.

And this is just the beginning! We are proud to have just achieved our three star albert certification but know there are even more ambitious and exciting changes on the horizon for the coming year…

We are currently transitioning towards more online working practices across Make Up, Costume and Design, particularly for continuity record keeping. This will save printing thousands of photos and we intend to continue to reduce paper usage by a further 50%.

We will be replacing tungsten house lights with low energy LED’s, cutting their energy consumption by about 70% and renovating 2 galleries to become more energy efficient. We will have mains water coolers installed across all studios to eradicate use of approximately 50,000 x 500ml bottled water per year, saving approximately £9,000 per year!

We are looking at replacing our two technical trucks with smaller more efficient vehicles. We are also exploring options for how we can improve the archaic metering system at Elstree to be able to have more transparency and understanding of specific energy consumption which will hopefully lead to better management control.

As I said earlier, it’s no easy task changing culture, but when facing challenges, I remind myself of the film that was shown to us at the end of the carbon literacy course: a wild and crazy man starts dancing alone in a crowd. Initially he looks like a bit of an idiot but then one person joins him and then another and not before long, everyone in the crowd has joined in and not just joined in, they are all ‘giving it large’ with their heart and soul.

I can’t help but feel that production sustainability is a bit like where health and safety was at 20 odd years ago. People never used to write risk assessments every time an actor was required to give someone a gentle wallop, but now it is second nature, ingrained in our culture. Well that’s where sustainability is heading. More importantly, that’s where it needs to be if we are all to do our bit in taking responsibility and preserving the world as we know it for our children.

More ambassadors:

Wendy Darke

Outgoing Head of the BBC NHU Department

Bal Samra

Managing Director of Television, BBC