Posted on 22nd July 2019

Steve Smith: TV Director

My interest in the environment increased dramatically when I moved to the countryside over a decade ago. When you live out of the city it is easier to see the changes that are happening as a result of climate change; from flowering plant patterns to the water carried in our rivers.

My interest in the environment makes me frustrated with the rate of progress in the UK. Barack Obama’s clean energy bill will be amazing legacy but here in the UK we have lost 10 headline green initiatives in the last few months. For the majority of organisations in the TV industry, government mandates on sustainability won’t be coming any time soon. My experience of both rising production pressures and an understanding of the severity of climate change, I can only arrive at the conclusion that broadcasters must make sustainability mandatory.

The television industry is typically one that runs on last minute decisions and these are rarely the least impactful in terms of budget or the environment. Were crew and productions teams afforded more time they would be able to operate more efficiently, sustainability, and ultimate make better programmes. Embracing an environmental consciousness in production goes hand in hand with good planning and ultimately results with lower carbon footprints and more money on screen.

The gatekeepers, who have the potential to allow productions to achieve more, are the senior broadcaster executives, especially commissioning editors. We need to transfer the sustainability agenda out of production and embed it more deeply into commissioning. But although it is broadcasters who can enable change, it is senior production representative who have the power to make it happen. Production Coordinators are great champions but, if left to deal with environmental initiatives without senior support, little gets done. As a director, leading a creative team, it is important that we are instrumental in creating awareness across the production. From designers, lighting directors and the camera team etc., we can pass on the message that we all can and must play our part. Creative people don’t like destroying the planet, and for directors, progress is a series of very small steps than can result in enormous positive change.

At work and at home I try and behave in the greenest way I can, I plan my travel and encourage paperless working etc., as a director I can also influence carbon saving outside of my personal footprint however. Production activity often has greater potential to save significant amounts of carbon and lighting is a great example of it. Low-energy lamps can save a fantastic amount of energy and also look sexier on camera. Every series of The Graham Norton Show we work with more efficient lighting, especially for some of the music segments we do, and they look stunning.

When making changes to a production I try and explain the wider environmental context of why we looking to improve. I also do my research and ensure I am informed about potential financial savings that environmental measures can bring. I have also seen that Carbon Literacy training is a great way to make progress; when production teams have the opportunity to think about problems and solutions then action usually follows, and quickly. I urge people to get on that training if they can, it is good fun and can open people’s eyes to both the enormity of the problem and the innovative solutions.

We are now in the process of planning what our industry and lives will look in 20 years’ time. Technology is changing and making it is easier to behave responsibly. But the media’s obligation extends beyond operations; we need to make sure we champion sustainable living in both the way we make our programmes as the messages they send to our audiences.