Posted on 2nd July 2020

Emmerdale, Covid and the Climate

Emmerdale was the first Continuing Drama to return to filming post lockdown - find out how they combined their sustainability aims with the new Covid rules.


Like all production teams, those working in continuing drama have had to look for ways to get back to work as quickly and safely as possible while also producing the same standard of storyline that their audiences are expecting.

The Covid-19 recommendations published for film and TV companies rightly took a safety-first approach but some people were dismayed by the fact that the guidelines meant taking a backward step from the sustainability measures they had worked so hard to put in place.

For Emmerdale’s production team, the challenge was clear: find a solution that allowed filming to continue safely, without a break in the viewing schedule but equally without compromising on all the work done to reduce the show’s environmental impact to date.

And although it’s taken a lot of planning, the production team has found a way to combine the new Covid working practices with their environmental policies. In fact, in certain areas of production, the restrictions have created opportunities for the team to speed up the implementation of sustainable working methods at a quicker pace than they’d previously thought possible.

Senior Production Manager Nader Mabadi explains; “We’ve been implementing environmental changes with each of our teams for some time now but sometimes when changes are seen as solely ‘environmental’, people can be sceptical. They worry you’re taking something away from them or risking their job security. Seen through the lens of Covid, everyone immediately understood we needed to make changes for their safety. The fact that the changes had a positive knock on effect for the environment and were things we had discussed exploring anyway was serendipitous”.

Before filming could begin again, a lot of time was spent prepping, planning and looking into viable opportunities to keep everyone safe without compromising on the environmental aims. “We took advice from Whitehall, Dr Paul Litchfield and spoke with other soaps including Neighbours (the World’s first soap to return) so that we could discuss ideas and share best practice”.

It quickly became clear that despite all of the drawbacks of filming in a socially distanced manner, there were a couple of ways the Emmerdale production team could look to speed up some of their ongoing initiatives that not only helped manage the risk of C19 but were also good for the planet. For example, the team was already moving over to being 100% paperless, however it was taking time to encourage all the cast and crew to take the plunge and embrace the tech. The new guidance gave them a valid reason to send all their scripts and call sheets digitally to avoid passing the virus on through paper. It’s an initiative they now hope to keep long term. “The Covid restrictions allowed our Cast & Crew to try new ways of working.” Nader added, “Before, it was difficult for some people to imagine letting go of long established ways of working. It’s our duty to keep them safe and sharing reams of paper increases the risk of passing the virus around. A paperless production is safer but also massively reduces our impact on the environment. It’s win/win.”

There were other smaller ways they felt they could make changes too without compromising on safety. Like all productions they need to supply adequate hand washing facilities, face coverings and hand sanitisers. With each decision they kept sustainability in mind – they chose reusable face coverings that could be hand washed and reused, sanitiser bottles that could be cleaned and refilled to avoid excessive plastic waste and portable pump operated sinks were sourced in place of units which needed additional power or plumbing.

Rather than go down the disposable cup route, cast and crew were asked to provide their own cups, mugs and cutlery and catering became opt in with meals chosen in advance meaning that outside caterers could cook to order, reducing food waste.

Nader explained the reason behind these smaller details; “although these are smaller changes in the grand scheme of our overall footprint, it’s important to show our team visually that we’re still taking our environmental responsibilities seriously and equally, that it’s possible to combine new Covid working practices with sustainability principles.”

Like many continuing dramas, the biggest part of Emmerdale’s footprint is its energy use and travel. By changing their way of working, the production team have found new solutions to make improvements here too. In the past, filming for Emmerdale was done with up to 4 filming units who would travel from studio to location and back again as required. It meant that with each move a huge number of crew, their associated equipment and our suppliers would move too. Under the temporary plan, Emmerdale now has static “Cohort” teams stationed at one specific place each, which has hugely reduced travel for the cast and crews. It has also reduced the need for multiple vehicles moving between locations – now there is one driver who can do pick ups between the various locations as needed.

Similarly, recce’s which previously meant the Directors and prep teams travelling to view locations, are now being done virtually via video and using E360 (an online 360 virtual view of all our sets and locations) from the comfort of people’s homes, with no time spent commuting. Working from home for the majority of other team members is also encouraged when it’s possible to do so.

"it’s important to show our team visually that we’re still taking our environmental responsibilities seriously and equally, that it’s possible to combine new Covid working practices with sustainability principles.”

— Nader Mabadi,Senior Production Manager

Nader points out the positive effect this change has had on production; “this change to the way we’re filming has had some huge knock on effects for us, some of which are positive. In some instances, for our crew, these changes have reduced their commute time, meaning less fuel used, more time with family and less time spent lugging heavy equipment from place to place. The restrictions have also meant we’ve looked locally for talent both on screen and off which is a positive not only for the planet but also for the local economy. This new way of filming does create challenges editorially so we will have to review in a few months’ time but we, like all other abert certified productions, certainly want to reduce unnecessary travel as much as possible”.

Another big and positive change for the team has been a reduction in the use of diesel generators. In the past, these were needed for power and were on standby in case of outages but the static crews filming in the Emmerdale village can now take advantage of the mains power which runs on 100% renewable energy and thanks to the low energy lighting that the team invested in last year, the draw down on the power doesn’t overwhelm the system.

As Nader concludes, although Covid has caused huge upheaval for the TV industry, it is possible to reflect on the situation in an optimistic way; “we had to look for the positives and find solutions that allowed us to get back to work safely without compromising on our sustainability goals. By constantly thinking of our environmental responsibilities as we created our new plans we were able to weave in acceptable solutions as we went or speed up initiatives we were already putting into practice and the results have been really encouraging. We were the first continuing drama to get back to filming in the UK, and when social distancing restrictions can be relaxed, we’ll review everything and see if any of the temporary measures can become permanent improvements. Sustainability will of course be an important factor in this process”.

You can watch Emmerdale on ITV at 7pm – Monday, Wednesday and Friday