“How have you ensured that materially significant components of this programme, are not normalising unsustainable behaviour?””
Posted on 25th November 2020
albert’s new editorial question, explained
From January 2021, albert certification will include a new question concerning onscreen activity
The context for this question stems from the reality that, in order to live sustainably on this planet, society must not just reduce its environmental impact – but eliminate it, reaching ‘net-zero’. Therefore, all activity with an impact on the environment matters, both in the real word and on screen too.
The guidance below aims to help programme teams navigate their creative response to this environmental reality, by providing the backdrop of environmental considerations while leaving creative teams in full editorial control.
Responding to this question calls upon programme makers to appraise content in its entirety, and make decisions about materiality, authenticity and the best way for television programmes and their audience to travel to net-zero together.
This article provides…
- Context, on the changes society must make in order to live sustainably
- Inspiration, on what a creative response might look like
- Guidance on what we mean by materially significant
This question is a mandatory part of the certification process, requiring a short statement from the executive producer. This question is unapologetically complex, because in its essence it must meet the complexity of the challenge head on. So read on, but before you do, please rest assured that:
- Ensuring compliance might be as simple as stating that this question is ‘not relevant’
- Although this is a mandatory question, certification will not be withheld by the albert team if a suitable answer can’t be provided
Homes must be heated and lit with power generated from renewable sources and a substantial move towards electrification must take place. Energy generated on-site will play a significant role, as will the decarbonisation of the National Grid. Switching to a green energy tariff creates a signal to the market to accelerate national energy transition, whereas substantial individual reductions can also be made by on-site generation (solar, ground source pumps, etc.) and by using more efficient appliances (white goods and lighting.)
The main choices can be made in what you eat and where it comes from, the former is significantly more important. The UK Committee on Climate Change advise that meat and dairy intake must be reduced by 20% to meet UK net-zero. Animal based products have a higher amount of emissions associated with them compared to either vegetables or plant-based meat substitutes. Switching to a vegetarian diet can reduce your food related emissions by as much as 60%. Learn more.
Changing the type of transport we use matters, but measurement and aggregation of outcome is very hard to measure. The key messages are to walk, cycle, use public transport and switch to electric vehicles. Flights represent just 3% of the global carbon footprint (as globally, very few people fly), but represent 10% of a UK citizen’s footprint (generated from just one return flight to the European continent). The disparity continues within the UK, with 70% of flights taken by just 15% of the UK population. In 2020, the UK government brought the ban of the sale of new petrol cars forward from 2040 to 2030
The UK’s carbon footprint analysis aggregates the environmental impact of products created domestically. Not included in these calculations is the carbon impact of products which are imported from overseas; fashion products, white goods, cars and other consumables. Research by WWF estimates that if we were to include carbon footprints attached to all UK consumed products it would double the average carbon footprint of a UK citizen. The 2018 UN climate report suggests all global citizens must demand low carbon in every consumer product. Alongside carbon, we must tackle waste and move beyond recycling (which makes the best out of waste created) and take a more integrated approach – where material re-use is part of the original product development
2. Inspiration, on what a creative response might look like
If none of these 5 key sustainability transition areas feature in your programme on-screen, perhaps you might voluntarily choose to include an element of planet placement in your programme. Visit Planet Placement for inspiration.
When, ‘not applicable’, might be the correct answer:
- the programme is set in the past
e. one would expect unsustainable behaviour in a period drama
- the programme does contain materially significant presentations of unsustainable behaviour, but they are not relatable and therefore not imitable by its audience
e. one might expect audiences to associate with aspirational and influential people leading high carbon lifestyles, whereas one would expect audiences to be able to disassociate from fictitious characters in constructed narratives
What to do if the editorial ambition of the production is normalising unsustainable behaviour.
In order to meet audiences where they are, albert has listed the below interventions in order of authenticity and therefore, impact.
- Create a discussion onscreen which recognises that the activity in question has an unsustainable impact on the planet or environment
i.e. through contributor selection, presenter-led questions or narration etc., can a conversation about the environmental impact form part of the narrative?
- Replace activity in question with a sustainable alternative or include additional narrative about planet friendly/eco/sustainable alternatives
i.e. replacing a mode of transport for a more carbon friendly alternative
- Remove the activity or narrative from the programme
i.e. If it is not editorially important for unsustainable activity to be seen on screen, can it be removed.
3. What do we mean by materially significant?
If the climate damaging activity contributes to the action within the show then albert considers this ‘materially significant’. For example, if a presenter is shown taking a flight as part of a segment, this would be considered significant. If a plane is captured in the back of a shot, this is not significant.
— Eldridge Cleaver,1968. Cited by David Puttnam, BAFTA Fellow and Chair of the UK Parliamentary committee at ‘The reality of climate change’ TEDxDublin, 2014“
“You’re either part of the solution, or you’re going to be part of the problem””