A single 8-ounce plastic water bottle sits on a table lined with stainless-steel Sigg cups at the second annual “Hollywood Goes Green” conference. The two-day event, held at the Hilton Hotel in Universal City, brought together studio execs, showbiz insiders, producers, and an array of eco-companies to address environmental issues in the entertainment business. Over 50 speakers, 35 exhibitors and sponsors joined the 300 attendees in a lively exchange.

In the opening keynote, Global Green’s Matt Peterson tried to impress upon the Hollywood group of its potential for influence in raising awareness, attracting the attention of other media, and the power of celebrity endorsements to make green “fun and sexy.” Arctic photographer (and Plenty contributor) Sebastian Copeland followed with a compelling plea to effect change, stating, “As trendsetters, it’s your responsibility to assume leadership in creating a sustainable economy.”

The panels covered topics from programming to production, branding to technology, with professionals providing examples of how reducing energy consumption benefits the bottom line as well as the planet. At the session “Being Sustainable in a Competitive Economy,” a timely tone was set about ways to eliminate waste. Studio and network execs, including Beth Colleton, VP of NBC Universal’s "Green Is Universal" initiative, discussed their company’s eco-friendly strategies. David Limon of CBS Studios described an initiative to store and recycle sets instead of tossing them. Stressing the importance of getting staff on board, Lisa Day of Fox Filmed Entertainment dealt with employees’ resistance to eliminating plastic water bottles by creating a dramatic display of 10,000 plastic bottles erected near the company cafeteria. Just a fraction of the 60,000 bottles consumed company-wide each month, her “mountain” contributed to an 85 percent reduction in water bottle usage. Fox also offers staff incentives for buying hybrid cars, Day said.

General Motors’s Dave Barthmuss, Environment & Energy Communications Manager, spoke of the “elephant in the room,” admitting if GM hadn’t sponsored the event months ago, he might not be there seeking product placement for the company's hybrids. “Despite prior movie titles, we’re committed to the electrification of vehicles to remove the automobile from the energy debate,” he said, “and radically reinvent the company.”

Speakers countered the belief that greening costs more. Sony’s Michael Mitchell informed the group that a $3 million investment in green improvements at facilities reduced nearly 30,000 tons of C02 with a payback within one year. An exec from Oprah Winfrey’s upcoming network, OWN, spoke of “eco-tainment; the Green Ambassador of Walt Disney’s Home Entertainment discussed biodegradable DVD packaging; and a Hewlitt-Packard engineer dazzled with graphs and facts.

The elevated tenor of the discussion included ways to combat greenwashing through transparent third-party verification of carbon footprints, instead of relying on the purchase of offsets, and a move toward energy-efficient digital systems for casting and product delivery. Despite progress in operations, manufacturing and IT, challenges remain primarily with production—the biggest energy guzzler. The lack of green policies on sets and on location was blamed on non-compliant vendors and an inability to mandate practices due to the quick turnover of production crews. Yet overcoming these obstacles seems manageable if Lisa Day can convince vendors, such as chain hotels hosting the network's events, to switch from 30 to 100 percent post-consumer-waste recycled paper. Engaging creative people in devising solutions is better than imposing protocol, suggested NBC’s Colleton.

Organized by Michael and Zahava Stroud, whose iHollywood Forum produces events for outfits such as the National Association of Broadcasters. “We wanted this summit to be a conference that was socially meaningful, not just a trade show,” says Zahava. “There’s been a closet group of passionate environmentalists who are now implementing important innovative changes. The goal is to encourage everyone to develop an action plan with solid solutions proposed here for the environment.” A 42-page handbook by the Strouds with checklists and resources is downloadable at their website.

With promotional taglines like “None Like it Hot” on flashy promos, Josh Mark of the Fox Broadcasting Group shared his presentation about “green carpet” events from the Super Bowl to American Idol’s finale. His “best practices” feature solar paneled tents, reusable chalkboard signs, biodiesel-powered generators (with soy bean waste not corn or something else from the food supply), and green vendors such as a caterer who serves organic local food and composts waste. Fox also offers an online green guide to assist producers in reaching the company’s goal of being carbon neutral by 2010.

If green is in Hollywood's future and it’s going mainstream, then this conference should have twice to five times the number of attendees in coming years. “The ants will make out like bandits,” predicted a panelist.

Story by Roberta Cruger. This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in December 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008