Many films and TV shows have gone green, adopting eco-friendly practices on set that get them recognized at star-studded events like the Environmental Media Awards. But smaller film industry projects like commercials often don't take the time or initiative to clean up their practices — because shoots last just days, not weeks or months.
Enter EcoSet. This green-minded North Hollywood business specifically helps to green commercials, drastically reducing waste of all forms at the shoots. Last week, I visited a commercial set for Target at Universal Studios — and saw EcoSet's work first-hand.
First thing I noticed: Everyone was carrying around a stainless steel water bottle — bright red ones emblazoned with the Target logo, as you may have guessed! Filtered water stations dotted the set, letting people fill up, plastic bottle-free, with ease — a necessity under the hot SoCal summer sun.
The second thing I noticed: Meals were pretty much zero-waste, with reusable plates and real silverware offered to all diners. Kris Barberg, EcoSet's account manager, pointed out that food-related trash makes up for the bulk of the waste at many commercial shoots, which made eco-friendlier dining services a must in reducing waste on the set.
For those who had to eat on the go, compostable containers and flatware were available. And the compostables were actually composted, thanks to EcoSet's partnership with a waste management company that equips the set with special trash dumpsters. These dumpsters have a middle divider, with compostables on one side and recyclables on the other — a feature I wish was common to all dumpsters.
Of course, making a commercial usually means lots of difficult-to-recycle items left around after the shoot — from fake snow to costumes to the facade of a fake door. That's why EcoSet has a donations director who works with nonprofits and other local groups to find good, new homes for these unique once-used items. Gels and other unused supplies go to film students, props find their way into local theaters, and small knick-knacks become craft supplies for local schools.
With those efforts, EcoSet has reduced the waste at Target's shoots by a whopping 86 percent since the two started working together in April 2009! Now that the waste issue has been more or less conquered, EcoSet is looking into other, more challenging eco-moves — like getting eco-friendlier energy to power the set and more organic, local food to feed the crew.
These initiatives are tougher, since EcoSet doesn't get to pick the vendors that Target or other companies work with. That said, small changes are still happening. In addition to requiring caterers to offer reusable and compostable plates and flatware, EcoSet's working to set tougher guidelines on eco-friendly food sourcing — an effort that's helped by the fact that Target topped Greenpeace's list of sustainable seafood sellers. The goal now is to make sure that any caterer hired for Target's commercial shoots now also meets that sustainable seafood guideline.
And although a wholesale switch to all green power is some time away, the set did have one super sustainable trailer — a big white vehicle powered mostly by solar power and partly by biodiesel, tricked out with the most energy-efficient appliances, with an interior with recycled materials and FSC-certified wood.
The tour made me realize that a lot of the big green changes on sets can be relatively low-hanging fruit. Reusing water bottles and plates isn't exactly rocket science, after all. But just as even self-described environmentalists often find themselves getting their to-go lunches in disposable containers — with flatware that, if compostable, often doesn't actually make it to a composting facility due to lack of city-wide composting programs — simple changes can sometimes be oddly difficult to institute.
And those changes can be especially tough to make when lots of people — not all green-inclined — are involved. I'm glad EcoSet is working to help green Target's commercials, and hope that these greening strategies soon become the norm instead of the green avant-garde.