Q: As Oscar madness strikes and I scramble (often dragging my boyfriend) to local multiplexes and art house theaters to catch the nominees, I’ve been wondering if there’s anything I can do to make catching a flick a more Mother Nature-friendly affair. I want to try and play by the rules and not sneak in my own snacks — besides, homemade popcorn never tastes quite as good as the movie theatre stuff — even though I realize doing so would reduce the waste I generate by sitting in a dark auditorium for two hours … not to mention save me a pretty penny. Any thoughts on what I can do? Are movie theater chains doing anything that you know of to reduce their environmental footprints?


Campaigning for Greenest Movie Patron in a Leading Role,



Pasadena, Calif.


Happy almost-Oscars! I’ve seen a few of the big nominees, but I might be the only person in my ZIP code who has yet to catch Avatar. Whoops.

I admire your commitment to not smuggling contraband concessions into movie theaters. You’re a steadfast cineaste and correct: Nothing tastes quite the same as a $10 bucket of movie theater popcorn drenched in that alarming liquid butter stuff. However, if there’s one easy way you can make movie-going more eco-friendly it involves — and I hope this doesn’t get me banned from AMC for life — stuffing your purse with homemade popcorn or other munchies in a plastic baggie (one that you ideally clean and later reuse).

When I was in high school, I worked as a cashier/concession stand attendant/theatre cleaner extraordinaire in a large suburban multiplex for a summer … the amount of trash, particularly popcorn tubs/bags, left in those auditoriums still haunts me (as does that liquid butter dispenser). There’s really no way around this popcorn situation, Louisa. I’m unsure what you do in the beverage department, but if you do buy bottled water or other drinks in the theater and there’s not an in-house recycling bin, which there probably won’t be, take it out with you and dispose of it properly … that’s a cinch.

There are a few other, non-snack related things you can do to make a two-hour entertainment excursion more eco-friendly. This may be obvious but if possible, walk, ride a bike or take public transportation to the theater. After all that sitting and staring at a screen, you’ll probably want a bit of exercise anyhoo. Aside from dragging your BF to occasional films, do you ever go with friends? If so, carpool.

It’s funny you ask about movie theaters taking on eco-initiatives (there’s only so much patrons can do) because, whaddaya know, Film Journal International recently tackled the topic in an interesting article. The article discusses how newly built theaters are starting to be constructed with green building practices in mind including LED lighting, low/no-VOC paints and finishes, and various energy- and water-conserving techniques.

The article also mentions that a Northern California theater chain, Cinema West, has integrated solar paneling onto the roofs of three theater locations. The Cinema West location in Livermore, Calif., apparently has the largest solar power system on the roof of a movie theater anywhere in the world … quite the distinction. At some point this year, the company plans to install a solar system on the roof of its Folsom location that will be even larger than the Livermore theater.  

I’ve come across reports of a couple other “green” movie theaters out there including Chattanooga’s Majestic 12 that’s housed in a LEED Gold-certified building … a first in the U.S. But here’s some sad news: After some extensive Google searching and hunting around the websites of the three largest movie theatre chains in North America, Regal Cinemas, Cinemark Theatres and AMC Theatres, I couldn’t find any mentions of corporate sustainability initiatives.

I find it odd that this crucial part of the entertainment industry — the actual movie-going experience — isn’t more up to snuff considering the overall eco-awareness of Hollywood. My suggestion on how you can help make a difference? Whether you tend to visit small, independent theaters or the big three, make it known that you care about green business practices. Write e-mails, talk to theater owner/managers and spread the word if you find a theater that is doing something to make a difference, whether it’s using recycled content napkins at the concession stand, installing low-flow fixtures in the restrooms or running environmental PSAs before films.

In the end, going to the movies is a distraction, an escape, but it doesn’t mean that it should be a total escape from daily eco-responsibilities. Moviegoers are reminded to respect others by not talking and turning off cellphones — respect for Mother Nature should play into this somehow, don’t you think?

— Matt

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Are there any ways I can make moviegoing experience more green?
Matt Hickman has seen firsthand just how much waste is produced in theaters. (And he's not talking about the trash on the screen.)