I simply don't get it. Bono is hailed as a humanitarian for helping to fight hunger and AIDS in Africa by starting the ONE Foundation, but when I bring two canvas bags with me to Whole Foods instead of using their checkout bags, all my friends call me a tree-hugger. I hadn't truly realized just how un-hip it was to feel guilty about participating in the destruction of the world around you until I started getting ragged on by my so-called friends.
I'm a fairly recent convert to cleaning up after my planetary discards. In the past, there was rarely a thought put into just how wasteful and ecologically destructive I've been over the years. I never went out of my way to recycle my cans and bottles. It was only something that was casually done if convenient. Newspapers were usually just tossed into the trash. I've rifled through gasoline in just about every fuel-guzzling vehicle you can imagine, all in the name of fun. God only knows how much oil and carbon I've put into our waterways and streets. It was all a lot of fun…and outrageously foolish in retrospect. There are very few things I look back on in regret, but at this point in life, my ecological unfriendliness is near the top of the list. Oddly enough, it took my involvement with a design firm to turn me around, and it is through that same firm that I'm now trying to make amends with Mother Nature.
Enter Artfag, LLC, a joining of creative forces between designers Justin Collie and Doug “Spike” Brant. Their business has become extremely successful over the years, and their award-winning team of designers and support staff has grown significantly. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be involved with them mainly because of their fearless commitment to being the first to use the latest and greatest technologies in the entertainment business. However, it's the Artfag team's latest trailblazing venture that has me the most excited: environmental sustainability. Sustainability should be the goal of everything we do. On a personal level, Justin and Spike work from home and, respectively, drive a Toyota Prius and a Mercedes running on bio diesel fuel. Artfag has joined 1% for the Planet, started by Yvon Chouinard, founder of outdoor clothing company Patagonia, and donates 1% of sales to grass roots organizations actively protecting or restoring the environment. On a business level, though, the Artfag team is also trying to consider sustainability in entertainment design: renewable and recycled materials in construction, energy efficiency, and reuse of design elements after the tour or event has finished. We understand that trying to do it all yourself will never work but that everyone must try to do his or her part and continue to become educated in ways to reduce our impact on the environment.
Artfag has looked at our industry of live production as being rather hypocritical and, in fact, is as guilty as anyone. The general premise is that once we, as production personnel are on site, the rules simply do not apply to us. We can do whatever we want, and the only goal is making the show happen with little regard for impact on the environment. Let's face it, we're all guilty of not being Earth-friendly at some point in our lives, but it's probably at work that we can be held most accountable. In general, live productions are highly visible events that have no regard for the impact they have on the environment and the influence they could have on fans attending the event. Just as in your home life, it only takes a little effort to make the difference and inspire others to make an effort.
The first opportunity to integrate sustainability into touring was with Bon Jovi. Al Gore sent Jon Bon Jovi a copy of the movie An Inconvenient Truth and subsequently Jon was moved to action. Bon Jovi's manager, Paul Korzilius contacted Spike to help put a program together for the tour that was entering its final leg. The tour design was finished, and the tour was mounted. The focus then turned toward calculating the carbon footprint for the tour. A carbon footprint is basically a measure of the impact that human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of green house gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide. There are dozens of non-profit and for-profit organizations that deal in the selling of what are known as carbon offsets. Carbon offsets are basically the process of reducing carbon dioxide emissions in another location for the emissions that you cause in your own. After extensive research, we partnered with an organization called Native Energy to create a spreadsheet to calculate the footprint of the tour retroactive to the beginning. Bon Jovi was never environmentally active prior but was willing to calculate and neutralize the impact of the tour by investing in projects that offset the tour's carbon footprint.
The latest, and arguably most impressive, of Artfag's environmental endeavors was the NFL Kickoff 2006 in Miami Beach, produced by Live Nation, whose support in helping achieve sustainable production has been unprecedented. This event was to be the largest live production ever produced in Miami Beach. We were about to bring massive amounts of equipment, steel, off-road vehicles, and personnel directly onto the sand, not to mention 50,000 attendees and the disposable waste a crowd of such capacity is capable of producing. The Environmental Resources Department of Miami Beach required that we produce an environmental mitigation plan to offset the impact of the event. Believe it or not, the NFL is a leader in environmental sustainability with its programs surrounding the Super Bowl, so we contacted Jack Grohl from the NFL Environmental Program to help give us some added direction and expand our knowledge on how they handle things.
As they say, “Join production; see the world…and all the bottled water that you can drink!” We immediately tackled the most obvious concerns first and specified a mass number of recycle bins for the job site. It was a fairly brainless move, but I'm consistently amazed at the lack of recycle bins on productions. The next big thing that we wanted to look at was our carbon footprint. There are several elements to calculating the footprint of this type of event, but with no rules or standards, any effort would be a positive step. We started by requesting that our lighting and video semis, as well as our generators, all be capable of accepting bio-diesel fuel, which is a drastically cleaner burning source of energy compared to standard diesel. This was a good idea, but CAT Power was unable to use the bio-diesel in the machines, and they could also not warranty the engines if more than 5% bio-diesel was used. The only vendor to actually get a bio-diesel truck to the event was lighting vendor Ed and Ted's Excellent Lighting. In contrast to the Bon Jovi calculations, this event was primarily based on power consumption; the flights, hotels, and attendee transportation to and from the event were not calculated. Planting trees or carbon sequestration made the offset. This is already part of the NFL's Super Bowl plan, and we just added more saplings. This became more cost effective because of the existing program from the NFL.
Keeping a job site of 300+ workers fed is no easy task, but at the end of the day, you're still looking at a rather massive amount of food that goes uneaten and is subsequently thrown in the trash. It was time to put that waste to good use as well. Jack Grohl from the NFL put the caterer in direct contact with a nearby food bank, and the caterer or production staff then notified the food bank 24 hours in advance of available food for pickup. It wasn't perfect but a step in the right direction.
The element of television production that has always made me insane is the 40-yard dumpsters filled with the discarded stage set. The idea of wasting the material and the time put in by the craftsmen who made the set has always seemed wrong. For this event, the stage set was made up of three different LED displays. We looked at flooring made from reusable material, but it proved to be cost prohibitive. The result was using 3/4" plywood. We tallied up the sheets of plywood left over that would get tossed in the trash at the end of the production, and someone mentioned you could probably build several houses with that. Jack Grohl put in a call to Habitat for Humanity® and saw that our massive plywood leftovers would go toward building homes for the underprivileged in the greater Miami area. It doesn't get much better than that!
There were a few areas in which we were forced to be ecologically helpful. Miami Beach has some rather stringent rules about parking vehicles on the beach itself. The most prominent is the mandatory use of EPA-approved drip mats that must be placed underneath parked vehicles to absorb any leaking fluids. It makes perfect sense, especially when you consider that everything that drips onto that sand eventually makes its way into the area waters, potentially sickening bathers and most definitely destroying the nearby reefs. Demands like these are rather simple to comply with, but there was one demand that proved to be the biggest challenge. Florida's Department of Environmental Protection brought to our attention the fact that our production build time would be coinciding with the Floridian Sea Turtle's mating season and, as it turns out, the turtles seem to love the sand dunes that we would be directly working around. The reality is that I haven't found a single person that's actually seen sea turtle mating on Miami Beach since 1987, but if you try to argue with the DEP, you will inevitably be wasting your breath, so we started to do the research. There are a ton of rules that need to be followed regarding the preservation of sea turtles. Nighttime light levels must be very low so as to not “confuse” them about what time of day it is. Nothing can impede their traffic flow, so all security barricading, stages, structures, and the like need to be raised above 3'. Their active mating times are at night, so overnight work was pretty much out of the question. The first two were fairly simple things to accommodate, but the latter tends to tie the lighting crew's hands together when they can't program an outdoor show at night. We specified low-energy LED festoons that kept us within the photometric limitations of sea turtle confusion so that we could keep security teams staffed on the site overnight. All security fences had roll-up additions placed on them, to accommodate turtle egress at night. After the event, we replaced about 2,500' of “snow fence” that had been battered from the storms last year to help with sand dune preservation as well as added some new, permanent beach signage to aid with public foot traffic, and thus preserved the turtle homes. Nobody ever said that every set piece had to be fantastic. Sometimes truly functional is the way to go.
When it came down to tackling the overnight work, we decided to simply rent a suite in the crew hotel and turn it into a previsualization studio. Prelite was contracted to send us an onsite system, so we could then setup our lighting, video, and Control Freak Systems programmers to get everything in show order ahead of time, while still keeping the turtles in a lifestyle to which they had become accustomed over the last few million years. Not only did it work great, but it kept the control world rather orderly right up to the day of the event.
Last, but most certainly not least, is an element that we simply cannot take any credit for, mainly because you just can't make a title like this up: The Turtle Ambassadors. These aren't some fantastical reptilian politicians from a George Lucas movie but rather actual people who are assigned by the Miami Beach DEP to keep an overnight watch for any possible turtle activity so that steps can then be taken toward their preservation. Their findings are also well documented, so collected information can be added to databases to help further the studies of turtle behavior and the impact humans have on their existence. I'm not exactly sure what you have to do to become an official Turtle Ambassador, but the whole thing seems prestigious indeed.
All in all, this probably sounds like a ton of extra work, but it was simply in ratio to the size of the production. Your average concert or television shoot doesn't need to take into consideration a team of Turtle Ambassadors, but it most certainly wouldn't kill you to put a modicum of effort into making your next production slightly more Earth-friendly. The simple effort of recycling the massive number of water bottles that we all consume on an average day would be an extremely easy effort toward the goal of creating truly sustainable production. Do a little research, educate yourself, and make the effort. The first step for all of us to take is acknowledging that things such as global warming are real and that we can make our biggest impact on this from within our business lives. It is a collective effort, and each step forward is a step for everyone. Eventually, it should be easy, but it's always going to take more effort to be a trailblazer. We are still trying to figure it out and always looking at creating a more sustainable business. If you are looking for advice or have ideas to share on how to make your next show more sustainable, please don't hesitate to contact any of the hipster tree-huggers at Artfag (www.artfag.tv/main.html).
1% For The Planet www.onepercentfortheplanet.org
Stop Global Warming www.stopglobalwarming.org
Native Energy www.nativeenergy.com
Climate Care www.climatecare.org
Habitat for Humanity® www.habitat.org
The Climate Trust www.climatetrust.org