American University professor Larry Engel was prompted to write the rules of green movie-making after yet another film class ended with a trail of disposable cups and plastic water bottles in its wake. In a first for the industry, the Code of Best Practices in Sustainable Documentary Filmmaking was released February 1, 2009, by AU’s Center for Social Media and Center for Environmental Filmmaking, where Engel is associate director. The Code has specific green guidelines for planning and producing sustainable documentary films. It also provides online resources to help measure and control the carbon emissions filmmakers produce along with their footage. The hope is that the Code will prompt the film industry to establish an independent certification process for sustainable filmmaking operations. The initiative is funded by the Ford Foundation and is a shared venture with the UK-based Filmmakers for Conservation, with support by the World Wildlife Fund, UK.
Filmmakers are just coming to grips with the question of sustainability. The Center for Environmental Filmmaking surveyed documentary producers around the world—many of whom specialize in wildlife and nature—and found that most have never calculated the carbon footprint of their operations. Nor have they compensated for their carbon emissions by buying carbon offsets. Instead, documentarians are taking more modest steps toward achieving sustainability—92% of the 175 filmmakers who responded to the survey said they recycle office products.