Case Study: 20th Century Fox Pioneers Industry-Leading Green Production Practices

Apr 21, 2017 3:00 PM ET
Blog

Over the past ten years, Twentieth Century Fox has taken every opportunity to make its global production operations among the most environmentally sustainable in the industry. From taking aggressive steps to responsibly manage energy and waste at its Los Angeles production campus to spearheading best practices for filming on location, the studio has consistently undertaken innovative projects that address the unique sustainability challenges facing film and television production. These efforts began with the launch of parent company 21st Century Fox’s corporate sustainability program in 2007, prompting the leadership at Fox Studios to make early investments in solar power and LEED certification. That same year, the studio broke new ground with its plan to make the seventh season of FOX’s action thriller 24 the first ever completely carbon neutral television series. Since then, Fox’s green production practices have expanded their scope to include responsibly-sourced lumber and food, alternative fuel sources, and a significant push to donate or reuse all leftover set materials. As a result, more than 50 Fox film and television projects have received the Green Seal from the Environmental Media Association. The company’s two-pronged approach of driving sustainability both on the lot and on location is key to its success and has made Fox’s environmental program in leading presence in the entertainment industry.

ON THE LOT

At first glance, the full environmental impact of a film or television production can seem difficult to precisely track. Variables such as set construction, heating and cooling, catering, makeup, props, costumes, lighting, and transportation all fluctuate according to the project’s specific needs, and after shooting ends, the post-production process continues at Fox’s offices and recording studios. Yet, the Fox Studios lot has implemented a number of long-term, lot-wide initiatives to conserve energy and natural resources no matter what the demands of the individual production, giving each project the resources it needs to operate as responsibly as possible.

Solar

One of the studio’s first steps following the launch of 21CF’s sustainability program was to invest in solar power on the lot. Fox installed its first solar array, measuring at 160 kilowatts, on its Crafts Building in early 2008, a system that paid for itself through cost savings within only three and a half years. This speedy return on investment paved the way for subsequent solar installations, with systems going up on soundstages, parking structures, and even golf carts. To date, Fox has invested nearly $6 million on these projects, and in 2017, it completed three new rooftop installations that nearly quadruple its existing solar power, bringing the total to more than 1.4 megawatts.

Fox Solar Panel Installation Sustainability

LEED Certification

Another early focus for Fox Studios was to pursue LEED Certification for all new buildings constructed. LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Certification it the U.S. Green Building Council’s third party verification system that recognizes building strategies and practices for their energy efficiency. The company’s first LEED-certified building was completed in 2010 with the help of the firms Environetics and Gensler:

  • More than 95% of the project’s wood was certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
  • More than 20% of the project materials were extracted and processed within a 500-mile radius of the Fox lot.
  • Energy efficient lighting and air conditioning make the building 15% more efficient than what is required under LEED certification criteria.
  • 30% of building materials contain recycled content, including concrete, studs, and drywall.

In 2014, Fox opened its second LEED-certified structure, the Richard D. Zanuck Production Building, the first ever LEED-certified post-production facility in the city of Los Angeles. The building took three years to design and construct, boasting the following environmental benefits:

  • High-efficiency lighting, air conditioning, and plumbing fixtures offset annual energy use by more than 33%.
  • Wind power provides 70% of the building’s energy, offsetting annual CO2 emissions by 225 tonnes.
  • Nearly 84% of total construction waste was either recycled or re-used.

The project was completed with the help of architecture and construction firms ARC Engineering, Gensler, Tectonics, and Brooke Rege. Brightworks served as the project's LEED consultant.

Fuel Efficiency

Beyond providing alternative energy sources for its offices and soundstages, Fox has placed a special focus on greening its transportation fleet. In 2008, the company introduced new 5-ton hybrid trucks to transport materials to and from sets and other locations. The trucks save an estimated 50% on fuel in comparison to standard diesel 5-tons. Fox also recently added a completely electric mail van to make local runs from the Lot to area post offices.

For employees, the company launched the Fox Commuter Program in 2009 to incentivize ride sharing and energy efficient travel. Since the launch of the initiative, employees using the program have:

  • Saved more than 260,000 gallons of fuel
  • Avoided more than 7 million vehicle miles
  • Reduced C02 emissions by 31 million pounds

Water

In response to the ongoing drought in California, Fox has increasingly prioritized water conservation as a critical component of its sustainability plan, looking beyond the traditional areas of water use such as plumbing and cooling to develop more creative solutions to the water scarcity issue.

  • Fox has replaced more than 13,000 square feet of lawn with artificial turf, eliminating the need for regular irrigation of these areas and saving more than 6,000 gallons of water per year.
  • A new computerized irrigation system allocates water based on the amount of recent rainfall, the type of plant, and how long each plant has been in place. This system saves an estimated 1.5 million gallons of water each year.
  • The company is also currently installing flow meters for the irrigation system to more precisely track its water use.

Waste

Responsible waste management has been a priority for Twentieth Century Fox since the early 1990s, with the studio now regularly diverting 85% of its waste from landfill. Fox expects to reach zero waste to landfill diversion rate within the next few years. Key components of its waste management program include:

  • Recycling: The studio maintains a single stream recycling system. All glass, plastics, and paper are collected together rather than separately, allowing for increased participation among cast and crew members.
  • Set Donations: After productions wrap, Fox often donates materials that cannot be recycled, such as furniture, clothing, computers, and occasionally entire sets. Glee donated several thousands of pounds of rigging gear to Los Angeles schools and gave their whole auditorium set to local theater and arts organizations.
    • In 2014, Twentieth Century Fox Television donated:
      • 42,823 pounds of furniture
      • 41,000 pounds of flooring
      • 1,601 pounds of appliances (washers, dryers, freezers, microwaves, etc.)
      • 3,420 pounds of construction materials
      • 1,895 pounds of household goods
    • Fox Film donated an additional:
      • 19,977 pounds of furniture
      • 2,780 pounds of appliances
      • 1,462 pounds of construction materials
      • 26,530 pounds of household goods
      • 42,912 pounds of clothing (from both TV and Film)
    • An additional 107.3 tons of materials were donated in 2015 and 2016.
  • Composting: Fox was among the first studios to launch a composting program for food waste. The program began with an exclusive focus on food used in kitchens and restaurants on the lot, then expanded to include employees’ food waste in offices and cafeterias. In 2016, the lot sent nearly 370 tons of food waste to compost, as well as an additional 214 tons of yard waste.
  • Food Donations: Fox has regularly donated unserved food since the 1990s, with various local organizations making collections on a weekly basis. In 2016, the studio donated an estimate 27,000 meals to the Los Angeles community.
  • Water Bottles: Fox was the first major studio to completely ban the use of plastic water bottles across all lot productions. Since 2008, this policy has saved an estimated 2.22 million plastic bottles.

DOE Commercial Buildings Partnership

In November 2010, Fox was one of only three companies selected for a multi-year project with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Commercial Buildings Partnership to assess the sustainability of its soundstages. Top scientists and engineers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) provided detailed energy tracking of the stages at Fox Studios and proposed an innovative set of sustainability measures to increase their efficiency, including upgrades to LED lighting and major retrofits to the cooling systems. The three-year project, which included a multi-million dollar investment from Fox, has yielded energy savings of more than 2.6 million kilowatt hours per year, cost savings of approximately $1,000 per day, and CO2 emissions reductions of 1,081 tonnes per year. In addition, Fox committed to releasing these findings publicly, equipping the film industry at large with critical resources for building a more sustainable, responsible business.

On Location

On location productions tend to accumulate larger environmental footprints than those shooting on the studio lot. Adria Vasil of Corporate Knights found that a blockbuster film can generate up to 1,000 metric tons of waste just from set construction, and a single season of a television show can consume up to 175,000 liters of gasoline. In addition, seemingly small actions such as printing scripts, using plastic utensils for on-set catering, and throwing out used makeup and costume materials can quickly add up to significant amounts of waste.

Fox’s sustainability program is dedicated to providing ample resources for responsible production, even when the project shoots on location and is unable to take advantage of the studio lot’s extensive environmental resources. Beginning with the seventh season of 24 and continuing over the next decade, Fox has kept an updated Green Production Guide for best practices in sustainability. The guide has become a standard resource for crews across the industry, as well as an invaluable tool in mitigating the sustainability challenges that accompany shooting on location.

24: Season 7 and the Green Production Guide

In 2007, Fox announced that it would make the seventh season of 24 the first ever completely carbon neutral television series. The steps taken during production, such as using 20% biodiesel fuels, purchasing green power, prioritizing hybrid vehicles, and tracking each department’s energy consumption, served as a roadmap for future productions both at Fox and across the industry, ultimately resulting in the FOX Green Guide, a comprehensive series of environmental best practices  for other television, film, sports, news, and event producers.

The guide is composed of three components: how to set core sustainability goals for the production, how to communicate these efforts to cast and crew members, and how to work with vendors to meet the set goals. The guide accommodates any production regardless of size or location and contains step-by-step advice for every stage of production within every production department. Fox’s efforts on the seventh season of 24 helped form the basis of these recommendations.

Following a collaboration with the other major studios and the Producers Guild of America, the FOX Green Guide evolved into the Green Production Guide, a comprehensive resource for the entertainment industry to calculate the carbon footprint of its productions and access green vendors all over the world.

Green Production Overview

Green production requires managing a wide variety of departments, each with its own unique set of opportunities for more robust sustainability:

  • Carbon Tracking: At Fox, each production is asked to conduct a detailed inventory of the energy consumed during filming, including electricity, fuel, and any purchased green power.
  • Alternative Fuel: Fuel use has historically been a major driver of carbon emissions for film and television productions. Beginning with 24 season 7, Fox productions are increasingly using biodiesel fuel in trucks and generators where possible, and transportation teams use the Green Production Guide to find local hybrid vehicle providers.
  • Lighting: Crews are integrating LED lights into filming operations, replacing the far less efficient incandescent lighting systems that were commonplace in the industry for much of its history. Other productions have installed motion monitors in bathrooms and kitchens to make the lights in those spaces more efficient.
  • Set Construction: Fox productions are increasingly using FSC-certified lumber and plywood to construct sets. The event series 24: Live Another Day was among the first television series ever to use 100% FSC-certified wood.
  • Waste: Re-using, recycling, or donating leftover set dressing, costumes, and props is a major focus for Fox. 24: Live Another Day was able to divert 98% of its waste from landfill due to this policy.
  • Paper: Virtually all Fox productions share scripts electronically, nearly eliminating the need to print paper scripts, along with all call sheets, maps, and other materials.  These practices can reduce paper use by 75% or more. In rare cases where scripts do need to be printed, Fox Searchlight pioneered the practice of printing new versions with a watermark, instead of using dyed, colored paper, which is difficult to recycle.
  • Catering: Dishware on set is often either reusable or biodegradable, and local, seasonable, and organic food options are purchased wherever possible. In addition, biodegradable takeaway boxes are becoming more and more common on sets, and food waste is separated out for composting.

Green Production Highlights

Although many of the above best practices are standard across Fox productions, each project approaches sustainability differently, with varying challenges and opportunities arising depending on where a particular project is filming in the world. Multiple productions in recent years have gone above and beyond green production baselines to achieve major sustainability success stories:

X-Men: First Class

In the fall of 2010, Twentieth Century Fox's X-Men: First Class began filming on Jekyll Island, Georgia. The scenes called for a massive crashed air-craft, a beached submarine, hundreds of non-native palm trees, and fires burning in the background--no small demand on the delicate eco-system of Jekyll Island's quiet beaches. Yet, in spite of these challenges, the X-Men: First Class team was able to completely restore the beach and preserve native habitats and wildlife. After production wrapped, the crew worked with Environmental Services in Savannah to bring in the appropriate sand to re-sculpt the beach, diaper all hydraulic and fuel lines to prevent oil spills, re-plant more than 30,000 plants, install a sprinkler system to ensure their growth, and clean up the Styrofoam and plastic debris that remained after the set was torn down. Local authorities say that the team left the beach in even better condition than when they found it.

The X-Files

Fox took extensive measures to green the production of 2008’s The X-Files: I Want to Believe, with enthusiastic support from director and series creator Chris Carter. “When I first started working in the business, we would just take sets and throw them away,” Carter said. “That’s changing. There is a new sensibility. There is a new directive, and I think Fox is at the forefront of that directive, using recycled materials wherever possible, recycling what you do use, looking at it as a total approach, and I was very excited about that.”

When Twentieth Century Fox Television greenlit a new X-Files event series in 2016, the crew seized the opportunity to continue the green production work they started on the film seven years earlier:

  • 80% of construction material waste (e.g., wood scraps, wall board, containers, etc.) was diverted from the landfill by Harvest and Urban Wood Waste Recyclers.
  • 76% of the Expanded Polystyrene Foam used was diverted from the landfill by either taking back to vendor or recycling at Foam Only.
  • 100% of the aluminum and steel used in construction was recycled.
  • 100% of the lauan plywood used was Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified.

Legion

For Legion, FX Networks’ eight-episode drama set in the world of the X-Men, Fox once again hired  Zena Harris of  Green Spark Group, who also served as sustainable production coordinator on The X-Files event series, to oversee green initiatives behind the scenes. Harris worked directly with each department throughout the nearly six-month shoot to review best practices from the Green Production Guide, as well as identify opportunities to innovate new techniques for energy saving, such as partnering with Portable Electric to pilot their new mobile power stations. By both building on the success of previous series and identifying new opportunities for innovation, the crew managed to divert 55% of the waste from landfill, avoid 252 metric tons of CO2 emissions, and collectively save nearly $48,000 USD.

Keep reading at impact.21CF.com.