After more than a decade of working to make its film productions as environmentally sustainable as possible, Twentieth Century Fox recently brought its years of green production experience to bear on The Post, Steven Spielberg’s historical drama about the decision by the leadership at the Washington Post to publish the Pentagon Papers in 1971. The movie filmed for 52 days across dozens of individual locations in New York City and Washington, D.C., with the cast and crew searching at each step of the way for new methods to reduce waste, conserve energy, and reduce environmental impacts. Their efforts, led by Sustainable Production Supervisor Emellie O’Brien of Earth Angel, resulted in an 80% on-set waste diversion rate, 2,600 meals donated to New York food banks, and an overall avoidance of 32.5 metric tons of carbon emissions.
O’Brien worked with every department across the production to set concrete goals around going green. Together, they devised the best strategies to achieve those goals and tracked their progress along the way, drawing heavily from the Green Production Guide, which Fox developed in collaboration with the Producers Guild of America and other major film studios. The team also drew on Fox’s long history of sustainability, which has established a firm foundation of best practices while still encouraging production crews to find new ways to go green and tackle the environmental challenges of every project as they come.
See below for a detailed look at how the team on The Post donated used set materials, identified specialty recycling programs for batteries and film stock, sourced paper and lumber responsibly, and much more:
Engaging the Crew
As important as new technologies and renewable energies are, the success of a sustainability initiative ultimately rests on the personal contributions of the entire crew. O’Brien and her team made creating lasting engagement with the green initiative a top priority. The Production Office published a weekly green newsletter containing helpful tips for how crewmembers might reduce waste and save energy. In addition, through the Green Crew Members of the Week program, the production office regularly recognized those who went above and beyond in their environmental stewardship.
For many years, the film industry has struggled to find affordable, responsibly sourced lumber for set construction. However, Twentieth Century Fox has consistently encouraged its production teams to increase their use of wood products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which guarantees that the lumber—most often lauan plywood—was grown and harvested sustainably and in a way that preserves the natural resources of local cultures in the tropical regions where the trees grow. The Post, for example, used 1,288 sheets of 100% FSC-certified lauan.
Over the course of filming, the team also used 124 Pulp Art wall skins, a sustainable alternative to vacuform plastic, which is common in the industry. Pulp Art wall skins are made from 100% post-consumer recycled paper, cardboard, and wood chips, and are reusable, recyclable, and compostable. In addition, all paper contained recycled content ranging from 30% to 100%, a practice that saved an estimated 23 trees.
From catering to props to wardrobe to transportation, every department on a film set has waste. O’Brien coordinated set-wide efforts to reduce the amount of waste sent to the landfill by instead finding ways to reuse, compost, or recycle as much material as possible. As a result, the production diverted 80% of its overall waste (45,507 pounds) from the landfill, accounting for 20.5 of the 32.5 tonnes of carbon emissions the production avoided. The Post’s waste reduction strategies included the following:
- Rather than stock plastic water bottles, the studio purchased reusable bottles for the cast and crew, a practice that avoided the use of 66,458 plastic bottles.
- The camera crew replaced some single-use batteries with rechargeable ones, reducing the amount that needed to be purchased and overall avoiding the use of 160 batteries.
- Camera and Sound also recycled a total of 550 batteries through a specialty program that separates out their lead, mercury, and other harmful chemicals.
- The camera crew also worked with Arch Enterprises to recycle 96 pounds of unused film stock that still remained on the reel. The company separates film’s small light-sensitive silver halide crystals from the plastic stock in order to properly recycle all components.
- The Production Department recycled a total of 3,600 pounds of mixed recycling, including paper, batteries, CD/DVD plastic, glass, ink cartridges, paint cans, light bulbs, and more.
- The Catering Department adopted a “Meatless Mondays” meal schedule, a practice that helped the production avoid 4.4 metric tons of carbon emissions.
Energy consumption is another major driver of film’s environmental footprints, and The Post crew identified several key methods for conserving power while filming. First, they selected a retired AT&T office complex in White Plains, New York, in which to construct the movie’s primary sets, most notably the Washington Post newsroom. The building was chosen in part because it already contained enough electrical infrastructure to fully power the filming process, reducing the use of diesel generators.
When diesel generators were needed—such as when on location away from the main stages—the team sought to increase its use of renewable fuel sources. In particular, the production used B20 biodiesel, which contains 20% renewable fuel, for the basecamp generator and used 462 total gallons of B20 throughout filming.
Supporting the Community
As part of The Post’s dedication to driving down the amount of waste it produced, the team found that donating materials such as leftover food and used clothing not only reduced waste but also made a positive impact on the communities where The Post filmed.
By working with Rock & Wrap It Up, the production donated 3,130 pounds of leftover food, amounting to 2,607 meals, to New York area homeless shelters and charities including Bread & Life Pantry, Women in Need, and We Care.
The Production Office donated unclaimed clothing to Goodwill at the end of production, and the Set Dec department donated lightly used set dressing to organizations including Shadow Supply Inc., Rockland Pride Community Center, Carpet Time, City Knickerbocker, Drape Kings, Eclectic Encore Props, propNspoon, Louis Vuitton NYC, Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema, Materials for the Arts, Out of the Closet, and Big Reuse.
In total, The Post donated 8,166 pounds of materials valued at more than $160,500.
As a result of these efforts, The Post was among the first films ever to be recognized by NYC Film Green, an initiative of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment to recognize those film and television productions based in New York City that demonstrate exceptional efforts in on set sustainability. The program works closely with production crews to set goals, track progress, and train staff and vendors on best practices.
Header and sidebar photos: Niko Tavernise