Hollywood goes carbon neutral

Entertainment biz is second largest polluter in Los Angeles

The equation is pretty simple. The more carbon dioxide that’s dumped into the atmosphere, the warmer the atmosphere gets.

Human beings are major CO2 contributors, of course, but the entertainment industry also does its part. In fact, a recent Los Angeles study found that the entertainment business was the second largest polluter in the city behind the petroleum industry. From the generators that provide power on sets, to the energy used in studio office buildings, to the airplane flights to move a production around — nearly every action has a carbon consequence.

Today, CO2 levels are understood to be 40% higher than at any other time in history. Geological records from the past 400,000 years show that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, Earth’s temperature and the sea levels have all moved in a tight lockstep. Traditional carbon sinks — such as the world’s oceans — are now full, signaling that the situation has gone from dangerous to desperate.

While most of the world is slowly waking up to the severity of the matter, Hollywood has started taking some serious responsibility for its actions.

Growing numbers of individuals and companies are pledging to go carbon neutral. To achieve this “neutral” state, there must be a tabulation of how much CO2 is expelled in an average year. Then, those emissions can be offset through the help of companies specializing in canceling out carbons. (Click here for a list of companies offering renewable energy certificates.)

The most straightforward approach is the tree-planting strategy employed by organizations such as the Conservation Fund’s Go Zero program. This program plants trees — a lot of trees. Since 2000, Go Zero has planted more than 5 million trees on protected lands in the lower Mississippi Valley that will ultimately capture about 10 million tons of carbon. (One tree sequesters about 1.3 tons of CO2 over a 70-year period, according to the org.)

Earlier this year, when United Talent Agency decided it was time for some environmental accountability, it utilized a carbon calculator — like the one found at GoCarbonZero.org — to figure out just how much of the noxious stuff it was producing while going about its daily business. The agency then cut Go Zero a check to plant the necessary trees to offset the damage.

While UTA zeroed out its emissions for fiscal year 2006, CAA went carbon neutral in 2004. “Roland Emmerich was our client,” says agency partner David O’Conner. “When he made ‘The Day After Tomorrow,’ he wanted it to have the least environmental impact possible — so he made the movie carbon neutral and we decided to make the agency carbon neutral.”

The Emmerich example is key when it comes to understanding how green-minded talent has pulled Hollywood toward the front ranks of the green revolution. When A-list thesps including Cate Blanchett, George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio and Harrison Ford make it a point to publicly stand up for their eco beliefs, you better believe their talent agencies will stand next to them.

That’s not to say the studios haven’t gotten in on the act as well. Already, a number of feature films, including Paramount Classics’ “An Inconvenient Truth” and Warner Bros.’ “Syriana” have zeroed out their productions.

” ‘Syriana,’ ” says Shelley Billik, Warner’s VP of environmental initiatives, “was an attempt to learn everything we could about the climate impact of a film — so we can make more informed decisions going forward.” The studio has plans to zero out footprints of additional films, if not its entire slate, at some point down the line.

Some filmmakers have dipped into their own pocketbooks to neutralize the environmental impact of their work. “The Nativity Story’s” producer Marty Bowen and director Catherine Hardwicke shelled out about $15,000 to offset their film. “Look,” says Bowen, “I consider myself pretty conservative, especially by Hollywood’s standards. I don’t hug trees. I like my creature comforts. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a responsibility to clean up my own mess.”

In other areas of the industry, most notably music, people have gone even further. The Dave Matthews Band, working with a company called Native Energy, has offset CO2 emissions for its entire history. “They went back in time and looked at every aspect of 15 years of performing, all their tour stops, their television appearances, anything you can really imagine,” says Native Energy’s head of marketing, Billy Connelly, whose company focuses on building wind farms on Indian reservations. “They were damn thorough. It’s safe to say they’re the only entirely carbon-neutral band in the world.”