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Lights, camera, action: Disney, Netflix, and RMI team up to decarbonize the entertainment industry

film set
Image Credit: Avel Chuklanov // Unsplash

2023 is a great year for movies.

From Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Marvel’s Across the Spiderverse, recent box-office breakouts like The Blackening, Netflix streaming hits like Murder Mystery 2 and You People, and the impending face-off between Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Oppenheimer featuring FootPrint Coalition founder Robert Downy Jr. you can’t run to the theater fast enough.

However, did you know how much greenhouse gas emissions it takes to make a movie? Let’s get a close-up.

From utilities and fuel to air travel and housing, large films have a carbon footprint of about 1,081 metric tons according to the Sustainable Production Alliance’s 2021 white paper. That’s the equivalent of driving around 241 gas-guzzling cars for an entire year.

However, tentpole films, aka motion pictures that support film studios like Netflix, television networks like the Disney Channel, or cinema chains like Marvel or the Walt Disney Company, can have a carbon footprint triple that of a large blockbuster: 3,370 metric tons, or about 33 metric tons per shooting day.

According to the climate nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) a big way the entertainment industry can tackle its emissions is through developing alternatives to diesel generators, which are a staple on movie sets and currently account for roughly 700,000 tons of CO2-equivalent emissions per year globally from the industry.

That’s 15% of the overall emissions it takes to produce a TV or film production.

RMI’s CEO Jon Creyts lays out the scale of the problem clearly. “With less than a decade to decrease global pollution, now is the time to invest in clean mobile power,” he said in a statement.

That’s why Third Derivative, RMI’s global climate tech accelerator, Netflix, and the Walt Disney Company are teaming up with representatives from leading production studios with equipment suppliers and cleantech manufacturers to tackle the low-hanging fruit of generators in studios and ultimately help reduce the carbon intensity of productions and meet 2030 targets.

Through the project, known as the Clean Mobile Power Initiative, these entertainment giants are collaborating with Third Derivative to find, test, and scale new clean, reliable, and mobile power-generating technologies.

According to Netflix's Sustainability Officer, Dr. Emma Stewart, in addition to being better for the planet, making the switch from diesel generators is also “a smart business move” for film and television productions.

“They're quieter, healthier, and often already cheaper over their lifetime, but they're yet to be available in all the forms and locations our industry needs,” she said, adding that “Through this new Clean Mobile Power Initiative, Netflix and our collaborators seek to rapidly scale supply for clean, reliable mobile energy for us and anyone who needs mobile power.”

And it doesn’t end there. To develop more solutions and make an industry-wide impact, Third Derivative is hosting a clean mobile power accelerator program for startups innovating in the field. Applications opened on June 22, 2023, and 5-10 startups will be selected in early autumn.

Through the accelerator, startups will receive capital mobilization, inclusion in an ecosystem of investors, industry mentorship, and key access to production studios to pilot their tech.

The reason programs like this are needed is not because there’s a shortage of ideas, but rather because there are scaling challenges and high upfront costs associated with weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels in any sector.

green film strip
Image Credit: Markus Spiske // Unsplash

A myriad of startups are already tackling the conundrum of replacing diesel generators, through innovative methods using renewable energy-storing batteries, the “fuel of the future,” aka hydrogen, and even wind.

According to Third Derivative, batteries can result in an 84% reduction in emissions, with green hydrogen (hydrogen produced using renewable energy) resulting in an 82% reduction.

And that’s just the beginning — as these technologies become more available, reliable, and built to skill, zero-emission onsite power generation is not only possible, but it’s the future.

One startup pioneering in the field Amazon and Microsoft-backed Moxion Power which is creating zero-emission electric batteries they aim to use to provide an alternative to conventional generators.

Another startup named H2X Global which hails from Australia makes hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles and is turning to hydrogen generators to replace the diesel model.

Lastly, San Diego-based Uprise Energy is looking toward teeny tiny wind turbines to replace diel generators. In fact, the startup's turbine is so small that it can fit inside a 20-foot storage container and can be towed by a pickup truck, allowing for a hyper-local mobile power solution powered by the wind.

With the world’s first 10-megawatt portable wind turbine, Uprise is one of many startups looking to replace fossil fuel generators, and implementing these solutions on movie sets is just the beginning.

According to Creyts, “Innovation, investment, and catalytic collaborations, like this one between RMI and entertainment industry leaders, are all crucial to solving climate change and transforming the toughest industries.”

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