In January, we were very proud to host Nicola Knoch as a seminar leader, in our first Green Film Making Workshop of 2014. Her work as an on-set ‘sustainability representative’, strives to provide a more human and holistic approach to traditional film production methods, within a medium that has always been about human reflection at its core. Nicola asks: Why? Why do we want to go sustainable? For her, the answer goes beyond CO2 calculations, facts and figures – to the more emotive, personal, and human heart at the core of most film projects. From a place of personal good will, Knoch has proven (and with a successful career to boot!), that the rest will follow suit. [photo: Michael Vervuurt]


Nicola Knoch’s early roots lie not in the film industry, but in Environmental Engineering. As an alumnae to one of the first university programs to offer a focus on sustainability (years ago, before ‘sustainable’ had become a mainstream thought), Knoch is no stranger to going against the grain. She has been working to rethink dominant practise on behalf of sustainability, for a very long time.

Her past experience includes working with German media projects in the post-production phase, as well as having prior on-set experience. In her recent role as official ‘sustainability representative’ on film sets however, Nicola brings related ideas, existing sustainable connections, and years of sustainable consulting experience into play within a new context.

‘Sustainable Representative’ on-set with “Buddy” (2013)

Nicola was initially approached by German acclaimed director Michael Bully Herbig, who wanted to work with her on-set of his 2013 film project, Buddy. With an already allocated budget for the film, Herbig was determined that this latest film project be produced in a sustainable manner. Herbig’s vision was for the film to act as a role model, an example, and case study for the film industry on how it is possible for productions to go green.

Nicola’s response to Herbig’s initial request to collaborate, was the same as always when she talks ‘sustainability’ with potential new clients and project teams: What does sustainability mean to us? Why do you want to do this?

Nicola’s holistic method highlights the importance of stepping away from “fitting everything into an economic point-of-view”, in order to develop or take on new, and more efficient ways of reworking traditional processes; like film production. This is why for Knoch, the desire for businesses and sets to go green must first be driven by clear personal motives, which surpass economic goals as well as a superficial desire to employ advanced technology.

It is by addressing the fundamental questions related to sustainability, that Nicola hopes to clarify and penetrate the inner attitudes that are an integral part of any sustainable shift. Simultaneously, such questions harness for Nicola, the often lacking foundation necessary to employ sustainability efforts in an effective and meaningful way.

As stated on her website, “the success of any sustainability initiative […] depends on its acceptance inside the organization. To achieve this, it is essential to integrate employees in these processes and to mobilize top managements will and support”.

And Herbig certainly expressed to Nicola his acceptance, will, and support in producing Buddy in a sustainable way. His motives in going green stem primarily from his own personal allegiance to the idea of going sustainable, and keeps true to his personal values.

Highlighting the set’s green approach, and Nicola’s presence as an integrated part of production, was an overhead line in the film’s initial budget to account for related sustainability costs, as well as her labour. This followed suit with the support being provided by not only the director, but the producers of the film as well.

Nicola identifies that having management on board and involved in sustainability measures from the beginning of a project is integral to its success. Not having such support from the start can become a sustainability effort’s greatest obstacle. From this point, Nicola was able to begin sustainable work for Herbig’s set, two months before shooting began in pre-production.

Internal Implementation and Crew Member Participation

Nicola began her work by meeting with, and interviewing each of the heads of department for the production before shooting began. In this way, she was able to collaborate with crew management. Discussions taking place, drew attention to the unique needs and expectations for each department, in relation to sustainability. Nicola admits, though productive, that this initial meeting point can be challenging: “the cake cannot be tasty for everyone”.

To boost morale, crew members were given production gifts ” at the pre-shoot warm-up instead of at the farewell party[…] Every team member got a sustainably produced bag containing a Dopper water flask and a small thermos”, as documented in the Green Film Shooting Magazine.

The ‘Green Hour’, and ‘Green Shooting Diary’

While shooting, a ‘Green Hour’ was established to encourage ongoing crew collaboration, and unity in the set’s sustainable approach. This inclusive effort worked well for everyone in the long run, and contributed to the project’s seemingly greatest sustainability strength: the power of team work.

In attempt to mitigate on-set contentions, a ‘Green Shooting Diary‘ was made accessible to all crew on-set. The diary created a space where dialogue about new and sustainable methods, could be on-going throughout the production process. Crew members who were more critical of the new approaches , were able to assert their ideas, experiences, and feedbacks here for Nicola to build on. This was an invaluable resource to Nicola, who identifies critique as a very helpful reference on which to adapt and build more efficient practices.

In retrospect: on-set challenges, and Strengths

A great challenge for Nicola, was to maintain the high level of enthusiasm and support identified at the beginning of the film on behalf of a sustainable approach, throughout the whole of the shooting process. To Nicola, it is important to remember that there is an inevitable ‘thin-line’ that the sustainable production approach currently walks, in being adopted for these inaugural green film projects: ” too much stress on the idea, and you will easily loose contact with people”. Where Nicola began to take a back seat during the actual shooting phase (she was not on-set everyday, as she never acts as a “sustainability police officer”), it was most effective for the director to make visible his dedication to the sustainable practise for other crew members to follow suit.

One of Nicola’s greatest delights in retrospect of working on Buddy, was the nature of the feedback given to her by the film’s production professionals. Crew members who experienced the sustainable approach to production, carried the underlying sentiment with them to future projects. Knoch even found that after seeing the potential for change in production practices, crew members (regardless of their initial feelings towards the idea) were left asking : how can we not make films in this more sustainable way?

Playing with Carbon Calculations, and Keeping It Simple

Nicola encourages the use of carbon calculators that “keep it simple”, in order to maintain accessibility to the boots-on-the-ground crew members without demanding too much from them (some calculators suggested to her for on-set use, required crew heads to fill out 20 pages of preliminary paperwork!).

After dealing with some frustration in finding a user-and-crew-friendly calculator, Knoch concludes that carbon calculations need to be dealt with “in a more playful manner”. Yes the numbers, the facts, the figures, are very important to some disciplines, but what about to the people that are supposed to enact the actual change of a sustainable approach on-set? A simple carbon calculator will be able to take main issues into account, while making it easy to overview and understand by those to whom it matters most; the crew people who create and enact solutions.

In the end, ” CO2OL, a consulting company specializing in climate protection, developed a calculator that was used to determine the carbon footprint left by the Buddy production” (Green Shooting Magazine, you can read more about the exact numbers and calculations here).

Aiming Higher

A most striking and unique approach was employed by Nicola in regards to the carbon calculations derived from the Buddy set. Instead of solely comparing the film’s calculated carbon footprint to the calculated savings accrued from a business-as-usual production scenario, Nicola drew on a comparison to the calculations of a hypothetical-ideal scenario where the film was 100% entirely sustainable.

Carbon offsets ( from locally sourced projects!) were then purchased by the production, in order to make up for the difference between the hypothetical-ideal carbon calculation scenario, and the real-case actual Buddy carbon footprint.

In this way, Knoch is able to account not only for the savings accrued in diverting away from traditional production practise, but she is also able to identify the potential for further savings with greater efforts in the future.

The Film Commission Hamburg’s: ‘Green Shooting Card’

Nicola’s presence and attention to sustainability on-set, saw Buddy fall in line with the given guidelines for attaining a German Green shooting Card label. This card acts as a seal of approval for green productions who promote waste reduction, and more sustainable resource consumption on-set; through catering, production design, transport, and production office processes. In exchange for a Green Shooting Card, productions increase cooperation with the local permit issuers, and build relationships with likeminded industry professionals- all while bearing a mark of distinction which documents and communicates the project’s contribution to the protection of the environment.

In relation to Buddy‘s Green Shooting Card, a n official press report was issued to highlight the film’s sustainability efforts. The label itself was also posted, as well as distributed on general press materials. The designated Green Shooting Card label and sustainable approach of the production was further showcased at the film’s premier, where Buddy branded reusable Dopper bottles were given away to those in attendance.

Though helpful in promoting the sustainability efforts of the film , as well as contributing to the mobilization of the larger Green Film Making Movement, Nicola asserts that the Green Shooting Card is not the be-all, end-all of green film making in Germany. Though a resource for green thinking film makers, The Green Shooting Card is not unlike the larger movement in which it sits: still in the early stages of development with much room to grow and evolve.

How exactly will Green Film Making grow and evolve?

Nicola finds particular promise in the ability of film makers to use their creative potential to add new ideas to the green film making process. She also identifies the potential in bridging the gap between one’s personal philosophies, and the way in which those philosophies can be embodied in their workplace. In other words, bringing ones private values to the business

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realm as well. She asks: What would it mean to not only live sustainably, but to work sustainably in the same way as well?

Wise Words to future Green Film Makers

As always, Nicola encourages reflection as to: Why? Why go sustainable?

After that, she says, “have fun, and use your creative potential as artists!

Up next for Nicola?

Since working on Herbig’s film, Nicola has received requests to work on other up-coming film sets. It is here, that her desire to take on a stronger connection to people in pursuit of a more personal approach to sustainability, may have just found a new home. And what better place to pursue this desire than in an industry which works to reflect people at its very core?

So,why do YOU want to go sustainable?