Photo by Annie East

Jeremy Mathieu, International Manager of albert, the UK’s think-tank on sustainability in film and television, was recently in the Netherlands for a second training at NTR. The Dutch broadcaster has acquired the license for this British initiative to implement as the sustainability standard for their productions. It could be argued that albert, governed by the BAFTA albert Consortium, is the most established and developed program for sustainability in the audiovisual industry in Europe. Jeremy, originally from France but in the UK for over 15 years, divides his time between albert and his other job as sustainability advisor for the BBC. We catch up with him to get more insight in the possibilities of widespread implementation of the program and the context of the UK industry compared to the Dutch. He is clearly very driven and becomes increasingly enthusiastic when speaking about the vision and possibilities of albert. And it’s easy to see why.

The UK context

The sustainability efforts in the UK audiovisual industry differ from the Netherlands in that it all started within the established TV broadcasting system. In fact the collaborative albert project grew out of a BBC initiative with the development of a carbon calculator back in 2011. Keen to share the application with the rest of the industry the BBC brought it to BAFTA, a pan industry organisation, and now the BAFTA albert Consortium works similarly to Ecoprod in France, joining all major players in the field. All fourteen members of the albert Consortium are putting some money in the pot, which makes it possible to employ two people fulltime and four on a freelance basis. It also enables albert to provide a wide range of tools for free within the UK. Because of it’s start in TV, the scale and budget is much bigger than elsewhere in Europe. When Jeremy joined the sustainability division at the BBC in 2014, after a substantial career in sports television, the program had already run for three years with a small team of 4 to 5 people and was going from strength to strength.

The albert system

Let’s see in detail what their program consist of; the first part of the albert system is collaboration, reflected in the members of the Consortium and the vision of sharing and exchanging knowledge. Recently, since there has been more and more demand for membership, an affiliate membership was created. So far there are 16 affiliate members with more joining every week, which enables albert to broaden it’s scope further through more people promoting it’s tools and values.

The second part of the albert system is a set of tools. There is of course the carbon calculator, which the BBC made a mandatory deliverable for all commissions since April this year. The same goes for SKY and UKTV. And so far already a staggering 4,500 productions have used the calculator. A second tool is albert certification which allows teams to measure their efforts of mitigating their impact on the environment and making it visible by being awarded a rating of a maximum three stars. Participating productions are reviewed by the albert team to see which specific actions they have taken, based on three pillars: carbon footprint reduction; embedded best practice; and sharing sustainability values with all stakeholders, including crew and suppliers. The more they do the more points they get. Productions with at least one star get the right to use the certification logo on their credits. More than 150 productions have now been certified, including high profile ones such as the daily news programme BBC Breakfast and continuing series EastEnders. On average participating productions show a 15% carbon reduction and save around £6,000. There is positive momentum now to get certified and even some competition between different productions. If you are interested to see some hard numbers and results, check out this albert report of 2016.

Jeremy at the Carbon Literacy Training.

Besides the calculator and the certification process, the third important part of the albert toolkit is a Carbon Literacy Training. Through this free one day course 650 people have already been trained in the BBC alone and about the same amount in the wider industry. Jeremy has led about 80 sessions himself. The course tackles general awareness of climate change and it’s impact, plus offers very concrete applications for productions through best practice. “The course is very popular. These days it’s easy to attract people since so many in the industry have already done it and loved it,” says Jeremy. Despite increasing demand the course is deliberately kept offline, because it has to be facilitated face to face. “It is a huge and sometimes daunting topic and people need to be engaged and stay inspired that they have the power to do something,” he adds.

And the list goes on

If you think that’s already a lot, there is more. Several other initiatives are in the running at albert such as: Creative Energy Project. Through grouping electricity procurement the project helps production companies and other AV facilities to get access to 100% renewable energy. albert is working with Good Energy, the British renewable electricity company to provide green energy and support production companies’ transition to sustainability. Good Energy has even promised them to build a wind turbine, the “albert blades”, if the project reaches a certain amount.

Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt) using a smart meter on EastEnders ©BBC

Then there is the development of an editorial content tool. The focus of albert now mainly lies with production, but there is significant steps to be made on how to approach sustainability in terms of content and audiences. Just a few documentaries on climate change are never going to make a structural change. So albert is investigating other ways to engage audiences, like in comedy, children’s TV, drama and sport. Examples can already be seen; like on EastEnders where characters’ behavior and storylines handling sustainability. One character gets a smart meter at home and another goes to the coffee shop with a reusable cup. Jeremy says, ‘It’s normalizing good behavior and it’s also reflecting the changes that are actually happening. So it’s also just a matter of staying relevant as storytellers.” Through training courses and events, albert invites screen writers and scientists to develop these ideas together.

Upwards and onwards

And of course the project that Jeremy is personally leading is the albert international initiative. Because requests to use the albert system kept coming from other countries, a special program has been developed to help them to apply it locally. Jeremy explains, “We are a non-profit organisation and welcome other likeminded communities to have access to our tools, research and experiences rather than them having to start from scratch. We ask a small financial contribution to cover our costs and then help our new ‘partners’ to create their own groups, adapt tools (calculation, certification and training) to their local market, and spread albert in the local industry with the same ethos of collaboration as in the UK.” And it’s not just a one way street; he has taken many ideas he has seen here in the Netherlands back to albert. He was for example, impressed with the steps that have already been taken in The Netherlands on the editorial side compared to the UK, with productions such as Als de dijken breken (EO) en Groen Licht (VARA). Also our own Green Film Making tests on set got his praise: “It is fantastic that you have very practical solutions and case studies to help guide content makers, by giving them solutions and not problems. Plenty more ideas for me to bring back to the UK!”

We haven’t even touched on the whole range of activities and plans here, the scale of albert is dazzling and very inspiring. “If there is any downside to our success story, it is that we are extremely busy!” Jeremy concludes smiling. But despite his very packed schedule he will be back in the Netherlands soon to follow up with the local team at NTR and continue strengthening the implementation of albert in our local industry. Green Film Making is very happy he took some time to share his enthusiasm and inspiration for this article.

Inspired too? Take a stroll around the albert website. They have an extensive toolkit with tips, list of suppliers, plus guides and resources available for free. Do you prefer to get in touch with Jeremy directly? Reach him here.