UCLA Institute of the Environment Urges More "Green" Practices By Film and Television Industry
A growing number of individual film and television productions and studios are taking innovative steps to minimize their effect on the environment, but the industrys structure and culture hamper the pace of improvements, according to UCLA Institute of the Environment researchers.
The Southern California Environmental Report Card is the institutes signature publication. It draws on the expertise of UCLA faculty in various disciplines to examine four environmental issues and grade the performance of key parties.
While some industry associations have begun issuing "green" production and presenting awards for environmental performance, there is little or no systematic monitoring of the performance of individual productions or firms. This does "not favor a conclusion that the film and television industry is doing all it can," researchers said in the institutes ninth annual Southern California Environmental Report Card issued Nov. 14.
"Many industries are moving toward more environmentally sustainable operations, and its important that we monitor their progress," said institute director Mary D. Nichols, a UCLA law professor and former secretary of the California Resources Agency. "This is the first time our annual report card has examined a specific industry, and it makes sense to start with the film and television industry given its prominence in Southern California."
The Southern California Environmental Report Card is the institutes signature publication. It draws on the expertise of UCLA faculty in various disciplines to examine four environmental issues and grade the performance of key parties. The four essays are intended to analyze data in a format useful to the general public and policymakers and to stimulate debate on policies aimed at environmental protection.
In other chapters, the institute's researchers said:
- The supply of public parkland has not kept pace with population growth, and lower-income areas are disproportionately underserved.
- Metals and other pollutants in the atmosphere reach the ocean and impair coastal water quality, but this process of contamination, known as atmospheric deposition, is largely unregulated.
- Technology is revolutionizing the way we measure environmental change and develop programs to minimize negative consequences.
The full report card is available at www.ioe.ucla.edu. A summary of the four essays follows.
Film and Television
Some studios have advanced recycling programs in offices and soundstages. There are several programs to recycle set materials. And energy efficiency and "green" building practices are increasingly being adopted in the film and television industry.
"But our overall impression is that, with a few notable and inspiring exceptions, environmental considerations are not high on the agenda in the film and television industry, and that more could be done within the industry to foster environmentally friendly approaches," concluded two UCLA professors who conducted an analysis funded by the California Integrated Waste Management Board.
Charles J. Corbett, associate professor of operations and environmental management at UCLA Anderson School of Management, and Richard P. Turco, professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences and former UCLA Institute of the Environment director, interviewed 43 people at various levels in the film and television industry. The professors were supported by a team of graduate students from multiple departments.
Corbett and Turco emphasized that their findings are "more illustrative than comprehensive" due in part to limited access to proprietary information. They identified several examples of environmental responsibility:
- Makers of the 2004 film "The Day After Tomorrow" paid about $200,000 for the planting of trees and other steps to offset the carbon dioxide emissions caused by vehicles, generators and other machinery used in production.
- Production teams for "The Matrix Reloaded" (2003) and "The Matrix Revolutions" (2003) arranged for more than 97 percent of set material to be recycled including some 11,000 tons of concrete, structural steel and lumber. They were aided by The Reuse People, a nonprofit organization that deconstructs buildings.
- The television situation comedy "According to Jim" has mostly eliminated the use of paper in scriptwriting and editing by using Tablet PCs, saving time as well as trees.
One factor hampering additional progress, the professors said, "is the degree to which work is controlled by short-lived ever-changing production companies rather than by long-lived firms in stable supply chains, making it difficult to institutionalize best practices."
Corbett and Turco also estimated contributions to air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts resulting from activities associated with the film and television industry. Within the five-county Los Angeles region, the film and television industryand associated activities make "a larger contribution to conventional air pollution than four of the five other sectors we studied," they said. The film and television industry trailed petroleum refining but topped aerospace manufacturing, apparel, hotels and semiconductor manufacturing.
"Clearly there is room for improvement in the environmental performance of a number of major regional industries," Corbett and Turco said.
They assigned grades to the industry of "A" for environmental best practices and "C" for industry-wide actions.
Children most in need of public parks live in poor, inner-city neighborhoods with high densities and low levels of park space per capita, said professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, chair of the UCLA Department of Urban Planning at the School of Public Affairs.
Parks are far more important in the lives of inner-city children than those from more affluent suburban areas, she said, citing surveys she conducted in 2002. "For them, the neighborhood park serves as an extension of their house, a viable alternative to often-absent backyard and private play space," Loukaitou-Sideris said.
Yet inner-city areas of Los Angeles have far less park space per capita than other areas, and inner-city parks significantly lag in maintenance and cleanliness, said the professor, citing City Council district data, site visits and other research.
Citing a 2000 study by the Urban Land Institute, Loukaitou-Sideris also noted that the Los Angeles metropolitan area provides the lowest ratio of park space to total acreage of any city on the West Coast, and its per-capita park space significantly lags the national average. In addition, parks are often designed without sensitivity to specific cultural needs, and the high demand for space often creates conflict among competing groups of users, the professor said. On the other hand, many parks are underutilized because of public safety concerns.
On the bright side, Southern California voters have shown support for bond measures to fund parks, while advocates have successfully pushed for creation of large urban parks at the abandoned rail yard near Chinatown known as Cornfield, the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in Orange County and elsewhere.
Loukaitou-Sideris called for stronger cooperation among park and recreation departments and schools and greater use of empty lots, rights-of-way and other relatively small spaces for neighborhood parks, playgrounds and hiking and biking trails. "Parks should not be seen in isolation, but rather in connection to other land uses, such as housing and schools," she said.
Loukaitou-Sideris gave grades of "A" to nonprofit groups who push for more urban parks and a "C-plus" to parks and recreation departments responsible for building and maintaining parks.
Pollutants in the atmosphere deposit on solid surfaces and are washed into bodies of water with rain a process known as atmospheric deposition, said Keith D. Stolzenbach, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science. They also can be deposited directly on bodies of water or accumulate in soil.
Research conducted at UCLA over the past 10 years by Stolzenbach and his colleagues in collaboration with the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project "clearly shows atmospheric deposition is a potentially significant source of metals to water bodies," he said. Such metals include zinc from automobile tires and paved road dust and copper from brake pads, as well as nickel, chromium and lead, all of which present potential risks to human and ecosystem health.
Other examples of atmospheric deposition include compounds that increase acidity of rainfall or fog and nutrients that may cause excess algal growth. "Acid rain," caused primarily by nitrogen and sulfur from motor vehicles, power plants and industrial operations, has been shown to harm vegetation, he said. And nutrient additions by atmospheric deposition are thought to be a primary cause of Lake Tahoe losing clarity.
Despite growing evidence linking water quality and atmospheric deposition, Stolzenbach said, the phenomenon is largely unregulated. "The most important institutional step is to modify air quality regulations to allow greater consideration of water quality impacts," the professor said.
More scientific study is needed. The understanding of key processes is incomplete, Stolzenbach said, and many emissions estimates are based on outdated information.
Air and water quality regulators have begun working together, but the work is "largely voluntary, and virtually no legal apparatus exists to compel agency action," he said.
Stolzenbach assigned grades of "B-plus" to government regulatory agencies and researchers for recognizing and acting on the problem and "C-minus" for past regulation and monitoring.
Innovations in Environmental Monitoring
Technological developments are transforming our ability to monitor ecosystems for environmental change and to mitigate negative consequences, according to UCLA scientists helping to lead the way.
A critical challenge to future progress is developing systems to transmit, analyze and share huge masses of data collected in a spatially and temporally dense manner from sensors operating in space, plant canopies, soil and water. The essay was written by Philip Rundel, professor of biology; Deborah Estrin, professor of computer science and director of the Center for Embedded Networked Sensing (CENS), and William Kaiser, professor of electrical engineering. Rundel and Kaiser are affiliated with CENS, headquartered at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science and funded by the National Science Foundation. The center involves nearly 200 faculty, staff, graduate student researchers and undergraduate students from multiple disciplines at UCLA, UC Riverside, UC Merced, USC and the California Institute of Technology.
At the UC James San Jacinto Mountains Reserve (part of the University of California Natural Reserve System) in Riverside County, Calif., CENS researchers have deployed a variety of systems to test new generations of environmental sensor arrays. Among these are mobile, robotic sensors along a network of cables to collect wind speed, rainfall, barometric pressure and other data in the mountain stream ecosystem. Data is transmitted in real time by a radio frequency to an Internet node. Other applications include monitoring wetlands and urban rivers for biological pathogens.
"These sensor networks have the potential to revolutionize science and to influence major economic, agricultural, environmental, social and health issues," the professors said.
In other examples of advances in environmental monitoring:
- UCLA researchers have used images taken from NASA satellites to assess residents exposure to particulates generated by the 2003 Southern California wildfires.
- Light-detection lasers and thermal-imaging equipment aboard small aircraft provide measures of forest canopy height, biomass and total cover to a "remarkable level of precision," the professors said. "Such data have wide application in forest and agricultural management."
- Satellite-mounted radar instruments that detect elevation change have been used to measure land displacement caused by earthquakes in California. The technology also allows measurement of other catastrophic changes of topography caused by landslides, flooding, glacial melting and other phenomena.
Managing massive amounts of previously unavailable data presents a major challenge, the scientists said. "The goal, of course, is to allow researchers to access these data streams in real time, to quickly analyze them, and to utilize models to apply complex data streams to help mitigate environmental problems," they said.
Rapid progress in commercial wireless networking has provided an important advance, according to Rundel, Estrin and Kaiser. These WiFi technologies allow inexpensive broadband connectivity through microservers to the Internet, enabling convenient and rapid deployment.
The National Science Foundation is in the advanced planning stages for a major national program to increase understanding of how ecosystems respond to variations in climate and changes in land use. Using new and innovative technologies, the program will allow us to "betterunderstand the environmental implications of land use policies and to mitigate unwanted effects of global change," the UCLA scientists said.
Rundel, Estrin, and Kaiser assigned a grade of "A-minus" for collaborative, interdisciplinary efforts to advance environmental monitoring.
For more information on the Center for Embedded Networked Sensing, visit: research.cens.ucla.edu.
Published: Thursday, April 03, 2008