Behind the screen

Many of the environmental impacts associated with the screen production industry relate to activities behind the screen, such as makeup, wardrobe, art department, lighting, sound and camera, and post-production. Below are suggestions for minimising the environmental impacts associated with many of the behind screen activities.

Art Department

Include environmental criteria at the set design stage. Criteria to consider are the life cycle of the set e.g. can it be reused, materials used in construction and disposal impacts.
Store, sell or donate unwanted set materials to local theatres, high schools and acting schools before opting for disposal. Collate a list of charities that would be willing to pick up unwanted set materials and props at short notice, make this list readily available and keep it updated.
Avoid the use of polystyrene. Polystyrene does not breakdown and is not easily compacted. It can consume a large amount of landfill space for its minimal weight, and can increase waste disposal costs. If polystyrene must be used ensure that it is collected for recycling. Many local waste contractors now offer this service.
Use low VOC (volatile organic compounds) and water based paint. Prefer paints with an environmental label. Always dispose of paints and other hazardous materials in a responsible manner, e.g. returning paints to retailers, storing paints for future use.
Do not wash paint or paint brushes down storm water drains. Ensure that all those who are working with paint, know where storm water drains are, and are aware of the designated place for washing painting equipment. Ensure the designated place is sign posted.
Whereever possible source products locally wherever possible to reduce transportation impacts and greenhouse gas emissions.
Ensure that wood for set construction is sourced from sustainably managed forests and evidence of this is provided from the supplier. Better still investigate recycled wood as an alternative to virgin wood.
Investigate loaning or hiring larger props such as furniture, white-ware and computers as an alternative to purchasing them.
Where possible purchase second-hand, reconditioned or recycled furniture and equipment.

Some of the largest environmental impacts of the screen production industry take place during set construction and demolition. Many different materials are used including timber, adhesives and paints, often in large quantities. This part of production is also one of the most costly, so it makes sense to become more sustainable as it can save money too. Environmentally responsible construction materials will avoid the use of non-renewable resources and hazardous substances and obtain timber from recycled or sustainably managed sources.


In October 1992, Rainforest Action Network (RAN), Greenpeace and Earth First made headlines when they boarded an Indonesian freighter in Long Beach harbour and disrupted the unloading of its cargo of rainforest lumber. In November, the same groups bought a full-page advertisement in the Hollywood Reporter imploring the entertainment industry to "Get tropical wood out of Hollywood." In 1994 major Hollywood studios agreed to phase out the use of Lauan, a tropical forest hardwood used in set design to more sustainable alternatives.


Rainforest Relief runs the SafeSets™ campaign which aims to end the use of tropical plywood in theatre and movie set construction, and provides information on sustainable alternatives. Alternatives with potential include sheets made from agricultural residues such as wheat and rice straw, sheets made from recycled paper and plywood made from birch, bamboo and palm wood. Rainforest Relief has certified a number of productions as Rainforest Safe™ and is seeking the participation of anyone involved in set building or theatrical, movie or television production. SafeSets™ has recently partnered with the Environmental Media Association (EMA).
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