When It Comes to Commercials, Target, Others Keep It Green

How Much Waste Do Your Shoots Generate?

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- On a late-December morning in Pasadena, Calif., Target was shooting what seemed to be a typical 15-second spot. A little girl was huddled at a kitchen table on an artificially bright and sunny day, awaiting further instruction from veteran commercial director Phil Morrison, while outside raged one of the rainiest days in recent history for Southern California. But far from typical was that in the 12 hours it would take to nail the shot of the girl eating Oreos and shoot two other 15-second spots, hundreds of pounds of commercial-production waste was gathered to be recycled or composted.

That's due to a partnership between Target , which says it has incorporated environmental sustainability into its business strategy for more than three decades, and EcoSet Consulting. The 2-year-old North Hollywood, Calif.-based firm focuses on greening commercial, TV and film sets and is now working with Target on 90% of the retailer's commercials. Wieden & Kennedy is Target 's agency.

Hundreds of pounds of waste were recycled and reused to
Hundreds of pounds of waste were recycled and reused to "green" this Target shoot.

Since spring 2009, Target and EcoSet claim to have diverted 100,016 pounds from landfills, which is 85% of all waste generated by Target 's broadcast shoots in Los Angeles. Some 35,400 plastic water bottles have been replaced by reusable bottles and reusable materials have been donated to more than 85 nonprofits and community organizations. Costumes have been donated to families in need and a swing set removed from a location for aesthetic reasons was donated to a children's center, for example. Even a 600-pound foam watering can find a second life as an art installation at a flower show.

Similarly, 280 pounds, or 88% of waste from a one-day Honda CR-V shoot last summer was diverted, according to data provided by EcoSet and Honda agency Rubin Postaer Associates, or RPA. At that shoot, walkie-talkies were charged using a solar-powered charging station and discarded gels, duvetyne and cinefoil (black materials used to absorb light on shoots) were donated to students at the American Film Institute.

'Natural progression'
Andrew Winston, a sustainability consultant and author of two books on green business, said he hasn't heard of a company like EcoSet before, but he approved.

"It's an industry that hasn't been leading in sustainability. But it's an industry waking up to the real impact it has," Mr. Winston said of commercial, film and TV production. "It's a natural progression, with media companies and advertisers thinking not just about their own operations and the products they sell but advertising and the media outlets they use."

At this point, Target is EcoSet's most consistent client, though execs said they have gradually begun receiving more inquiries from agencies and production companies. At the request of Green Tea Films, EcoSet worked on a Walgreen's shoot, for example. In the coming year, Shannon Schaefer, EcoSet's founder and owner, expects more marketers will also seek out EcoSet's services, as they, like Target , align internal sustainability efforts with other areas of the business.

"It's a relatively new company and a new concept," said Ms. Schaefer, who began working full-time as NBC Universal's manager-sustainable production shortly after founding EcoSet. "The traction we've gotten is positive. People are very excited and want to take part but are still figuring out ... how to take the corporation's sustainability mandate or messaging and bring it into the advertising."

While many marketers have turned to carbon offsets to "green" commercial production in the past, EcoSet and others like it (operations with similar visions have begun cropping up in New York, New Orleans, Austin, New Mexico and abroad in markets like Australia and the U.K., said Ms. Schaefer) represent a more tangible approach.

In short, EcoSet is intent on making production itself more sustainable, rather than turning to carbon offsets as a singular solution to balancing wasteful production. (Worth noting, Nike announced it was abandoning the practice of purchasing carbon offsets last year.) It's an admirable goal, considering commercial production alone produces about 18 million pounds of waste per year, half of which is food-related. But EcoSet has its work cut out. Commercial sets are among the trickiest production environments around, when it comes to going green, said Kris Barberg, account manager-client liaison for EcoSet.

"Most shoots are only five, six days at the most and everything is so temporary, so fast-paced that it's challenging to do the right thing," Ms. Barberg said.

EcoSet's work begins before the shoot, with coordination between the catering company and location manager. It also reviews creative boards or scripts to determine what types of props will need to be donated. During a shoot the set is staffed with eco-monitors, who set up composting stations, distribute reusable water bottles and oversee waste and recycling stations.

And, because of the often-overwhelming and costly nature of gathering resources for a green shoot, EcoSet advises productions about the materials needed, from reusable water bottles to biodiesel generators to recycling and composting bins. EcoSet's waste hauler also takes food, bones, soiled paper and compostable dinnerware from the set to a commercial composting site north of Los Angeles.

'Save a tree, use a noodle'
Even on-set utensils are green. At the Target shoot, the silverware was made of corn starch and talc, while the coffee stirrers were wheat pasta noodles. "We call it the 'save a tree, use a noodle campaign,'" joked Ms. Barberg.

While the process is hands-on, Target says it's not intrusive or costly.

"It's been very easy [to implement]," said Shawn Gensch, VP-brand marketing at Target . "There's seamless integration and great communication [on set]."

Mr. Gensch added that there have not been incremental expenses. It's about choices, he said, such as choosing to have a biodiesel generator or choosing not to use plastic silverware. EcoSet also provides documentation from donations for tax purposes.

"[Commercial shoots] are an area that had not been addressed, so we wanted to give the proper attention to it," Mr. Gensch said. "We do believe this is something that can materially impact production on location."

Laura Commike Gitman, director-advisory services at Business for Social Responsibility, a global business network and consultancy focused on sustainability, echoed that sentiment. "The media industry is a large and growing industry and one of the U.S.'s largest exports," she said. "Finding environmental opportunities throughout the media sector is going to be an important way to have an impact."

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