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Making the gogglebox greener

May 2015

It’s the organisation people love to hate. But as the BBC’s project manager for environmental sustainability, Hattie Park is on a mission to use the corporation’s unique position to encourage the whole industry to collectively reduce its impact on the planet

 

Stakeholder scrutiny doesn’t get more severe than when you’re working for the BBC. Its unique funding structure sets it up for much public attack, and accusations of wastefulness (among many other things) continuously recharge the debate around licence fee value.

It has tried hard to shake off its bloated, senior-management-heavy image, not least with property portfolio consolidation.
As part of a long-term strategy, the number of buildings occupied by the BBC has been reduced from over 200 to 154, cutting overall space by 30%. By 2017, the corporation will be saving £67m a year, which it says will be spent on programmes and services instead.

Much loved, yet technically obsolete, Television Centre, Bush House and White City One in London, Queen Margaret Drive in Glasgow, Oxford Road in Manchester and Pebble Mill in Birmingham are now gone. In their place are a range of gleaming new buildings, including the BREEAM ‘Excellent’-rated New Broadcasting House in London, the first ever Listed building to achieve such environmental credentials. Selling Television Centre alone raised £200m and cut running costs by £30m.

The consolidation is about getting “maximum value for the licence fee, with fewer but better buildings that operate more efficiently”, Hattie Park says.

As the organisation’s project manager for environmental sustainability, she is proud of what’s been achieved so far. “We have a role to better represent our audience, reflecting the creative and distinctive output from all of the UK, hence a move to develop sites across the UK, such as MediaCity in Salford.”

More than half of BBC staff now work outside of England’s capital, compared with 42% in 2004; the strategy is working.
After a stint in investment banking at Lehman Brothers (which ultimately saw Park leaving, going back to academia with a Masters at Imperial College London and re-joining the business as part of a team charged with building some sustainability principles into the bank before it came crashing down in 2008), she worked on a staff engagement project at Guy’s and St. Thomas’s NHS Trust before moving to the BBC.

Today, she sits in a central function, working with numerous BBC departments to tackle operational efficiency. But driving down carbon, energy, waste, water and travel impacts is only part of the job. She has a bigger focus on ensuring each programme that is broadcast by the BBC has been made with minimum environmental impact. “As a public service, it’s important we are seen to be operating in a sound way – and also that we are benefiting the industry as a whole too,” she says.

And it is this focus on supporting the whole sector that led to the development of albert, the production industry’s tool to measure and reduce footprints while making TV shows. “We are not making tins of beans, so every production is different, every time. And you can’t compare ‘Frozen Planet’ with ‘Flog It’.” So, albert – created by Park’s “brilliant colleague” Richard Smith in 2010 – offers a way for production teams to calculate their own impacts, understand where they can make a difference (whether that’s in making sure cast accommodation is closer to the sets to reduce transport, or saving power by using low-energy lighting) and compare themselves with similar types of productions.

It has been adopted by most industry players, with the likes of Sky, Channel 4, ITV and BBC all working together as members of a BAFTA-led consortium to make the tool even better – and collectively helping to reduce the burden of TV production on the planet. It is compulsory for all in-house Children’s and BBC TV productions to use albert.

Sky has gone one further, asking all of its suppliers to do the same. Around 280 companies have signed up to use albert, including big independent production firms like Twofour and Kudos, and it has more than 1,800 users.

So, what’s it like working with competitors? Fairly easy, says Park. “Everyone was keen to come on board and work together. And inside the BBC, there’s something about our position as a public service body that really helps people feel that this is an important thing to do – and we get very little push-back from production teams.

“When it comes to footprinting and environmental assessment, there are so many different ways of doing it. So, albert enables everybody across the industry to use the same standard tool and methodology.”

Taking things one step further, albert+ has been developed to help companies actually certify their impact reduction and continue to manage their impacts; successful productions are given a 1, 2 or 3-star rating and even get to display the albert+ badge during TV show credits. “If albert is the set of scales that tells you what you weigh, albert + is the diet plan to help you lose weight,” says Park.
Twenty-one BBC productions have gone through the albert+ process, including last year’s Manchester bombings drama, ‘From There to Here’ made for BBC1 by Kudos.

But do customers care about the badge? Are they paying attention? Park thinks so. “Our audiences do care, and I want licence fee payers to see that mark and know that our TV production teams are doing all they can to reduce the environmental impact.
“To be honest, we need more resources to get that message out there. Of course, the more partners we have on board, like Sky and ITV, the more we’ll be able to get the message out there.”

Of course, broadcasting more programmes that focus on the big issues, such as climate change, would have a huge impact – and it’s something Park admits “hasn’t been cracked yet”.

But there’s a much bigger picture Park wants the sector to look at: What happens once TV productions are in the can?
There are the different methods of transmission and the consumption of TV in homes across the country – and not just on television, but increasingly on laptops and smart phones too.

“We’re starting to collaborate on some of these issues because it’s a system with lots of different players – and we’re trying to build-out a picture of what total sustainable production and broadcasting looks like.

“The production part is within our control but we have a responsibility to engage with others to tackle this bigger picture. But there is an absolute willingness at the BBC to do something about that.” 




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