The age of media, TV and video production has proven to be one of the most influential periods for society with its ability to move the masses and send messages instantaneously. The influence of movies and media can also be used as a platform for positive change, and that is through “sustainability placement”. Sustainability placement, similar to product placement, is a term used to describe the intentional addition of props, sets, scripts and other production elements that showcase some form of sustainability, whether it be in principle or practice, environmental or social. Using the incredibly versatile tool of film and video production, we can incorporate sustainability into the lives of millions, and drive positive change around the world. This article will discuss various examples of sustainability in the film industry and video production, and how each media type goes about incorporating sustainability differently.

Documentaries: Educating Viewers on Sustainability

Documentaries are one of the most straightforward methods of showcasing environmental and social justice issues on screen, as they can hone in on specific aspects of these issues. The purpose of a documentary is to inform the audience on specific topics which makes it a fantastic medium for educating audiences on sustainability. There are plenty of great documentaries that focus on sustainability and social justice such as The Biggest Little Farm and Say Her Name: Sandra Bland.

If the primary focus of a documentary isn’t sustainability or social justice, then the topic could be analyzed for its environmental and social impact. For example, the documentary series Chef’s Table focuses on culinary arts around the world, however, there are numerous episodes that dive into topics such as sustainability in the food industry, racial justice, community resilience, inclusivity, among other things. One episode focuses on a chef in New York City who pioneered the “farm-to-table” movement in cities around the world. Another episode follows Mashama Bailey, a chef in Savannah, Georgia, who advocates for the celebration and preservation of African American culture through the art of food. Out of the many forms of media, documentaries offer the most versatility when it comes to incorporating sustainability on screen.

Movies and Television Series: Reaching A Vast Audience

Blockbuster movies and television series have a unique opportunity to promote environmentalism and social justice issues because their audiences are usually extremely broad. When it comes to blockbuster movies, adding elements relating to sustainability, aka sustainability placement, needs to be somewhat subtle, as to not take away from the main theme of the movie. For example, producers can include elements to set design such as solar panels or recycling bins, or write sustainability into the script by creating a main character that is a passionate social justice activist or focus on the effects of climate change as the plot’s main conflict.

A prime example of incorporating sustainability in the film industry is the 2019 drama Dark Waters, which focuses on an attorney who is tasked with uncovering the dark secrets of a chemical company who is knowingly poisoning the drinking water of a small town. Television series can have multiple seasons with multiple episodes per season, giving producers ample opportunity to add elements of sustainability and social awareness throughout the plot, i.e. a climate scientist as the main character, or a plot line driven by a racist antagonist.

Children’s television shows had also had an indisputable influence on society and can be the youth’s first exposure to topics on the environment and social issues. One example of these shows include Captain Planet, an older series that revolved around a group of teenaged superheroes who were focused on fighting environmental destruction and spreading awareness to viewers. Sesame Street and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood are both perfect examples of children’s shows covering social topics such as equality, racism and inclusion. These shows offer valuable lessons for the elementary and preschool age, but for pre-teens and teens, there is a larger, much more prominent form of video entertainment: The Internet.

The Internet: Inspiring a Younger Generation

Internet videos on sites such as YouTube, TikTok and other social media platforms have become extremely influential as more people than ever have access to the internet. The vast reach of the internet gives the creators of such videos a unique opportunity to incorporate sustainability placement. Social media is dominated by a younger demographic who often shape their lives around what they see on these sites. Video creators who care about making a positive impact can leverage their influence and begin incorporating sustainability and social justice into their videos. Niche video makers should also relate their unique hobbies or discussion topics to sustainability and social justice, because even small mentions can have profound effects on their audiences.

Many users of sites such as TikTok and YouTube look up to their favorite online personalities and idolize them, therefore these personalities can use their influence for good and create videos that raise awareness and initiate action. Something as simple as using a reusable straw, eating a vegan burger or shopping at a second-hand thrift store can influence viewers to start doing the same. Countless online creators are having open discussions on topics around sustainability and global social issues, many of which have not gotten the attention or airtime that such topics deserve. TikTok user caseyc0w is a great example of an Internet creator using his platform for good. Casey Shultis, who runs the account, makes educational and comedy TikTok videos about sustainability and the environment, and is a part of a multiple creator account called eco_tok that focuses on the same topics.

Advertisements: Connecting With Consumers

By design, advertisements are meant to sell an idea which makes this type of media perfect for promoting environmental and social causes. Today, more consumers are becoming environmentally conscious and aware of social issues, and will oftentimes reflect their views in their purchases. Because of this, it is becoming essential that companies evaluate  their reputation, what they want to stand for and how they are advertising themselves. For example, Budweiser created an inspirational ad in 2019 that features the company’s use of wind energy in the manufacturing of their product. Not only can this inform the viewer that their company is taking the necessary steps to become more sustainable, it can introduce viewers to the concept of wind energy and inspire them to learn more.

Another example is the 2019 Starbucks commercial “What’s Your Name?” that centered around a transgender man and showcased the company’s alliance with the LGBTQ community. Giving mention to social and environmental issues and using sustainability placement are both great techniques to incorporate into video advertisements, and centering your advertisement around one or multiple of these issues can be a powerful strategy that will help to normalize the discussion of these types of issues in the general public.

Conclusion: We Need to See More Sustainability in the Film Industry and Video Production

Film and video as a medium for entertainment and information has become extremely influential in recent years, especially with the Internet becoming so interwoven into the lives of so many. It is because of this that content creators need to be incorporating sustainability in the film industry and video production and highlighting today’s most important issues and causes. By using the incredibly versatile power of film and video, content creators from all over can make a positive impact on the world.

About the Author

Jack Duncan

GBB Green Ambassador

Jack Duncan is a content writer for Green Business Bureau who is pursuing a degree in the environmental sciences and community planning at Westfield State University. He is passionate about nature and environmental issues and loves spending time outdoors. His hobbies include hiking, running, photography and videography. After college, he hopes to travel and pursue a meaningful job in the environmental field.

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