Sustainability beyond the camera lens

A number of professionals in the film and television industry from different parts of the Nordic Region considered how the industry could become more responsible in relation to the global sustainable development goals (SDGs). From this, a project idea was born, and with the help of Nordic funding mechanisms it was developed into the Nordic Eco Media Alliance project. Our guest blogger, audiovisual sustainability expert Kaisa Astikainen, writes about the journey towards a concrete ten-point programme.

We founded the Nordic Eco Media Alliance (NEMA) in the summer of 2020 to strengthen the sense of responsibility and sustainable development in general in the Nordic film and television industry. The founders of our independent group are Josefin Madsen and Anne Ahn Lund from Denmark, Maria Kluge from Norway, Ronny Fritsche from Sweden, Rakel Garðarsdóttir from Iceland, and Anne Puolanne and the undersigned from Finland. The group was founded with funding from the Nordic Culture Fund’s Start-up Programme and the project was further funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers’ Culture and Arts Programme.

All the founding members of our group work with film and television production in one way or another and have a shared concern for the ecological crisis. NEMA bases its activities on the scientific view of climate change and diminishing biodiversity. Through our work, we want to contribute to the Nordic countries’ efforts to achieve the SDGs, and pursue the vision of the Nordic Council of Ministers’ for the Nordic Region to be the world’s most sustainable and integrated region by 2030.

NEMA kicked off in the aftermath of the first wave of COVID-19, when we had locked ourselves into our homes and did not know what to expect. The audiovisual industry’s environmental and sustainability issues had just started attracting more attention as all development suddenly stopped due to the pandemic. Before the group was founded, several of our members had already worked on the environmental issues in their respective countries. They had arranged events and created tutorials on the subject, offered eco-consultations for productions or provided training on sustainability issues to industry professionals. Many of us still felt that we were quite alone in working with this – and in that sense NEMA represents a long-awaited change.

Over the past year, we in the NEMA network have got to know one another and became friends. It has been a joy and a privilege to share thoughts and experiences with our Nordic colleagues in this strange and uncertain time. Although we’ve never met in person, as it hasn’t been possible due to the restrictions, we have done everything digitally. (One could say that this has been sustainable, although digital processes also have their own ecological footprint that is often overlooked!) The first event organised by NEMA, a webinar held in May 2021, brought together 47 decision-makers in the film and television industry. In the “old world”, the arrangements for such an event would have been classed in a completely different size category, both in terms of organisation, and in relation to climate impact.

NEMA is aware that the film and television industries have both an opportunity and an obligation to act responsibly because the content we produce is distributed and reaches a wide audience. With the help of culture, we can exert influence on a large number of people, which in turn comes with social responsibility. In addition, the film industry in our countries is primarily financed through public funding mechanisms, which is why sustainability should also be a prerequisite for receiving funds. At the webinar in May, we presented NEMA’s action plan in ten points. According to the action plan, we must adopt environmental sustainability as part of the decision-making culture in the audiovisual industry and adapt our financing systems accordingly. Today, the financing structures require that the productions scrabble for funding, which increases the industry’s ecological footprint. In addition to structural changes, we also need concrete tools to move towards a more sustainable work culture. In order to build resilience, it is also important for us that this work culture is taught to students within our industry.

COVID-19 has hit our industry hard. At the time of writing, cinemas and other cultural institutions have been allowed to open their doors only to a limited extent. The pandemic has demonstrated that the green transition in all sectors is necessary: we can’t afford to wait. NEMA wants to be involved, to promote and accelerate the sustainable reconstruction of cultural life through its own efforts, and we believe that this collaboration will help us meet the challenges of the future. In a changing world, we still need art and entertainment content – and as the era of COVID-19 has taught us, the importance of culture can even be strengthened.

Kaisa Astikainen
is a founding member of NEMA, a producer, filmmaker and co-author of “Ekosetti – a guidebook to sustainable audiovisual production in Finland”