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TV and climate action

Posted on: February 16, 2024

Of the risks facing earth, according to The World Economic Forum, the top six are all fully or partially environment-related: failure to mitigate climate change, failure of climate-change adaptation, natural disasters and extreme weather events, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse, large-scale involuntary migration, and natural resource crises.

We’re in a climate emergency, there should be no denying it. It is being driven in large part by Greenhouse Gas emissions, predominantly carbon. Every part of society has a role to play in decarbonising our planet and getting us to net zero as soon as possible, and that includes media.

TV – both its programmes and advertising – has a special role to play. TV has unparalleled socio-cultural influence and this can be used to encourage more sustainable behaviours. TV normalises things, it shifts perceptions and attitudes. It’s a powerful, emotional form of communication with a long history of being a force for social good in a huge number of areas, be that getting justice for wronged Post Office workers (ITV’s ‘Mr Bates vs The Post Office’), encouraging a record number of HIV tests (Channel 4’s ‘It’s a Sin’), or turbo-charging the take up of women’s football (Sky, ITV, and BBC coverage).

What’s changing on screen?

All the TV companies in the UK are part of the albert initiative, founded in 2011 by the TV and film industries to tackle their environmental impact and encourage their audiences to act for a sustainable future. As part of their commitment to albert, the TV companies have worked hard to dramatically reduce the carbon emissions of their productions. It’s increasingly mandatory for new productions to be carbon neutral.

The Climate Content Pledge

At COP26, through albert, all the UK’s TV companies made the Climate Content Pledge, committing to show even more climate content on screen, regardless of the genre. The Pledge is about harnessing the power of TV to influence and inspire society’s behaviour – and not just doing it in obvious places like natural history shows. From soaps to comedy to quiz shows to dramas, climate storytelling will figure larger than before.

Climate-related TV shows

Examples of how TV’s shows are tackling the climate emergency include Channel 4’s Climate Season, which was a result of the broadcaster’s call out to the independent production sector to make shows that explore solutions to climate change. Shows included ‘The Big Climate Fight’ and ‘Chris Packham: Is it time to break the law?’

ITV’s Coronation Street and Emmerdale feature sustainable behaviours as part of the everyday actions of the characters (e.g. using reusable coffee cups and shopping bags, conversations around meat-free diets, taking public transport, buying locally sourced food).

Sky News launched The Daily Climate Show in 2021 and Sky Sports teams weave climate stories into their coverage, from weather and air quality affecting athletes’ performance to sustainable clothing for presenters.

TV advertising and climate action

Now in its third year, the Sky Zero Footprint Fund is a £2 million advertising initiative that supports and inspires brands to become net zero. The 2023 winners are Grub Club, Milliways, Ocean Bottle, OceanSaver and UpCircle, who will share the £2 million advertising fund to use the power of TV advertising to tackle climate change.

Grub Club: Dog food with purpose

As a result of ITV’s Love Island and eBay’s pre-loved fashion partnership, 2.7 million people shopped more sustainably – a partnership that won the 2023 Grand Prix at the Ad Net Zero Awards.

And Channel 4 and pre-loved fashion platform Vinted recently joined forces to create a brand-new short form digital series and a complementary TV ad campaign. The four-part digital series, Second Hand Style-Up, saw host Jorgie Porter from Hollyoaks and stylist Emma Winder surprise guests eager for a makeover by taking the anticipated profits of selling their clothes on Vinted to purchase only second-hand outfits instead. A win for their wallets and for the environment.

Other examples include Tenzing taking advantage of Channel 4’s Greenhouse fund to get on TV and inform the UK public about their environmentally friendly drink; Nationwide and ITV teaming up to help people decarbonise their homes; Sky’s Ocean Rescue campaign to drive awareness of plastic pollution, which has reached nearly 48 million across Europe; EDF’s campaign on TV and other media to show how the company can help drivers reduce emissions whilst they sleep – by charging their cars overnight with zero-carbon electricity; and ITV bringing together four of the nation's favourite brands(Volkswagen, Sainsbury's, Inch's Cider and Ribena) for a special ‘Green Scene’ ad-break takeover to mark World Environment Day with the brands unveiling sustainability pledges they have made to help the environment.

You can watch a gallery of climate-related TV advertising from the UK here.

Transforming TV companies

From Sky Zero to Channel 4’s Sustainability Roadmap, ITV’s Climate Action Plan, or UKTV’s Green Team, the commercial TV companies all have wide-ranging climate action initiatives.

Sustainability – with decarbonisation a central pillar – is a fundamental part of the TV companies’ corporate strategies and they are holding themselves publicly accountable for their progress, setting science-based targets.

There are many ways in which they are acting to achieve this, operationally and in terms of making TV, such as: transitioning to renewable energy, improving energy efficiency, employing sustainable production practices, committing to green procurement, reducing travel, reducing wastage, staff climate training, and investing in lower carbon technologies.

All the TV companies – and Thinkbox – are also supporters of Ad Net Zero and are committed to becoming net-zero carbon organisations by 2050 at the very latest.

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