How can we make the Dutch film industry more sustainable?

Een filmset op straat ©

When you think of media studies, you often think of researchers who look at the content of games, television series and films. But there are also media scholars who look at the way these productions are made and consider how to make this industry more sustainable. For example, a number of humanities scholars from Utrecht University are striving to make the Dutch film industry a little greener. The research is funded by the Netherlands Film Fund.

"We all think that something has to happen, the climate crisis is real. How can I, as a media scholar, contribute to a positive change?" This question was the reason for project leader Dr Judith Keilbach and a small research team (consisting of Judith Keilbach, Fieke Spoler, Annemijn Potappel and Marijn Kallenberg) to approach the Netherlands Film Fund with the question of what should be done to make the Dutch film industry more sustainable. According to the researchers, in the Netherlands too little attention is paid to the environmental effects that the production and consumption of film entails.

Portretten Judith Keilbach, Fieke Spoler, Annemijn Potappel en Marijn Kallenberg
Just by talking to stakeholders and film professionals, you get these people thinking.

Activistic media scholars

Keilbach emphasises that it is not just about doing research, they work together with stakeholders in the Dutch film industry and really want to initiate change: "It is almost an activistic thing  what we are doing." Fieke Spoler is a research assistant and alumna of the Master Film and Television Studies. For her internship, she researched sustainability in Dutch film production. "Just by talking to stakeholders and film professionals, you get these people thinking."

CO2 emissions in film productions

From film professionals, the researchers heard that there were no figures for measuring ecological impact and many didn't think it was relevant to keep track of it either. Keilbach did not leave it at that and approached Ma students of the Sustainable Development programme. "They have a subject in their Master's programme in which they carry out an assignment for clients. I said: 'I am a client and I want to have figures so that we can take this discussion one step further'. The students, including Marijn Kallenberg, calculated that the production of a Dutch film emits an average of 72.7 tonnes of CO2.  With this figure, the media researchers got a step further with the film professionals. Spoler: "What's interesting from a humanities perspective is that with such a figure, everyone is immediately convinced that something needs to be done."  

Tekstballon met CO2 ©

Green filming

The researchers made an inventory of what is being done in other countries in the field of 'green filming' and talked to film makers about the possibilities of becoming more sustainable. Spoler: "In other countries, for example, a CO2 calculator is used in film productions. This is used to measure the impact of a production and also acts as an awareness-raising tool. The tool looks at all the elements within a production that cause pollution and where a few adjustments can already make a difference. We are also going to test this tool in the Netherlands.


Appointing an eco-manager is also part of the possibilities being investigated. The eco-manager is a full member of the crew and has the task of creating support and awareness. Keilbach: "This is not just about vegan catering or diesel generators on the set. A lot of decisions regarding sustainability can be made earlier in the making of a film, even when writing a script." That doesn't have to be a hindrance to creativity, Keilbach argues, after talking to filmmakers. "They are used to working with small budgets and are constantly adapting their storyline and working methods."

Tinkering with the script?

Spoler adds that the research did reveal that it is very important to find a good balance when discussing the script: "What is really important for the story, we do not touch. But we do change things that are of minor importance but that have a major ecological impact. A pedantic tone does not work then, it really has to be done in mutual consultation."

Tesla die aan het opladen is ©

Planet Placement

Annemijn Potappel is doing an internship in the project as a Master's student of Applied Ethics. Besides eco-managers, CO2-meters and adjustments on the set, you can also think of planet placement, she adds. "Films then pay more attention to climate in their storyline." "That the hero in the film drives a Tesla and no longer travels around the world," Spoler suggests. "That he or she makes more environmentally friendly decisions without you being very aware of it as a viewer but being affected by it because you want to be like him or her. That might have more impact on the viewer than a mention of a sustainability certificate in the credits, because by then you've already walked out of the theatre." 

It appears that nobody, across the various links of the film chain, takes responsibility for the actual implementation of a sustainable working method. This has created a gap between thinking green and doing green.

A gap between thinking green and doing green

The research also shows that film professionals would like to see initiative and direction from policymakers regarding sustainability. However, these policymakers believe that a sustainable approach should come from the film makers themselves. Keilbach: "It appears that nobody, across the various links of the film chain, takes responsibility for the actual implementation of a sustainable working method. This has created a gap between thinking green and doing green." A first step in getting sustainability going is to create support and a shared ambition, the humanities scholars argue. It is important not only to name the problem, but also to look for solutions that are truly in line with film practice.

Applying best practices

In cooperation with the Filmfonds, the research team will now implement and evaluate the 'best practices' at six Dutch film productions. At the end of 2021, they hope to deliver a report with which film professionals in the Netherlands can get to work.