How to make the Dutch film industry more sustainable: best practices and bottlenecks

Opnames op een filmset. Bron: Gerrit Fröhlich, via Unsplash

Big explosions, imitation rain storms and a crew flying to film locations all over the world: filmmaking cannot exactly be called sustainable. How do we change this? Associate Professor of Media and Cultural Studies Judith Keilbach and her team conducted a year and a half of research and recently presented their report ‘Towards a Sustainable Film Industry’ to the Netherlands Film Fund.

Pilots on six film sets

Last year, we already wrote the article ‘How can we make the Dutch film industry more sustainable?’ about the project by Judith Keilbach, Fieke Spoler, Annemijn Potappel and Marijn Kallenberg. At the time, the research was still in full swing. Meanwhile, pilots have been done on six Dutch film sets where the best practices from the desk research at the time have been implemented.


Perhaps the most interesting outcome of the research is the influence of so-called eco-managers. They examine, among other things, CO2 emissions, how less driving up and down can be done, whether the crew can use a hybrid generator and whether, for example, existing sets and second-hand costumes are available.

Judith Keilbach
Dr. Judith Keilbach

“We assigned eco-managers to three productions, who, even before the film went into production, were concerned with sustainability and ideally remained closely and actively involved,” Judith Keilbach explains. “Three other productions were joined by an eco-consultant, who was further removed from the production.”

“We saw that the eco-managers had much more influence than the eco-consultants. After all, the most important things happen before the filming starts, in pre-production. Good planning gets you a long way. Eventually, we were actually able to train three eco-managers.”

Obstacles and bottlenecks

The six pilots also showed the obstacles and bottlenecks to making the film sector more sustainable, Keilbach says. “High workload and last-minute adjustments contribute to a lack of priority for sustainability, and data collection on CO2 is perceived as difficult.”

“Moreover, many Dutch films are international co-productions, which leads to a lot of transport anyway. In addition, the hierarchical culture plays a role, an eco-manager needs authority to mean something, and the Dutch infrastructure is not geared to sustainable solutions. Supply is limited and costs are high.”

Recommendations for the Netherlands Film Fund

To encourage sustainable film production, the Netherlands Film Fund should advance, reimburse and oblige sustainability measures, Keilbach argues. “Sustainability should be introduced as early as possible in the process, ideally already in the development phase and no later than the pre-production phase. It should be immediately clear to the whole crew that sustainability deserves attention.”

With this kind of research, we humanities scholars can also contribute to the conservation of the earth.

“Extra costs for more sustainable alternatives and extra hours put into making productions more sustainable should be reimbursed. And making measures mandatory is important, because lack of obligation does not sufficiently stimulate the transition.”

Meanwhile, in a round-table discussion, the Netherlands Film Fund has drawn up a plan for actually making the film sector more sustainable. Spearheads are increasing support within the sector and making knowledge and expertise accessible. In the coming period, ideas will be developed and tested in order to reach concrete agreements.

Problems with sustainability, not only in the film sector

It struck Keilbach that the problem lies not so much in unwillingness to change, but rather in how the transformation should take place. In the podcast Konkav Kasty, she says: “During interviews, we saw that everyone actually expected someone else to take action. Nobody dared to start by themselves. Therefore, our research is not only interesting for the media industry; you can find these issues in many other sectors as well.”

With her research, Keilbach hopes to show that humanities scholars can contribute to a cleaner earth. “I used to have the idea other disciplines were more helpful in making the earth sustainable, but, with this kind of research, we too can contribute to the solution.”