Albert+ helps Jonathan Creek go green

Sheridan Smith and Alan Davies in Jonathan Creek Jonathan Creek followed the simple clues to a more sustainable future

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Jonathan Creek, Goodbye Television Centre and Springwatch are among ten tv programmes which have been piloting a new approach to sustainable production.

Most have been able to reduce their carbon footprint with the help of Albert+ - essentially a checklist that covers all phases of production and nudges programme leaders towards greener working.

It's already prompted BBC One detective drama Jonathan Creek to use cloud computing - rather than dvds and pollution-spewing couriers - to transfer rushes and casting tapes.

And it led to Alan Davies, Sheridan Smith and the rest of the cast and crew to eat meals made with locally sourced ingredients from china crockery and with metal cutlery.

Start Quote

I'm very conscious that productions are tight for money and time these days. Many of them don't want anything else thrown into the mix. So Albert+ had to be user friendly and never onerous”

End Quote Nicholas Leslie Sustainable Production Project Manager

While in one of the bolder moves, the folk at Springwatch were encouraged to trial hybrid generators (using solar and vegetable oil) to power their catering truck and fridge on location.

Nicholas Leslie, who has a background in tv production and recently completed a masters degree in sustainability, was determined to make Albert+ straightforward to use with realistic aims.

20-minute conversation

'I'm very conscious that productions are tight for money and time these days,' the sustainable production project manager tells Ariel. 'Many of them don't want anything else thrown into the mix. Albert+ had to be user friendly and never onerous.'

He points to a 20-minute conversation he had with the producer and production manager of Goodbye Television Centre, BBC Four's star-studded farewell to the Wood Lane studios, which set it on a more sustainable path.

One phone call engineered the switch to low emission vehicles to transport guests to the studio; another couple sourced a sustainable caterer.

Most importantly, says Leslie, the senior level support for Albert+ was communicated to the entire team from day one, with even the studio audience encouraged to arrive for the show by public transport.

Producers are advised to send a welcome email to their teams that outlines the environmental goals, rather than impose changes on them.

'We like to think of ourselves as a creative, vibrant group of people who are open to change, but we're not really,' Leslie says. 'We're very conservative in the way we make programmes.

Albert companion

'If cast and crew are told from the outset that printing must be double-sided or that reusable water bottles are to be used, then they are more likely to accept it,' he reasons.

Albert+ has been designed as a companion to Albert the carbon calculator, which is now around three years old.

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We like to think of ourselves as a creative, vibrant group of people who are open to change, but we're not really. We're very conservative in the way we make programmes”

End Quote Nicholas Leslie

It allows programmes to input the elements of a production - from studio time to lighting requirements - into the online tool which then calculates their carbon footprint.

It was developed at the BBC, is now managed by Bafta and has been embraced by the industry. It has more than 1000 users including Sky, ITV and the super indies, and is mandatory for BBC programmes.

'To take the first steps towards change you have to take measurements,' explains Leslie. 'Albert+ is the next step. It's about action and providing information for tv productions.'

Although likely to move online at some point, Albert+ is currently an Excel document which asks key questions of productions.


It keeps track of any improvements and Leslie hopes to introduce some kind of kitemark to reward those that meet certain standards.

'It's not a case of passing or failing,' he insists. 'It's about recognising what happens rather than what doesn't happen. But the questions have to be quantifiable and a third party must be able to assess them. It's important that there's transparency; it's important that it means something.'

It's also got to be cost effective in the current economic squeeze.

Silk switched to low emission vehicles and saved money on petrol. Jonathan Creek saved £450 on bottled water by changing to reusable bottles. 'They can save money and be environmental - it's a bit of a win win.'

Of course, some programmes offer greater scope for change than others.

'Factual shows are often lean and mean, with a small crew,' Leslie agrees. 'They may not have caterers and may car share as routine. They may already be doing all they can to be sustainable, but if their good practice is transferred to bigger productions there's a greater opportunity to cut waste and emissions.'

He believes the pilots - which involved a range of programme types - have helped to create a 'robust and worthwhile' document which Leslie wants to roll out across the BBC.

'We'll be asking for more people to test it out,' he tells Ariel. 'Hopefully I'll be overwhelmed.'

  • Find out more about sustainable production with a video produced by the College of Production.

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