Small steps

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How is this for an ambition? Wanting to save the world.

Sustainable production manager Richard Smith passionately believes in saving the planet and he's taking small steps, starting with a carbon literacy course for everyone at the BBC, whether you are working in production or sitting in finance.

In recent years, the sustainability team - led by project manager Hattie Park - has made significant inroads in getting people, especially in production, to think about their carbon impact. There's been the introduction of albert+ on end credits, for instance, which means that the TV show has been made sustainably. But despite progress, Smith believes something was missing.

'We felt very much that something more in-depth was needed, particularly around motivation. Even though people hear a lot of stuff about climate change, our experience has been that actually people's understanding of climate change - the causes and most importantly the impact - are relatively limited.'

Industry collaboration
Richard Smith Richard Smith

It was with this in mind that Smith - a former journalist - came up with the idea for the course, which has been two years in the making. Far from being a one-man project, it has been designed in partnership with ITV, dock10, property developer Peel Media, Creative Skillset and Be Carbon Literate. The latter is a small Manchester-based consultancy that helped to create the course materials. It's being delivered through the BBC Academy and Sustainability.

Louise Blythe chairs the low-carbon hub at MediaCityUK and is an executive producer for the Academy. She was keen to get involved when a survey said audiences believed the BBC behaved in a low carbon way already.

'I thought the BBC Academy could be a catalyst for positive change, working with our sustainability colleagues, industry partners and the low-carbon practitioners to put together training which really works for our industry.'

And there has been support across the industry, with the production team behind Coronation Street and Religion and Ethics piloting the first courses. Meanwhile, Bafta has bought the rights to the carbon literacy course and has committed to delivering the production training to its members. Smith thinks it's the first course designed specifically for people in television.

Feedback shows that the effort has paid off. Typical comments say it's informative, motivating and enlightening, even among those who admitted to being sceptics. When several people in earlier sessions complained that it felt rushed, Smith says adjustments were made to give it more 'breathing space'. It's also, he adds, very interactive.

Production staff - Children's and Coronation Street - in a session of the carbon literacy course A carbon literacy session with members of Coronation Street and Children's

The course is in two parts and both require a half-day commitment. The first part is about fundamentals and has been designed for everyone, while the second half of the course will depend on your job at the BBC and has been designed for three types of people: production staff, office-based staff and those in leadership positions. The last of these will most likely launch in the autumn and others have launched already.

Smith recognises that a day-long course is a big commitment, but he points out that you can split it up into two half days. The manager is also direct about its importance: 'There are courses out there that are longer than a day and about subjects that are arguably less vital for the future of humanity than climate change is.'


The BBC has been trying to boost its green credentials for years. It has been setting environmental targets since 2008 and reporting on these annually in its Corporate Responsibility Performance Review, which is due later this month.

The corporation has been making better progress in reaching its targets in recent years, especially reducing CO2 emissions and energy consumption, the result of having fewer buildings. But reducing carbon emissions related to travel will be more challenging, as this tends to fluctuate from year to year depending on news events.

But while awareness of these issues is important, what the course is designed to tackle is people's motivation to adapt their behaviour so that it becomes more second nature.

'You can't necessarily on a day-to-day basis see the impact of climate change but all these things are happening and they're things that have implications for our survival,' believes Smith.

'People are consistently coming away from the course with that understanding and, critically, with the motivation to do something about it … they leave the room pumped and ready to go,' he adds.

It's impossible to know how long this feeling lasts, but the manager and environment advocate hopes it's long enough to make a difference.

  • Courses for Elstree (July 9 and 10), Birmingham and Belfast are available to book now though the BBC Academy website. Bristol and Cardiff dates will be added soon.

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