Sustainability in broadcast and digital media
Hi I am Janet West, an environmental strategist and I work in BBC R&D as a Senior Lead Technologist looking after sustainability of broadcasting technology.
Last month BBC R&D hosted a one day event in collaboration with the BBC Sustainability Committee and BBC R&D Partnerships to explore environmental issues related to broadcast and digital media technology. The aim of the event was to bring the industry together to discuss key sustainability issues because no one person, organisation or government can make an impact alone.
We felt it was important to start this discussion so that all sides of the industry could share their views and concerns, as well as identifying areas for future research and collaboration. Today we are publishing those thought-provoking presentations online so that an even wider audience can get involved in the discussion.
Sustainability in broadcast and connected digital media technology is not an easy concept to explain briefly as it’s a complex subject. Simply it considers the life cycle – cradle to grave, from extracting raw materials to designing and manufacturing products and services that have value. It includes using components/products that don’t pollute or damage the environment either in use or at end of use , and it considers the energy, materials and water used to make the products, as well as waste management. In addition, the human factors can’t be ignored, such as whether child labour was used in production and whether any landfill waste has contaminated water supplies that may in turn affect humans and our food chain.
From a broadcast business point of view, sustainability must consider the factors above along the entire value chain from content and product creation to post-production and formatting, to transmission and distribution, through to the energy used by the consumer.
BBC R&D started its sustainability research with Jigna Chandaria’s work on comparing the carbon footprint of digital terrestrial television with video-on-demand (BBC WHP 189 2011). Today, we watch TV and listen to the radio on a growing variety of devices and my own research delves into the downstream carbon from BBC content at the consumer end. Not just on the TV but using a variety of file sizes on a variety of platforms e.g. iPlayer on tablets, smartphones and smart TV’s. BBC R&D sustainability also partners with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) groups on LED lighting, Beyond HD and the “Green” broadcasting group. A new study group just started with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) on setting standards for equipment in light of environmental constraints.
The BBC has also developed a practical tool to help calculate environmental impacts called Albert. This was a collaborative project with, and now managed by, BAFTA to help production teams determine where to make both financial and environmental savings and calculate the footprint of their programmes.
Our sustainability in broadcast and digital media event started with some education. How products are designed is a very important and the morning panel kicked off with a talk by Stuart Walker, Professor of Sustainable Design and Co-Director of the Imagination Lancaster design research lab at Lancaster University. Stuart’s research focuses on design for sustainability, product aesthetics and meaning and product design that explores and expresses human values rather than just considering the economical value.
Chris France, Professor of Environmental Technology at Surrey University followed, addressing life cycles and asked attendees to consider who is responsible for environmental damage. Chris noted that many other sources of impact on the environmental don’t get the same visibility as carbon. He feels broadcasting needs to look at where the most impacts occur and focus where the industry can make the biggest difference noting that often the greatest impact is not where it is expected.
E-waste is the fastest growing global waste stream and Ian Williams , Professor of Applied Environmental Science at Southampton University, talked about the extent of e-waste from all the TV’s, smartphones and tablets people consume and discard. He argued that this industry has reached a point where it can no longer ignore its impact on the environment. Broadcasting and Connected Digital Media is an energy-intensive industry and with more and more personal devices at the consumer end, over 50million tonnes of e-waste end up on land-fill each year.
Using the Internet is now a way of life and much of what consumers do today necessitates a link to the web, and Dr Chris Priest spoke about the issues behind the vast amounts of data traffic management. Chris is Principal Investigator on the Sympact project which explores the impact of digital transformation and includes collaborative work with the Guardian newspaper looking at their environmental impact of digital interactivity.
The educational sessions were followed with industry speakers from Sony, Hewlett Packard and Telefonica and there was an opportunity to share ideas and discuss the challenges that affect the entire industry value chain. It felt unique to have global brand names mixing with SMEs, broadcasters and not-for-profit organisations, discussing the challenges around sustainability impact and it has placed the BBC at the heart of what will be a continuing conversation.
Using the information gained in the morning’s sessions, break out groups focussed on seven key topics concerning future broadcasting and connected digital media strategies:
- 1. Is there a conflict between sustainability and technological innovation ?
- 2. To what extent will technology solve environmental problems emanating from broadcasting and connected digital media?
- 3. What are the ways in which content could be the driver for public environmental and sustainability awareness and how? Does embracing the circular economy make business sense for this industry?
- 4. What role can legislation and self-policing have for this industry to ensure responsible behaviour towards a sustainable environment?
- 5. What might the business model be to transition to 4K and then to Super HiVision 8k within environmental constraints?
- 6. What is the level of environmental awareness and impact as we head towards IP studios?
Lively discussions surfaced some interesting ideas for potential research areas with the universities, and highlighted areas of concern such as setting standards, the need for better education, and provided some ideas to continue the momentum of the day and drive the sustainability agenda forward. As one academic put it “Responsibility lies in partnerships – no-one is going to hold their hand up and say ‘It’s me guv’”.
The event, a first for the BBC, was an encouraging start and there was a clear willingness by the cross sector attendees to work together. If you came to the event we hope you found it as useful as we did, and for those who missed out but would like to participate in the discussions that will follow, please contact us.