Earlier this year, we launched the DGC Ontario Sustainability Fundamentals course, one of the first of its kind offered by a film union to its Membership.
“We’re proud to have been the first union to develop training initiatives in sustainability and believe that this is a huge step in educating Members about what they can do to help,” says DGC Ontario Professional Development Manager Cristy Becker.
“It feels fantastic,” add Astra Burka and Andrew Gainor, the Co-Chairs of our Sustainability Committee, who collaborated on this course with DGC Ontario’s Member Services department. “Our mantra for sustainability is education, training and communications. The course educates our Membership on how to start thinking of sustainable measures in filmmaking. We want DGC Ontario to be part of the solution. Knowledge is power!”
“The Member responses to the course have been extremely positive,” says Cristy. “I think it opens everyone’s eyes when they hear about the challenges we face in regard to sustainability.”
Leading the creation of this groundbreaking training is Angelica Siegel, Sustainability Lead at Cream Productions. Through her work with Cream Productions and DGC Ontario, Angelica has been instrumental in promoting sustainable practices within the industry and educating film and television professionals on how to reduce their environmental impact.
We discuss Angelica’s journey toward becoming a sustainability leader, the challenges and opportunities of promoting sustainability in the film and television industry, and the importance of sustainability in today’s world.
Cream Productions Sustainability Strategy Manager Angelica Siegel
What made you first want to learn about sustainability, and what led you to take these learnings to the film and television industry?
Angelica Siegel: I started my career in marketing and communication in brand design, but I quickly realized that I wanted to be involved in something related to sustainability. I always found communicating stories and creating well-branded things interesting, but working with electronics companies or cultural institutions didn’t fulfill me. So, I decided to pursue a master’s degree in management and economics for sustainability, specifically in food sustainability.
It all started when I began growing my own vegetables just for fun and was honestly shocked at how much work it took to produce literally one tomato or a few pieces of arugula. This made me think about how much water, time, and energy goes into producing our food, and it was really eye-opening for me. It really hit me hard to think about what a shame it is how much food is wasted if you think about the water, time, and energy that goes into growing all our food.
That’s why I wrote my thesis on scaling up circular solutions for food sustainability. I researched how little companies have really amazing ideas for reducing food waste or using food waste to make something else, like turning leftover grains from making beer into bread or crackers. Through my research, I connected with different people and eventually got connected to the film and TV industry.
You lead sustainability strategy for Cream Productions. How did you first get involved with them?
Angelica: I got involved with Cream Productions almost exactly two years ago in May. At the time, they were already practicing a lot of cool sustainability initiatives, but people with full-time jobs were doing them in addition to their regular work. The team had gotten to a point where they needed someone to manage the different initiatives more formally and speak that sustainability language.
When I joined the team, they became more serious and ingrained in their sustainability initiatives and made it a part of their regular workload rather than just a nice thing they were trying. Some of the key initiatives we started with were reducing single-use items on set, and working with a caterer who had a partnership with a vendor to redistribute surplus food to people who need it.
I am really proud of the work that we have done at Cream so far and excited about what’s to come. We are always looking for new and innovative ways to make our productions more sustainable and reduce our environmental impact. Overall, I think it’s important to integrate sustainability into all aspects of our lives, including our work, and I’m grateful to be a part of a company that shares that belief.
What initiatives have you and the Cream team implemented to green productions?
Angelica: We started by working with a sustainable waste vendor who helped us understand the importance of sorting waste properly. Mixing everything, even with the best intentions, makes it difficult to recycle or compost waste. Through the vendor, we learned about the different types of waste that can be recycled or composted and the different types of language that can confuse consumers. We worked with Rethink Resource on this initiative.
We also took stock of everything we did and identified what could be changed easily. We made small changes like using reusable bottles and coffee cups and getting water dispensers on set instead of plastic bottles. Education was a key part of our approach, so we focused on educating everyone involved in the production, from production coordinators to caterers. Right now, we’re working on signage that shows people what happens when they recycle plastic. We have shots from our vendor that show all the plastic in a big pile pushed onto a conveyor belt and turned into plastic pellets, which can be used to make new products. This visual helps people understand the impact of sorting waste properly and the benefits of recycling. We believe that education and inspiring people to change their behaviour are key to making sustainable practices a part of everyday life.
Image credit: Rethink Resource
Was your work with Cream your first foray into the film and television industry?
Angelica: It was. I had quite a bit of circular economy experience already, through research and working with a couple of different groups in the Netherlands, where I did my Masters. They’re really ahead of North America when it comes to Circular Economy thinking and a more top-down approach to sustainability. But working with Cream has been really great. They’re really at the front of the pack in terms of motivation and wanting to learn. It’s been really rewarding to be involved with a company that’s so dedicated and thoughtful about sustainability.
You created our Sustainability Fundamentals course with our Sustainability Committee and in collaboration with DGC Ontario’s Member Services department.
How did this course first come about, and what with your goals with the course?
Angelica: I was introduced to DGC Ontario through Astra, who I met through a few separate connections, including the Dutch connection. She and Andrew were championing a lot of different sustainability initiatives at DGC Ontario, and one of their goals for last year was to have some kind of training and development material around sustainability.
At first, we were going to put a couple of slides into each of the department’s “Fundamentals” courses, but after talking with Cristy and the Member Services department, we decided to create a more comprehensive course that would cover the “why” behind sustainability and inspire people to make changes in their personal lives and bring those changes to their companies. The course covers topics like the importance of staying under 1.5 degrees of warming, and we aimed to make the material applicable to real-world situations so that people could understand the background behind sustainability concepts.
I think it’s important to inspire people to care about sustainability, so we wanted to focus on the “why” behind what we’re trying to do. We aimed to make the course a bit of “inspirational education.” I think people hear about climate change and sustainability all the time in the news, but because they don’t necessarily know exactly what to do about it, people can easily tune it out. Sometimes it feels like too much, and you get what they call “climate grief.” We wanted people to feel motivated to make changes in their personal lives and understand that they can also enact change in their companies. It’s not just about the film and TV industry; sustainability should matter to everyone, and we hope to inspire people to care about it in all realms of their lives.
For someone who is new to sustainable production practices, what would be an easy first step for them to take?
Angelica: I think the best first step is to find the path of least resistance, which is different for every company. Talk to your vendors and try to find small changes that don’t require a lot of education or behavioural change from the crew. If you’re trying to get reusable water bottles and it’s really difficult for whatever reason, pivot to something else that might be easier, like using compostable packaging. You could talk to your vendors about using compostable packaging, getting a sustainable waste vendor, or asking catering to provide better vegetarian options. It’s important to start small and build from there.
I would also recommend starting a green team! Get together with three or four other people who care about sustainability and start brainstorming ideas. You can work on one idea at a time and chip away at the list. It’s important to feel inspired by each other and to have a support system. You can also take another course or learn about sustainability in your own time. That internal motivation goes a long way. And don’t be afraid to talk to vendors and other partners about making sustainable changes. Often, they are receptive and willing to make a positive impact.
I think one of the biggest things when it comes to making this work for anyone is understanding that people are short on time and money. It’s not going to be an instant change, and we’re going to have to try things out and get feedback to see what’s working and what’s not. It’s important to make sure that people don’t feel like we’re adding more to their plates. We want to make it easier for everyone to achieve their sustainability goals without asking them to do more work. That’s where the green team comes in – they might be willing to do a little bit extra because they’re really motivated to help. We don’t want to make anything mandatory, but we want to suggest options and let people know that they won’t get in trouble if they can’t do it. It’s all about having a gentle approach and testing out what works. Eventually, the practices that are really important will become mandatory, but by then, people will be used to them, and it won’t be as big a change. Behaviour change is hard, and we need to make sure it’s fair and realistic for everyone.
In your opinion, when should productions start thinking about how to be more sustainable – during the pre-production phase or even earlier when the show is still being conceptualized?
Angelica: It’s a great question, and honestly, we’re still trying to figure it out ourselves. At first, we focused on practical things we could change on set during pre-production coordination. It felt like the easiest place to start, but we eventually realized we needed to start thinking about sustainability even earlier, during development. So, in the last few months, we’ve started having conversations with Writers and Producers about how we can green the story. We even have this helpful checklist from CBC that we gave to our team to make it easier. Of course, it’s important to keep the authenticity of the show in mind, too, especially if it’s a period piece, but there are still plenty of small changes that can be made. And while we haven’t tackled sustainability in the conceptualization phase just yet, we think it’s a great idea. If someone from the “green team” is involved in that stage, they can start those conversations early on. Ultimately, planning is key. Waiting until the end of production to make changes won’t be as effective. It’s important to start thinking about sustainability as early as possible, during development and pre-production.
What do you think the biggest uphill battle is going to be in terms of getting people working in film and television to adopt greener practices?
Angelica: One that surprised me was the resistance to more vegetarian options on the menu. We started with one vegetarian day a week, but people didn’t like having to pre-select their meals. So, we switched to a buffet-style option, which has worked well in some cases, but not so well in others. It’s been interesting to see which changes get more resistance, but it’s part of the learning process. We stay very open to adapting our efforts so that they can work on set and work for everyone.
But the more serious challenge is really about time. Being sustainable often takes more time and effort. For example, finding secondhand clothing or props in the wardrobe department is not something that can be done easily or quickly, especially if you’re given just a few weeks to prepare. And it’s not fair to ask people to completely change their processes without giving them enough time to do so.
So, the industry as a whole needs to change in order to make space for more sustainable practices. This means giving productions more time to be intentional about sourcing sustainable materials and even giving construction teams extra days to take things down in a way that allows for reuse. This requires everyone – streaming services, broadcasters, production companies, and crew members – to prioritize sustainability and work together to make it happen.
What are some new sustainability initiatives in the industry that you’re excited about?
Angelica: I was recently part of a panel about the circular economy at the Canadian Academy Members Lounge, and I learned that William F. Whites are piloting a new generator that’s battery-powered with a diesel backup. This was really exciting to hear because generators are the biggest contributors to our carbon footprint on productions. People are usually scared to rely on just batteries, so it’s great to see these hybrid generators being tested in the real world. If they work well, we can eventually move towards battery-only generators, but that’ll take some getting used to and building trust in the technology. Also, they just announced that the Canadian Screen Awards will now have a sustainable production award category sponsored by CBC, which is amazing! I hope that if people can see that sustainable practices are possible and receive recognition for their work in implementing them, it will encourage everyone to be more sustainable.