A CONVERSATION ON SUSTAINABLE CINEMA
with Francesca Magliulo
The relationship between Edison and the cinema world has a long history that has seen it devise methods and strategies to encourage a culture of sustainability within film production since the early days. It also led to the writing of ‘Edison Green Movie - Guidelines on Sustainable Cinema’ in 2011.
As early as the 1950s Edison was a shareholder in Titanus and owned a very important historic library featuring films from the 1920s and 1930s onwards (the Ivrea Corporate Film Archives). The collection, developed with the Culture Project, has gathered together important films, documentaries and interviews with Nobel laureates over the years. But the most important aspect of its relationship with cinema is the story of Edison and Ermanno Olmi, who at the age of 14 went to work at Edison in the general services department. After taking part in some theatre activities, he was given a camera, something he had never handled in his life, and told to film the construction of the new power plants.
This was a very important period in Italian history. It was around 1953-54, before the economic boom that followed on from this further electrification of Italian industry. For ten years Olmi worked at Edison producing about 40 documentaries, all of which focused on people at work rather than on the imposing hydroelectric power plants themselves.
This story is important because it has left a significant mark on the company. In addition, our commitment to the sustainability of the energy business, which produces a significant amount of CO2, has led us to strengthen processes to reduce our environmental impact but also, given our experience, to promote the creation of social value in the regions and spread the culture of sustainability in every possible sphere following a logic of shared value with the community. On
the subject of culture, the world of cinema seemed to us the most natural starting point, a real driving force capable of conveying a focus on the conscious use of resources, respect for the environment and valuingpeople and land. We are talking about 2010 when the culture of sustainability was not widespread yet in Italy, especially in the world of cinema. In fact, we were the first in Italy and among the first in Europe. Our idea was to apply to film production the same rules of
energy efficiency, attention to the use of resources and efficiency of processes, that we had applied to our business. Our first steps in this direction had already happened in the music industry with sustainable concerts. But it was not yet a formally organised effort. Then we co-produced Ermanno Olmi’s “Villaggio di cartone” using tax credits, a system that allows companies not working in the film industry to co-produce a film. We entered into contact with the world of film production in this way and came up with the idea of applying sustainability criteria to cinema.
At first everyone’s reaction was one of incredulity, both internally and on the part of producers. It seemed absurd to intervene in a production process with such compressed and unpredictable timelines, especially since this was coming from an energy company. Having overcome the initial difficulties we realized that it was all a matter of organization and optimization. First we carried out a study
in order to analyse the different phases of a film production to understand how it worked and where there was waste, inefficiencies or pollution. We studied live film sets to understand what could be done. The first guidelines on sustainable cinema were thus born. ‘Edison Green Movie’ is a kind of toolbox to help reduce the environmental impact of film productions right from the planning phase.
The way they are applied is different in each film because each film is a world of its own, from energy consumption and transportation of goods and people to the use of materials and sets, internal communication, waste management and catering. In the latter case, for example, a lot of plastic used to used, which we eliminated by organizing food vans like the ones that come to village festivals.
For Aldo, Giovanni and Giacomo’s “Il ricco, il povero e il maggiordomo” we were able to sign an agreement with Car2Go to optimize transportation. For the press conference of Olmi’s “Torneranno i prati” we took all the journalists from Rome to Asiago by train and collaborated with the Forest Guard to reconstruct wooden trenches that were then reused in local World War I tourism sites. The
sets can also be reused. For example, there is an American organisation that redistributes the furniture among families in need. There is also often a problem with the collection of waste on set, which is produced in abundance and which the municipality often doesn’t collect. So there has been an effort to mediate with the municipal administration, highlighting the value brought to the area by the
production. In some cases it is a matter of overcoming certain cultural blocks.
For example, in the film industry there were strict rules about hotel categories for crew and actors so hotels in the city centre were used, far away from filming locations and reachable only by car. Now, hotels and B&Bs close to the set are used so as to foster local tourism and reduce travel resulting in obvious savings in transportation rental and fuel costs. In fact, environmental sustainability is always connected to economic and social sustainability. It all seems natural now, but back then it was inconceivable.
We never financed these interventions; rather, we put in effort, ideas, coordination and, at the end of the production and application of the protocol, green certificates to offset residual CO2 emissions. After applying the guidelines to “Il capitale umano” by Paolo Virzì (Indiana Production) we realized that the guidelines were, in fact, constantly evolving. We were interested, above all, in going beyond the concept of simply offsetting CO2 emissions, we wanted to rethink the entire film production cycle. This for us is the next step, because the culture
of sustainability analyses individual processes looking for ways to reduce impact, which for us is not only environmental but also economic and social.
But why culture? Because for us culture contains within itself the traits of local communities and because cultural organizations nurture a dialogue between business, civil society and institutions. Cultural organizations often have a direct relationship with public administration. Therefore, if a company wants to have a relationship with the community and create social value, cultural organizations
are a very important channel.
And then there is another factor, which is the essence of the company’s sustainability policy. On the one hand there is the sustainability of business processes to counter climate change, protect natural heritage, value people and communities and offer quality services for customers. This, of course, cannot happen without stakeholder engagement, which is the real enabler. And therefore you can see
why we operate in this way: because for us, sharing expertise with cultural organizations means propagating a 360-degree culture of sustainable development.
We are not only interested in reducing emissions, but in bringing social innovation, creative innovation and finding new solutions for services and processes.
Moreover, it also helps to contain and optimize costs. While many producers, initially went along with us in the name of a good cause by the end of the production they understood that it was also a way to make the whole film production more efficient. Many film workers, from the sound engineer to the actor to the runner, have learned to bring their own water bottle to set (ten years ago this was not as common as it is today), use compostable crockery and opt for sustainable solutions and behaviours, which they then automatically adopt on other sets.
In turn, however, we realized that applying the protocol to individual films would have limited impact. Creating expertise and a network, supporting it with guidelines, would have been a good breakthrough. And so we concluded that the best organizations for services such as recycling collection, finding sustainable suppliers in the area and at the same time demanding compliance with certain rules, were film commissions. That was in 2015. We signed an agreement with the Italian Film Commission and then collaborated with and trained the regional commissions, especially the one in Turin and Piedmont, which offers funding to those who follow the protocol. Since 2012 there have been many film productions that have applied Edison Green Movie, thanks also to this collaboration with the film commissions.
A further step forward was taken with the establishment of the Fondazione EOSEdison Orizzonte Sociale in 2021, which inherited these projects. The Foundation aims to help create expertise on this issue and ensure there is a real sustainability plan for each film production. This is why we want to get the various stakeholders around the table again, from film commissions to producers and
the entire film and audio-visual industry. We want to foster further discussion to be followed by concrete and systematic actions. Indeed, the problem now is that everything is patchy and left to the goodwill of each individual. Instead a single system of guidelines should be created that can be shared with everyone.
Another step forward will happen with our project at the Ex Manifatture Tabacchi, which will become our centre for disseminating the sustainability practices of cultural organizations, particularly in the world of film. We would like it to become a real tool for sharing the value of a culture of sustainability and a means to promote regions, people, their skills and, above all, a form of expression for the new generations. Because the notion of sustainability, in general but also
in the world of cinema, is still very much tied to the environment.
Instead a more mature vision of sustainability, like the one expressed by the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda, sees the three dimensions of environmental, social, and economic sustainability closely linked together. In particular, the social dimension cannot be relegated to simply supporting vulnerable people but is also about innovation of processes and services, skill creation, empowerment people and regions and education. It was only in 2012 at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in Rio de Janeiro that institutions, businesses and civil society came together for the first time with the hope of a collaboration that would not be based on individual good practices but would become a structured and coherent system. From there, in fact, the SDGs were born in 2015, proof that the three realities worked together. But even today, especially in Italy, there is still a lot of work to be done to overcome the notion of individual goodwill and to start working as a network along the entire supply chain, involving the world of culture, organisations, businesses, institutions and, above all, young people who are at the centre of any agenda dedicated to sustainable development and must be its true protagonists.
Francesca Magliulo’s passion for sustainable development coincides with Edison’s commitment in the field of social responsibility. From 2009 until 2021 she led the company’s Sustainability division. In 2021 Fondazione Eos-Edison Orizzonte Sociale was born and Magliulo became its director. She participated in
the establishment of the Global Compact Italia Foundation, of which she is still a councilor, following in particular the initiatives related to human rights and inclusion. Magliulo is part of the boards of directors of the Center for Business Culture and of the University of Tuscia of Viterbo. She dedicates much of her free
time to rugby, developing educational, social and cultural transformation projects.