by nadine schiff-Rosen | February 24, 2014 | Lifestyle
No grass grows under the Academy and its coveted statuette, as both have undergone a Hollywood-style eco-makeover.
Ahh… the Academy Awards! Your mind is likely to wander toward decadent excess: stretch limos, bubbly, ice sculptures, couture gowns…. But wait! As the industry has turned green—and we don’t mean with envy—the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is virtually gilt-free (except for little Oscar himself, of course).
In 2007 the Academy Awards, produced by the late Laura Ziskin, partnered with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to lessen the carbon footprint of the iconic awards show. It was the year of Al Gore’s seminal film about global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, and Hollywood was ripe for an eco-makeover. Goodbye, stretch limousines. Hello, Priuses. The invitation to the most exclusive party of the year arrived printed on high-quality, recycled paper. That year at the glamorous Governors Ball, winners clutching sustainable steel, gold-plated statuettes feasted on organic food from biodegradable dishware—including clamshells.
In a country many believed was poised on the brink of ecological disaster, this Oscars ceremony was a game changer. For the first time, viewers of the most-watched awards show around the globe understood by example that environmental change could be achieved through small steps, like a celebrity walking down a 100 percent recycled red carpet—and talking about it.
Since that fateful telecast, an abundance of other productions—from films to high-profile awards shows—have followed suit. In her office at Valhalla Entertainment, CEO and producer Gale Anne Hurd discussed the greening of Hollywood with heavyweights of the environmental movement Ed Begley Jr. and Allen Hershkowitz:
GALE ANNE HURD: First, I have to tell you, mea culpa. I just realized we have halogen lighting in here, which we shouldn’t have, and we are now changing it out!
ED BEGLEY JR.: But you do have water in glasses instead of bottles.
GAH: Well, I always have that. [Points to a recyclable water bottle] But we never renovated after we bought the building. Some places we did, and we put in lighting that turns off by itself.
ALLEN HERSHKOWITZ: Good for you.
EB: It’s a process, you know. You can’t do everything overnight. You don’t run up Mount Everest to get acclimated.
GAH: Environmental sustainability is about awareness, though.
How does the greening of the Oscars create public awareness?
AH: The cultural visibility of the Oscars is enormous. It gives a certain validation, a cultural shift in the way people are thinking about the planet. It’s a multiplatform event. When you talk about “greening,” you are reviewing all your operations, your vendors, and your supply chains with an eye toward reducing environmental impact. So the Oscars set the bar. For example, the red carpet used to be petroleum based. Now it is created from 100 percent recyclable plastic bottles. The show is now powered by fuel cells, not diesel generators.
EB: It was really the right time to green the Oscars. Certainly with Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth being nominated [in 2007]. It was great. He won an Oscar before he won the Nobel Peace Prize, so the effect of the message of environmental sustainability that came out of the Oscars was huge! I mean, there’s Leonardo DiCaprio showing up in a hybrid. All that affected the American consciousness. Suddenly, it became cool to be green.
AH: We did have one problem. We couldn’t use Priuses for the gowns. The cars had to be gown-worthy.
What does that mean?
AH: When we were looking at alternative transportation, [Academy Awards producer] Laura [Ziskin] said, “You can’t mess around with the gowns.” Obviously, people tune in for the fashion. And it’s hard to stuff some of those big ball gowns into the back of a hybrid without ruining the look. But even some actresses are wearing green now. Stella McCartney designs clothes with no animal products. We are making progress.
What’s been a high point?
AH: I remember the first year we changed the toilet paper. And we had these little framed FSC [Forest Stewardship Council] statements in the bathrooms. I stood there watching Jack Nicholson washing his hands and reading our sign.
GAH: There has been a real ripple effect on other shows as well.
AH: From the Oscars, I got invited to do the Grammys and the Tonys.
Can you take us inside the Governors Ball?
EB: Everything is sustainable. There is nothing that is disposable—from the cloth napkins and tablecloths to the plates and cutlery. I’m vegan, and [eating’s] never been a problem for me. It’s one of the greenest galas I’ve ever been to.
AH: All the food is organic and as local as possible. Wolfgang Puck is among the best concessionaires in food and beverage in terms of being green. All the food preparation is collected for composting or for food donation—at least the uneaten portions.
What about the paper involved in the production and the balloting?
GAH: The Academy has had electronic ballot voting since 2011.
EB: It’s been the highest voter turnout ever.
GAH: It’s actually much easier. You don’t have to look for that piece of paper that you may have misplaced.
How did you go about “greening” a set?
GAH: It was my daughter who guilted me into it. She came on set a while back and saw all these plastic water bottles and says, “What’s up? We don’t use them at home.” So we gave everyone a logo water bottle, and we had water stations. But the most important thing we did was having an early department heads meeting. The star of The Hulk, Edward Norton, sat with everyone on the crew to learn how to do better.
Ed, you have a show called On Begley Street….
EB: I’m using that avenue to get the word out. It’s one of my proudest accomplishments as a performer. Hundreds of people have come up to me, and thousands have written or e-mailed me and said, “I got that little solar oven because of you… because I saw it on the show.” So that really makes me feel good.
Do you still feel resistance to what you’re trying to do?
GAH: Well, yes. [Laughs] I don’t know how to make certain things easier. If you have two trash cans next to each other, you’ll have one that is for non-recyclable refuse, and I’ll find myself going through it and taking out the recyclable trash.
So you’re this award-winning producer and you’re out there picking through the trash?
EB: That’s what makes her a great environmentalist. No job is too small.
photography courtesy of © A.M.P.A.S.® (oscar statuette); shutterstock.com (ivy)