There are probably few businesses that are less energy-efficient and more carbon-hungry than the television industry.
Take a location shoot, for example. Regardless of whether it's 35mm film or DV tape, sending loads of people to far-flung places in cars is a real carbon no-no.
How about outside broadcasts? These monster operations require huge generators and fuel-guzzling trucks to keep the show on the road. And then there's the power consumption of servers and data centres - used in abundance from broadcasters to animation houses.
Plus you've got set-top boxes that are sucking on the mains all day, even when they're on standby; cameras that are dumped when they're no longer useful; and the proliferation of toxic chemicals from old-school film processes that are tricky to dispose of.
But do not despair. There are countless companies trying to reduce the power consumption of their products and their manufacturing processes, making their products from sustainable materials and reducing the amount of transportation required to ship them. TV technology is going green.
Acquisition and production
The kit makers at the production end of television are certainly doing their best to be environmentally friendly. Their work in recycling and the disposal of used products is a good example. Take Thomson Grass Valley's End-of-Life Commercial Product Take-Back Program. It's a simple scheme that enables customers to return unwanted, obsolete, broken or old broadcast equipment for proper disposal.
“This programme will help customers wanting to make sure that they are as environmentally responsible as they can be,” says Jeff Rosica, senior vice-president of Thomson's broadcast and professional business unit.
Sony is another company that is leading the way in being green. Several of its professional camera products, including the popular PD170 and Z1 camcorders, are no longer constructed using harmful substances such as PVC or BFR (brominated flame retardants).
Stuart Pemble, head of finance, planning and operations at Sony, says that green thinking makes sound commercial sense, “notably in the B2B space, where professional customers are increasingly conscious of the environmental credentials of their suppliers”.
Other Sony initiatives include switching the manufacture of its professional video cameras for European customers from Japan to a more local base in Pencoed, Wales. As well as reducing shipping and duty costs, this shrinks the carbon footprint of transporting a camera to the end user.
Panasonic made its green intentions clear earlier this month by announcing a European eco-strategy. The company has committed itself to reducing CO2 emissions by more than 6,000 tons by the end of March 2010 and will focus on producing energy-efficient products. It has even made CO2 emission reduction one of its key management success indicators and tied it to executive bonuses.
Twenty new “green” products that achieve the best environmental standards in the industry are to be introduced by the end of 2010. For the manufacturing process of each one, Panasonic designers will carry out an “environmental product assessment” based on the three “R”s - reduce, reuse and recycle - to ensure effective use of resources and chemical management as well as striving to cut energy consumption.
There are also plenty of local schemes that are intended to make television greener. Brian Rose, chairman of the Guild of Television Cameramen (GTC), highlights Film London's Green Screen London initiative, which encourages environmentally friendly film and TV production in the capital. At a meeting last month he noted several new ideas that were put forward, ranging from using the local power grid rather than generators on OBs to doing away with disposable cups. “It was admitted that [some of these things] don't work but it does help crew members become more aware of the need to ‘green' the industry.”
Post and studios
The typical broadcast studio or post facility machine room is hungry for power, gets very hot and requires lots of fans. However, help is at hand.
Systems integrator TSL has come up with a way of monitoring power usage via the Power Manager MDU (mains distribution unit) that it supplies to studios. It now has a “current sensing” feature that monitors the current being consumed and the power factor of all the equipment in a rack as well as of each individual outlet. If the current rises or falls below programmable set limits it provides a warning and equipment can be adjusted accordingly.
Fairlight, a manufacturer of audio consoles and workstations, has recently been praised for its Crystal Core technology (CC-1), which can reduce energy costs and carbon footprints. The CC-1 consumes less power by performing digital audio and video processing more efficiently than equivalent CPUs or digital signal processors. Physically the CC-1 fits in a pocket, replacing an earlier product that was the size of a dishwasher, with a 98% reduction in overall heat generated and a power reduction from 600 watts to just 12.
Power consumption is not the only concern for post-production and studio equipment. Using harmful metals, especially lead, in the production of many electronic devices is banned in Europe. This has led Hamlet, the test and measurement kit maker, to ensure that none of its products contain any harmful metals.
“Whether creating new designs or re-working existing ones where components are no longer available, Hamlet strives to meet government guidelines,” explains managing director Steve Nunney. “Hamlet tries to ensure all new products are totally lead free and RoHS [the European Union directive on the restriction of hazardous substances] compliant.”
Software companies are also doing their bit to save the planet. According to Lynelle Cameron, the director of sustainability at 2d and 3D design software company Autodesk, hers is one of a handful of companies that are measuring their carbon footprint. “We are unique in our market for publishing a sustainability report,” she says. “This reduced our peak power demand by 13%.”
Cameron adds that by using virtualisation technology - which allows one computer do the job of multiple computers by sharing its resources across multiple environments - in one of Autodesk's data centres, the company has reduced the number of servers from 150 to seven.The company is also making trade shows more eco-friendly. Its exhibition stands are now made almost entirely from sustainable materials - such as recyclable plywood and non-formaldehyde glue - and it has a reusable skeleton that is assembled like Meccano. Previously stands were scrapped at the end of each trade show.
Playout and transmission
It's not just in the machine room that energy saving is required. The playout and transmission end of the broadcast market also uses vast amounts of power. This has led to a number of companies trying out new ways of cutting power requirements.
Harris Broadcast, which provides TV and radio transmission systems, for one, has come up with a new range of TV and radio products that are compact and have an energy-friendly design. The Maxiva air-cooled and liquid-cooled transmitters, introduced at IBC, use the company's Powersmart technology, which improves the “power density” in the system.
A new single 50-volt radio frequency (RF) device handles nearly all the power amplification by itself, in contrast to other transmitters, which use a series of lower-power RF devices for staged amplification. The single-stage power amplifier minimises the number of parts in the transmitter, reducing the footprint and providing a more energy-efficient output.
Digital content management may sound like a shoo-in for saving the planet but, in fact, some systems are fairly power-hungry. Pharos, which develops the Mediator system, has teamed up with Copan System's Enterprise MAID and together they provide a disk-based archive that has a lower power consumption than robotic competitors. “Power consumption in storage technology subsystems is now often more a function of data availability than of storage capacity,” explains Pharos marketing director Russell Grute. “Broadcast industry requirements in areas such as transmission do require systems with high [data] availability.”
Grute believes that broadcast content is better managed in a multi-tiered system with carefully managed transfers to slow down and smooth out peaks. “When looking end to end there are many areas in the workflow, such as quality control and compliance, where delivery of files can wait a few seconds or minutes,” he says. “This drastically reduces power consumption by allowing lower-availability storage systems to be used wherever possible.”
Arqiva, which provides and operates everything from outside broadcast units to playout services and transmitters, is looking beyond digital switchover with its green thinking. For its 12 largest TV sites the company has selected inductive output tube transmitters, which will result in energy efficiencies of around 30% to 40%, as opposed to 15% to 20% with solid-state electronics.
At the other end of the green scale, it is also allowing sheep to graze at its Bedford teleport thanks to a partnership with the Wildlife Trust. Meanwhile, Arqiva's existing relationship with the Hawk Conservancy has been extended to fitting bird boxes within the secure perimeter of transmitter sites to assist in the protection of endangered species.
Consumer equipment probably does the most harm to the environment. Set-top boxes, in particular, are hugely damaging, mainly because they are typically on all day, 365 days a year and, as they get more complex, they are becoming more power-hungry.
The reason this is such a problem is volume, explains Pace Micro Technology director of technology David Gillies. “With analogue switch-off approaching, every one of the 25 million households in the UK will need to receive digital TV,” he says. “With roughly 2.6 TVs per house, that is somewhere in the region of 75 million devices that need to be digitally enabled. If each of those devices is running at a few watts in standby and maybe 15 or 20 watts when it's on, that becomes a significant increase in a household's power use.”
As a result, a voluntary EU code of practice which aims to reduce energy consumption per appliance has been adopted. There is also an EU eco-design directive that stipulates that set-top boxes, among other devices, have a maximum power allowance of either 1 or 2 watts by 2010, lowered to either 1 or 0.5 watts by 2013.
In reaction to this, the hardware design of every Pace set-top box from 2008 onwards will comply with, or exceed, the EU code of practice. The company also wants all packaging to be 100% recyclable, will phase out all hazardous substances in its future products and will drive its key suppliers to do likewise.
Set-top box manufacturer Humax is also aiming to make its boxes greener. Its three goals are low power consumption, using sustainable materials and reducing its carbon footprint. The first of these is being achieved through a power-saving mode on its boxes that reduces standby power consumption to under 1 watt. It is also using recyclable packaging and manufacturing products as close to the consumer as possible.
It's not just TV receivers which can be improved. Video solutions company Thomson is demonstrating its commitment to best practices with the Eco Gateway broadband product. It's a concept design at the moment but it combines minimised energy consumption with low-impact manufacturing and largely recyclable materials. The casing is made from bamboo - which is fast-growing and a natural CO2 depleter - and polypropylene, which is easy to recycle and generates far less CO2 in manufacture than other thermoplastics. Energy-saving measures in eco mode include default deactivation of the wi-fi transceiver, which looks for clients at regular intervals and only powers itself up when one is detected.
TV may be an industry with a big carbon footprint but it's a footprint which is shrinking fast.
Four ways to save the planet
Measure your energy usage both during the day and at night: the process of measuring makes you understand its effect and makes you want to change.
Change behaviour: turn computers off at night, get movement sensor lighting, set the heating to come on an hour before work - don't leave it on all night.
If you have to travel, use the train - it uses a third less carbon than a carbon - and cycle to work.
Don't do all meetings face to face: get video-conferencing kit or webcams and do the initial conversation that way.
Compiled with the help of environmental agency Best Foot Forward. For consultancy and software for measuring carbon usage in offices go to www.bestfootforward.com