Hollywood's Monster-Sized Carbon Footprint

They're trying to get greener, but Fox, Warner Bros., and other studios still generate tons of waste on the sets of movies and TV shows

It's a fair question, given Hollywood's obsession with hybrid cars and green politics. Like many celebrities, the people running the entertainment conglomerates, including News Corp.'s (NWS) Rupert Murdoch, proclaim their efforts to go carbon-neutral and to recycle. But as they make films and TV shows, they're struggling to live up to their ideals. "They've taken the pledge," says Lauren Selman, an activist whose Reel Green Media works with producers. "But it's hard to get the word down the line from the guys at the top."

Big-budget flicks with locations around the globe make going green all the harder. Warner Bros.' (TWX) The Dark Knight required jetting to shoots in Chicago, London, and Hong Kong. With 88 actors and about 900 crew members in Chicago in the spring of summer of 2007, the production consumed some $500,000 worth of gasoline and $1 million in building materials, including lots of lumber. Later, more than 50 people flew to Hong Kong for a scene that runs 15 minutes in the film. And because director Christopher Nolan wanted to make the most of Hong Kong's iconic skyline, the city's commercial property companies—and some of their tenants—left many of their lights burning into the night.

Other directors, too, spend energy to get the effects they want. In Marvel Studio's Iron Man, terrorists hold the hero (Robert Downey Jr.) in a cave. Director Jon Favreau wanted viewers to see Downey's breath, so his team chilled the set.

Studios are trying to change the way they operate. Marvel acknowledges cooling the Iron Man cave, but says it cut emissions in other ways. Warner slashed its annual energy bill by more than $1 million using solar and conservation and is building a soundstage from recycled materials. Walt Disney (DIS) and NBC Universal say that, where possible, their productions rent only hybrid vehicles. Focus Features, which made Away We Go, Sam Mendes' next movie, says it recycled roughly 5,000 tons of the production's waste—food, utensils, scrap wood. While making its upcoming Ang Lee film, Taking Woodstock, Focus swapped about 15,000 plastic water bottles for refillable stainless steel containers. And the "Fox Green Guide" for producers has dozens of suggestions. Among them: using recycled cooking fat in generators, buying organic-cotton wardrobes, and distributing scripts digitally. Producer and green activist Gale Anne Hurd says the $150 million Incredible Hulk spent $100,000 on green practices like recycling. To offset their carbon output, studios also help fund wind farms or methane plants. These efforts aside, the moguls are still more likely to say "Make [the movie] for this amount, and don't take a day longer than necessary," says a producer. "I've never heard them say, 'Keep it green.' "

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.