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Published on: 10.07.2024

The brand-new role heralding a new era in sustainable production

Image showing attendees of sustainability coordinator training

A brand-new training programme funded by Media Cymru is thought to be the first of its kind in the UK to signal a step-change in the industry’s approach to sustainable high-end TV production.

In collaboration with the University of South Wales, training providers Severn Screen and Earth to Action, the first recipients of the funded “sustainability coordinator” programme are receiving intensive training in response to the pressing need for a more sustainable approach to high-end TV production.

The 8-week training programme has been delivered by Ellie Ashton (Earth to Action) alongside sustainability coordinator and trainer Tilly Ashton (Severn Screen). The mother-daughter duo are amongst the first full time Production Sustainability Coordinators in the UK. Ellie is set to join a Sky production to be filmed in Wales later this year, while Tilly works for Independent Production company Severn Screen.

The creation of Media Cymru’s bespoke training for this future-facing role reflects efforts to help change work habits in the Welsh screen sector and provide upskilling opportunities for people passionate about sustainability who are at various stages in their film and TV careers. It aligns closely with recommendations from the BFI’s Screen New Deal: Transformation Plan for Wales.

This new training initiative has been made possible thanks to Ymddiried (Media Grants Cymru), who have supported trainee travel costs and accommodation. As well as support from production studios Great Point Seren Studios, Wolf Studios Wales, Dragon Studios and Aria Film Studios.

The cohort of six received a training bursary to attend training at studio locations across Wales culminating in final training workshop and a celebration at Machynlleth’s Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), the home of sustainable education and champion for communicating positive solutions to the climate emergency.

Thanks to additional funding provided by Creative Wales, the cohort are now set to embark on the next stage of their traineeship – a 10-to-15-week production placement, where the trainees will put their learning into practice and build future career connections.

In partnership with media innovation consortium Media Cymru, the new training programme covers: waste as a resource; productions, people and politics; albert Carbon reporting; legal obligations surrounding sustainable scripted productions; working with suppliers and networks.

Complementing BAFTA albert’s drive to reduce the environmental impacts of production and promote a vision for a sustainable future, Severn Screen in Wales is thought to be one of the first UK production companies to employ a full-time sustainability coordinator.

Creative Director Ed Talfan is CEO of Severn Screen. Speaking of his decision to hire Wales’ first sustainability coordinator, he said:

“For our industry to survive and thrive in the future, we have to become more sustainable in the way we work. I’m proud of the work we’ve done at Severn Screen to improve our own sustainability, and also in the response we’ve seen across the whole sector in embracing new ways of working that promote more sustainable production. One of the key requirements in meeting our goals will be to develop the next generation of sustainability coordinators to drive this change on set. Film and TV production depends on a wide range of skills to make the magic happen, and so we’re delighted to be partnering with USW and Media Cymru to deliver these new training courses. It’s exciting to be able to play our part in training a new generation of Sustainability Coordinators for the sector in Wales.”

Severn Screen’s Tilly Ashton added:

“Working as a Sustainability Coordinator across all Severn Screen productions over the last four years, I have witnessed a significant shift in the development of sustainable practices within the film and TV industry, and a growing impetus within production companies, crews and suppliers to embrace greener ways of working.

“The Welsh industry is working collaboratively to build on the goals of the BAFTA albert/BFI’s Wales Screen New Deal Transformation Plan, launched in November 2023. Up until now, we have lacked skilled sustainability coordinators to enable us to put good intentions into practice.

“To that end, my daughter Ellie and I are proud to have been able to bring our vision and inspiration to train Sustainability Coordinators for the Welsh industry.”

Earth to Action’s Ellie Ashton added:

“The guiding principle of our work is to be the change we want to see. To achieve this, we knew we had to create a pathway through which brilliant and visionary people from across Wales could enter our industry. We looked for people who would lead productions into a cleaner, greener future; one that actively benefits people and planet. This role is dynamic, engaging every department across the production pyramid to inspire and enable this new way of working.

“What is crucial, and perhaps unique to our vision for this course, is that we didn’t just want to teach our trainees how to do the job. We believe it’s vital to know your reason why to do it.

“Being able to work in alignment with their values, a shared ethos of positivity and proactivity, and a belief that everyone has the capacity to change, will enable our trainees to be a vital resource in creating the industry of the future.”

Why I want to be a sustainability coordinator: the new role shaping the future of the screen sector

Nicole Wait, from North Wales has a background in education. She said:

 “I wanted to shift towards actively working to alleviate the climate emergency, and to contribute to an industry that Wales holds as precious. Being part of this training empowers us to have a huge impact on a sector that has historically acted with little thought of our planet, yet one that includes many professionals who care deeply about the environment but don’t yet have the skills to align their work with their values.  There is already significant innovation and willing towards greening the screen; now it’s time to join together to have a ripple out effect into our communities and further afield. Our placements will enable us to build momentum in raising awareness in crew members, advocating for greener actions and financing, inciting positive change from top to bottom and from bottom to top. Let’s crack on; I’m ready…!”

Jacob Fielder is from Cardiff. Speaking of his decision to apply for the sustainability coordinator training, he said:

“Before this course I worked part-time in sustainability and part-time in film & TV. The amount of waste produced during my time on set would always upset me and I would often feel quite powerless about fixing it. The opportunity to combine my love for the planet and Film & TV, just seemed like the perfect chance to try and make a positive difference. Cleaning up the Welsh screen industry isn’t a one-person job; everyone is going to need chip in…

“Doing this training course with a group of lovely, likeminded people has allowed us to build a network of sustainability contacts throughout Wales and beyond that will be invaluable in helping tackle any problems that might crop up in our role.

Jess Gow has a background in the film and TV industry. She took a career break to raise her children, and currently freelances as a production coordinator.   She said:

“I was attracted to the role/ opportunity as from my experience working in Production Management, I could see first-hand how easily sustainable decisions and actions can become an afterthought to the production process instead of it being championed from the onset. Sustainability isn’t an afterthought and there is an urgent need for Sustainability Coordinators to be responsible for working with the different stakeholders across a production to lessen their environmental impact and where possible to add value back into the local economy.  We can all make a difference in our words and actions, and we need to bring awareness to that, and the consequences of our actions on set.

“It reinforced the need for collaboration between everyone to lessen the environmental impact of TV production, emphasised the good each that and every one of us can make in our decisions and how we need to be more considerate of each other’s characteristics.  It’s also been invaluable in building a network of people I know I could call on to talk through issues I may encounter in the line of duty, and a fabulous network for us to share resources and best practice with.  I can’t wait to get started!”

Ashley Booth is from Prestatyn in North Wales has retrained after working in the education sector.  She adds:

“After years in education, the traineeship gave me the opportunity to retrain in an area I’m deeply passionate about. Sharing a space with like-minded individuals and having real conversations about what we can do about the climate emergency has been a real game-changer. I’m so excited for my placement, and to put what I’ve learned to the test!”