Green Leadership at the NFB

Canada’s National Film Board is trying to overhaul the movie industry, making itself the flagship for green practices

6 November 2009

Green Living

As the Green Committee Coordinator for the National Film Board in Montreal, Vicky Lainesse is charged with making the NFB not just a world leader in politically and environmentally conscious documentaries, but also “a leader in environmentally sustainable practices in the film industry – we are finally walking the walk, instead of just talking the talk”. Trying to cover all the bases, the NFB has created a strategic plan with specific goals and action plans from 2008 to 2013 in concerning transportation, packaging and promotion, health and living —including their employees lifestyle habits in and outside the office.

Reaching Higher

The NFB’s sustainability targets range from the typical to the lofty. Standard measures include encouraging car pooling, using air conditioning and heating less, cutting total energy use by 25,688 hours, reducing paper waste by moving to one mail delivery a day (instead of two) and reducing the size of its catalogue from 110 pages last year to 24 this year. The organization has also eliminated many flights by installing an online video conferencing system.

Like most green measures, these steps will save them (and us, the tax payers) money in the long run: New energy reducing measures coming in this and next year should save the NFB even more than the $200,000 they pocketed in savings in 2008, a 12.6 percent cut over 2007. They’re proving that simple things can make a real difference: Just by installing a sink in the cafeteria, which allows staff to bring in their own reusable lunch containers and cutlery, has reduced the use (and cost) of disposable plates and cutlery by 50 percent.

But the NFB also has more ambitious aims that a decade ago would have been rare to see in the film industry, such as hoping to attain zero net waste, switching to packaging DVDs in 100 percent post-consumer cardboard and printed with plant-based inks, and introducing a permanent recycling service for VHS cassettes, CDs, DVDs, cell phones and batteries (items that are notoriously difficult to recycle). Already they even query prospective employees on “how they have included environmentally responsible practices in previous productions,” says Lainesse.

Going Digital

Another huge green step is their plans to launch a brand new project this autumn that will be exclusively digital; involving 12 different directors across Canada, using only online ftp servers and avoiding the use of paper and film entirely.

They are also archiving of hundreds of films from the past 70 years into a digital format for free online viewing by anyone, anywhere (here are some of the top eco films in their library). So far, they have put more than 1,000 films online, out of a total of more than 13,000 productions. And a good chunk of these concern ecological issues: the Footprints portion of is devoted to films about environmental topics and features more than 124 films and 185 clips, “which gives us more potential for sharing and getting those ideas out there and to get more people to think green and work along those lines,” says Lainesse.

Not only is the online database a goldmine of scary, enlightening and inspiring flicks, it also acts as an invaluable cultural and historical record of how Canadians regarded and acted toward the environment in the past. Films from the 1960s onward include ones about the industrial pollution in the Great Lakes, uranium mining and the nuclear waste near First Nations reserves in Saskatchewan and even the beginnings of the deforestation in Canada’s west. These films provide critical perspectives on how much has changed—and more importantly, how much hasn’t.

And while they are constantly updating this vast cinematic record, they are also changing the way they create it, bit by bit. “Our films on the environment have brought important issues to the surface for decades,” says Lainesse, “so we finally decided do what these films talk about, denounce and explain.”

To learn more about efforts to green Canada’s film industry, see “Greening the Silver Screen” and for more green news, tips, innovations and debate, served with a strong Canadian point of view, visit