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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hollywood is turning the silver screen "green," but cutting waste, energy and costs in an industry known for big budgets and over-the-top productions is not easy, even in the trend setting movie business.
Hollywood has long used its star power to help the environment. A-list stars such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert Redford are well-known environmentalists and Al Gore's 2006 Oscar-winning "An Inconvenient Truth," about global warming, is widely credited for making the issue more mainstream.
Now the industry is trying to reduce the environmental harm caused by its big, but largely temporary, film and TV shoots.
"While celebrities have long been environmental activists, studios and production companies have been cautious about adopting the green philosophy as it applies to their business operations," says Zahava Stroud, of iHollywood Forum, which will host a "Hollywood Goes Green" conference next month.
Sustainable solutions should also help studios improve profitability during the economic downturn, analysts said.
To "green up" their businesses, many studios now have departments dedicated to reducing their carbon footprints and some have even offered staff incentives to buy hybrid cars.
But the biggest challenge is cutting down on the excesses of large-scale productions.
"While there's been a lot of greening of studio lots, what still needs to be focused on is the actual production process, in terms of fuel consumption, energy efficiency, waste generation and food sourcing," said Lauren Selman, chief executive of Reel Green Media, a consultant that helps movie sets incorporate environmental practices.
Some cite the industry's massive use of fuel and diesel engines on location as its biggest problem.
"Consider how much fuel we use. Generators, night shoots, 'distant locations,' trucks per shoot, idling trucks, moving cranes, moving everything, people, wardrobe, grip equipment, out to the set and back, move locations, fly crews and helicopters," film and TV producer Judith James wrote in Traction, an online publication for women in Hollywood.
Studio executives agreed.
"The infrastructure within the studio is much more conducive to green guidelines, but once production goes on location it gets more difficult," said Shelley Billik, vice president of environmental initiatives for Time Warner Inc's Warner Bros, but added that studios were increasingly shooting in areas around New Mexico and in Vancouver due to their environmental advocacy.
"There's no question that shooting on location uses a lot of energy, and we're looking at ways to reduce our impact... running tests with biodiesel fuel and solar energy to power our production equipment, and exploring new technologies such as more efficient LED lighting and using digital cameras," said Jim Kennedy, a spokesman at Sony Pictures, a unit of Sony Corp. He added that more needs to be done industry-wide.
Rachel Webber, director of Energy Initiatives for News Corp, said her company works hard to find vendors who offer low-carbon products and services and to encourage behavioral change among crews when shooting on location.
"One of our current priorities is measuring the supply chain carbon impact of our film and TV productions," she said.
The studios have made some big green strides.
In 2007, News Corp's 20th Century Fox, General Electric Co's NBC Universal, Viacom Inc's Paramount, Sony Pictures, Walt Disney Co, Warner Bros. and the West Coast broadcast and production arms of Disney's ABC and CBS Corp collectively diverted 20,862 tons of studio sets and other solid waste from landfills to reuse and recycle, according to Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).
As a result, the studios prevented the emission of 65,497 metric tons of greenhouse gasses -- the annual equivalent of removing 14,176 cars from the road, the MPAA said.
The MPAA in April also released a Best Practices Guide for Green Production, but Melissa Patack, vice president of state government affairs of the MPAA, said setting industry standards is tough because the business is so fragmented.
"There are a lot of components to production and a lot of different parts moving simultaneously, which poses a challenge for standardization of environmental practices," she said. "There isn't one template that fits everyone."
As it addresses these challenges, Hollywood and its stars can always at least be counted on getting the message out.
Later this month, former TV host Sonny Fox will bring together producers and writers in Los Angeles to discuss how to integrate climate change into story lines of prime time shows.
Editing by Andre Grenon, Bernard Orr