Skip to main content

Operators, Networks Walk The Green Walk

Operators, programmers and their corporate parents aren't just talking the green talk. Companies know that environmental commitment has to begin at home, so recycling programs are being stepped up, compact fluorescent light bulbs are being changed, computers are being shut off at night, and both sides of the paper are being used for printing. And those are just the small steps.

“This is a real opportunity because we can learn about the issue while doing it and build some credibility,” said Rachel Webber, director of energy initiatives at News Corp, which Rupert Murdoch has vowed to make carbon neutral by 2010, by reducing energy waste, utilizing renewable sources and, as a last resort, buying offsets.

Perhaps the highest profile step in the company's “Cool Change” initiative is Fox's announcement that hit series 24 will become the first carbon neutral primetime show.

Fox has also pledged to reduce the carbon footprint of the Primetime Emmy Awards, which will air on Sept. 16. Steps will include using recyclable materials, as well as hybrid and alternative-fuel vehicles, and serving locally grown organic food.

Other programmers including NBC Universal and HBO are also striving to reduce emissions during productions.

Still, Webber said News Corp. is equally committed to what the media and public might consider “the boring stuff” — such as using more efficient boilers and not printing press clippings.

Promising to get to zero emissions for News Corp. overall was vital, Webber said, because “the message has traditionally been steps that are puny and incremental. People are really hungry for solutions and this was the boldest way to make a statement, it's both a symbolic and substantive number.”

News Corp. executives said the internal commitment to the environment has helped foster a more positive work environment.

“It helps with recruiting and retention, making this a more attractive place to work,” said John Moore, vice president of environmental, health and safety for Fox Cable Networks.

At News Corp., for instance, they offer a rebate of up to $4,000 for any employee buying a hybrid vehicle, while NBCU offers discounts on energy-efficient appliances from parent company General Electric's “Energy Star” line.

Networks and cable operators stress that they are offering ways to encourage employees to become greener at home and at work, and companies are also looking to their employees for suggestions.

NBCU created a Green Council of top executives from every unit to monitor the companywide “Get On Board” campaign. The council is starting with a survey of the entire company, said Lauren Zalaznick, president of Bravo and chair of the Green Council.

“We want to know what our internal constituency wants and what their attitudes are,” Zalaznick said. “We'll craft our corporate strategy around employee expectations.”

Many networks, like HBO are outlining tips in handbooks such as the “HBO In-House Production Environmental Handbook,” which suggests requiring contractors to detail plans for salvaging and recycling of construction and demolition waste, asking producers to use metal scaffolding instead of wood and ensuring that wood used on the set is sustainable not endangered. It also encourages productions to buy local or organic produce and to donate leftovers rather than throwing them away.

At Time Warner Cable, the company has started printing its monthly newsletter on the highest recycled paper harvested from sustainable, managed forests with a printing process that uses 100% wind power.

At the Sundance Channel, which is undergoing a green audit and has provided “sustainability training” for all its employees, the “Green Office” newsletter exists only on the computer, distributed via e-mail. The company also established a Green Ideas mailbox for e-mailed questions and suggestions.

Many companies, including NBCU, provide an internal Web site offering employees green tips. At Fox, the cable unit is going to host environmental fairs so vendors can inform employees about everything from solar power to compact bulbs to improved insulation; and there's also a Cool Counselor in every department to get ideas from staffers, communicate and integrate new initiatives. And The Weather Channel is holding periodic Green Forums to share ideas and information.

Many company changes, especially technological innovations, are being installed and implemented in a way that radically changes the workplace without requiring drastic changes from employees.

Discovery Communications is seeking Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver certification for its headquarters and, thanks to carbon offsets, has been carbon neutral since the start of 2007, Discovery Communications executive vice president of global shared services Larry Laque said.

Among the key components are light sensors in the hallways, which permit the company to rely on natural light as much as possible, with internal lights clicking on automatically when needed. That saves 105,000 kilowatt hours each year, according to Laque, who said that “employees get jazzed about this when we show them that this is the equivalent of removing 23 cars driving 12,000 miles per year from the road.”

By retrofitting the garage lighting system to handle compact fluorescents instead of incandescents, Discovery is saving another 240,000 kilowatt hours — or 53 of those automobiles.

Dual flush toilets in the ladies' bathrooms (which uses the full amount of water only for solid waste) save 100,000 gallons of water per year, while low-flush urinals in the men's room use just one-eighth the amount of water; and faucets deliver water in a more diffuse, efficient stream. Discovery's gardens also have an irrigation system that uses grey (already used) water.

At The Weather Channel, landscaping plans call for switching to plants and shrubs that won't require an irrigation system.

Fox Network Groups is creating automatic shutdown for personal computers so PCs will go off when not in use for extended periods. It has also replaced traditional bulbs with LED lights in all the master control rooms in Houston and is using recirculating water for its cooling towers.

Fox, Sundance and Discovery among others are all looking for vendors with green cleaning supplies, paints, sealants and lacquers. The Weather Channel is even installing carpets made from recycled material, and Sundance's business cards and stationary are printed on recycled paper with soy-based ink.

Fox's National Geographic Channel partner, the National Geographic Society, boasts having the first certified LEED green building, said Kiera Hynninen, senior vice president of marketing and media strategy at NatGeo.

The building, which became LEED certified in 2003, uses 35% less energy than the average building and has features like automatic lights that shut down when no one is in the room.

Among cable operators, Comcast is making its green intentions known in a big way … a really big way. The company signed a 15-and-a-half-year lease for 39 floors in what is now called the Comcast Center — the tallest green building in America.

The building, developed by Liberty Property Trust, will use glass to filter light and reduce extreme heat and cold. It will also feature waterless urinals, construction materials and carpeting made from recycled materials, high ceilings (13-17 feet) for larger windows and thus more natural light.

Time Warner Cable in Austin joined the city's Green Choice program. The operator has committed to using green energy and paying a premium that would get plowed back into alternative energy sources.

The division helped the city purchase a wind farm. “We couldn't afford not to do it,” said Lidia Agraz, vice president of public affairs there. “We're one of the city's biggest employers, with 1,600 people, and this is for the common good of the city.”

Time Warner San Diego has a fleet of 20 vehicles that all use alternate fuels, following in the footsteps of Cablevision Systems' News 12 division in the Bronx, N.Y., which in 2004 became the first local television news organization in the country to replace its entire active car fleet with the hybrid Toyota Prius. News 12 has since converted its Brooklyn fleet to hybrids as well.

When Sundance uses car services, they also use hybrids. Fox's networks are moving toward using biodiesel fuel for generators on productions and relying on hybrid vehicles and buses to move people to locations; and Cox Communications is phasing in a plan to replace all vehicles with more fuel efficient models. Cox is also planning to retrofit one of its California systems with solar panels.

And companies are constantly exploring new ways to change employee behavior for the better. Fox Sports Net Ohio has stopped providing bottled water, instead adding water purification filters to the taps and giving employees reusable cups.

Likewise, Discovery has contracted with a coffee and beverage vendor in the building to replace the plastic cups with reusable mugs. The company has also removed the trash bin from the kitchen area to encourage staffers to use the recycling bins.

“Even with the recycling there, a lot of people just throw stuff in the trash,” Laque said. “We want to force them to think about where they throw stuff.”

Discovery provides only 100% recyclable paper and anyone who wants a different stock has “to go through a whole process to get it — we're making it harder to take shortcuts,” Laque said.

At The Weather Channel, general manager and executive vice president Wonya Lucas said what had the biggest impact on employees was eliminating Styrofoam and disposables from the cafeteria, replacing them with real plates and cups.

“Now you can't just eat at your desk and toss stuff out without thinking about this,” she said. “They're reminded about conserving daily when they have to wash the plates and cups.”

Laque also cited challenges and contests — such as offering prizes to the floor that saves the most energy by shutting off their lights and computers at night — as a great way to give employees incentives to conserve.

Then there is the matter of employees' commutes. Lucas said that since Atlanta isn't a mass transit-friendly city, Weather is helping to coordinate carpools and encouraging telecommuting.

Cox's Arizona system has a new program that will have 325 customer-service representatives working from home by the end of next year, which will reduce its electricity use and the number of cars on the road. Most Cox systems also have a “homestart” program for field representatives, reducing car traffic by eliminating those initial journeys to the office.

In Austin, where the city offers free bus service on high ozone days, Time Warner's Agraz has asked the city for a bus stop in front of the office. And Hynninen says National Geographic Channel is stepping up video conferencing to reduce longer travels.

Even with all that they have accomplished or have planned, the networks and operators know there remains plenty more to do. And while they hope their efforts give them credibility with the public, they try not to sound self-congratulatory.

“We don't expect pats on the head for what we're doing,” Zalaznick said. “And we're not saying, 'Now we're done.' This is just the first step.”