Lights. Camera. Let's Take Action!

Can moves towards a greener cinema sector help to bring audiences back to the silver screen? | By Kavarna Spence

Lights. Camera. Let's Take Action!
Photo by John Moeses Bauan / Unsplash

Although Covid-19 has largely received the ‘roll credits’ treatment in the UK, the world of cinema has yet to recover from the severe hit it took during the pandemic.

Ticket sales remain 30% lower than pre-pandemic figures, and the proliferation of home streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+ have only exacerbated the industry’s woes. Last year, the world’s second-largest cinema chain, UK-based Cineworld, was reported to have filed for bankruptcy protection in the United States.

Could one way of attracting audiences back to the silver screen involve making their cinema-going experience greener and more sustainable?

From discarded snack containers and beverage cups to printed tickets, large air conditioning systems and energy-consuming projectors, the waste culture of cinemas has previously been as sticky and unavoidable as stepping on littered popcorn as you leave a screening.

A study released by GOV.UK disclosed that the UK built environment (buildings and infrastructure) accounts for 25% of national greenhouse gas emissions whilst 40% of the approximate 9.5 million tonnes of food wasted each year is attributable to the entertainment and hospitality sector.

So, cinemas undoubtedly play their part in damaging the environment, but what if they introduced policies which chime with the public’s greater awareness of the climate crisis and sustainability issues?

The Lexi is giving cinema the green light

Following broader discussions on how the UK's corporate sector can make strategic moves toward sustainability, the British Film Institute has outlined a strategy on how to run a sustainable cinema.

Its 10-step plan prioritises efficient energy management, working with local suppliers that endorse ethical causes, and basic sustainable methods that can be incorporated into standard work practices. All of these are objectives that the Lexi Cinema in London proves are attainable.

A volunteer-run, independently-owned venue located in Kensal Rise, the Lexi inhabits a previously derelict Edwardian building that had last been used as a pool club. It claims to be the only social enterprise cinema, not only in London but the entire UK.

“We opened in 2008 thanks to entrepreneur and philanthropist Sally Wilton,” says the Lexi’s cinema and programme director, Rosie Greatorex. “As a social enterprise, 100% of our profits go to our covenant charity, the Sustainability Institute in South Africa.”

Greatorex explains that the Sustainability Institute is a green living and education hub that centres its focus on transformational learning towards sustainability.

“We’ve donated around £100,000 to the Institute so far,” she continues.“This revenue then supports numerous youth programmes from after school clubs to a nursery school. Their methods use nature as a tool for learning as well as the training of local farmers in environmental agricultural methods and the replanting of indigenous trees.”

Taking action

The Lexi team believes that social justice and change and climate justice are interdependent, and that sustainability should always be at the heart of what they do. To that end, the cinema adopted a development plan in 2013.

“For cinemas, a large part of the carbon footprint is caused by electrical equipment, that is air conditioning and heating systems, lights and movie projectors,” says Greatorex. It’s calculated the average movie theatre burns 20,000 kWh of electricity which converts to 8.7 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted.

“We started with loft insulation and then installed instantaneous hot water heaters in our toilets and bar alongside low-energy radiators” explains Greatorex, walking through the timeline of redevelopment. “We later switched to Ecotricity as our energy supplier.” According to Julies Bicycle, Ecotricity utilises entirely renewable energy consisting of 80% wind and 20% hydropower sources, both advantageous through their zero air and water pollution.

Other installed adjustments have included solar panels, LED panels and energy-efficient Barco projectors fitted in both screening rooms. Greatorex adds: “We are nearly completely paperless in our office with the inclusion of movie tickets, and our bar snacks are served in refillable glass jars that customers return to us to minimise waste."

“The easiest way to implement sustainable principles in the front house is through reusable packaging and recycling methods which can be managed through not using suppliers that use unnecessary plastic packaging.”

By revolutionising typical cinema practises with these methods, the Lexi is leading the way towards a greener future for movie theatres, one which environmentally-conscious audiences can buy into.

Over 400 volunteers have supported the Lexi cinema over the years, proof that its values have motivated the local community to participate in its green project.

Through a series of crowdfunding campaigns, volunteers and local businesses were able to further contribute to the cause developing what is now known as the Lexi Hub. Built from entirely recycled materials featuring a green roof, The Hub serves as a catalyst for school programmes, live Q&As with film producers, and a women-only refugee film club in an effort to share their love of movies, community, and sustainability to the masses.

Kavarna Spence is a journalism student at the London College of Communication, UAL