Popular television: it’s time to shine a spotlight on clean energy

Dear Hollywood, clean energy is normal, not alternative. And the people fuelling this industry have powerful, underrepresented stories to share.

 

Words

Douglas Miller

This article by Douglas Miller was featured in The Beam #9 – Subscribe now for more.


 

“Identities matter. They guide our perspective and decisions, influence our daily lives and aspirations, and collectively drive social, political and economic outcomes. Identities originate from storytelling. The stories we learn and share ultimately manifest in the belief systems and traditions that shape our identities. Storytelling, thus, begets power.”

As master storytellers with direct access to the hearts and minds of billions of people, television and film production companies wield transformational power. This is why companies pay marketing premium to place their products in popular productions. This is why people fight for years to give representation on-screen to different identities and their voices. This is why the unprecedented diversity of nominations across award categories at the Oscars this year matters so much.

Popular productions, however, play a dance with their audience to get the story right. To attract the largest audiences and highest acclaim possible, television and film productions have to develop appealing, relatable, or inspiring narratives. Successful productions, therefore, tend to better represent their audience and the identities their audience holds.

Screening sustainable energy

In the United States, clean energy jobs already outnumber fossil fuel jobs, despite still providing a relatively small share of the energy mix. Clean energy is also already attracting accelerating rates of investment, overall public favour, and policy support: more and more people will get clean energy jobs in the near term.

As clean energy is becoming a significant and growing source of identity, it offers production companies new material for character identities, dramatic situations and plot development, as well as visual effects.

Imagine more popular TV shows and movies where a prominent character is by chance a residential solar panel installer, energy software modelling geek, wind farm technician, climate policymaker, or clean energy financier.

Imagine a movie or popular TV series where the main character has a fling with a contractor installing a home battery storage system, goes from rags to riches through a clean energy endeavour, involves a road trip in an electric vehicle, or goes to college and meets a spouse through a mutual passion for tackling climate change.

Imagine people talking about these characters and plot twists with their friends after watching the movie or TV show. Keep imagining more ideas for powerful stories and imagery and their impacts.

By integrating more stories and imagery like these into popular TV shows and movies, production companies will not only better represent and connect with their audiences, they will also contribute to establishing a virtuous cycle that further normalises clean energy across society.

Illustration by Rozalina Burkova
Illustration by Rozalina Burkova

There are a few recent examples of clean energy storyline integration in action. In the hit movie A Star Is Born, there is an emotional exchange between two characters based on a decision to convert a ranch into a wind farm and following a brief scene at that wind farm. In a U.S. television commercial during the Super Bowl for American football, Budweiser embedded imagery of wind farms along with its classic Clydesdale icon and its logo on the turbines themselves to proclaim how renewable energy powers its beer production. A prominent character in the top U.S. sitcom Modern Family is an environmental lawyer. The main character in the hit TV series Ozark mentions the benefits of energy-efficient windows in the first episode of the series. A host of the popular home renovation series Property Brothers: Buying + Selling also cites the benefits of energy efficiency.

We need many more examples of clean energy integration in productions to show how clean energy is now normal and no longer ‘alternative’ through the powerful stories and identities of this growing demographic.

We need more examples to foster the virtuous cycle where even more people integrate clean energy into their own life decisions because they see people doing it on-screen.

We also need to place less emphasis on documentaries about environmental issues like An Inconvenient Truth whose impact has plateaued because increasing awareness can only go so far.


Note:

Production companies seeking support for on-screen clean energy content should review a new resource developed by Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and the Green Production Guide called Lights! Cameras! Clean Energy! A Guide to Integrating Clean Energy Norms into Popular Television and Film. The guide also specifies how film schools, film festivals, and city/state/national film offices can encourage increased use of clean energy storylines in productions.


Doug Miller is a Manager at Energy Web Foundation (EWF) in Washington, DC and was the lead author of Lights! Cameras! Clean Energy! A Guide to Integrating Clean Energy Norms into Popular Television and Film in his prior role at Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI).


This article was published in The Beam #9 — Voices from the Global South. Subscribe now to read more on the subject.

This article is also available on our Medium page.