Greener media? How Le Monde’s video journalists track and reduce their carbon footprint

Over the past nine months, Le Monde’s video journalists have developed a solution to monitor their carbon footprint and modified how they work to reduce their environmental impact. In this post, we explain how this was possible and share what we learned along the way. ()

When we began working on a weekly series on the environment, called « Plan B », some questions emerged within Le Monde’s video team : how can we tackle major environmental issues without carrying ourselves any eco-responsible practices? Would we be credible if we flew once a week to talk about climate crisis? In short, can we build trustworthy discussions on climate change with our viewers, without showing ourselves up to our own responsibility?

This question has turned into a challenge. It led our video journalists to design a carbon footprint monitoring tool and to modify their working methods.

A first in France.

A tool to assess our carbon footprint

This ugly (but amazing) document brings together in one place all the carbon emissions (in carbon equivalent, CE) of our journalists’ travels. From a France-Madagascar return flight to small trips of a few metro stations: here is every transport we used.

Our homemade carbon footprint calculator

Planes, trains, subways… each means of transport has its specific column, along with the carbon emission produced by every kilometer. Data comes from the French Environmental and Energy Management Agency (Ademe), official reports from carriers (for German portions of the Thalys railroad, e.g.) and some specialized sites, when we used a NGO boat or a helicopter.

Making a video requires more. We added the carbon footprint generated during filming (everywhere) and video editing (in Paris). In addition to the travel footprint, filming is integrated by calculating the power consumption of a Sony A7 III camera, the most energy consuming camera we have (16.4 Wh), per 8-hour period. Video editing is integrated by adding the power consumption of one 27-inch iMac Retina at full power (262 Wh), also per 8-hour period.

Days of shooting, and days of editing

Now, each journalist coming back from the ground to the newsroom just need to enter the distances travelled along with the type of transport, and the number of days of filming and editing. The document then automatically calculates the carbon footprint of the report, in kilograms of carbon equivalent.

I would love to see this rudimentary tool enriched.

This could be made by adding several things, like the electrical consumption of less power-consuming devices: wireless mouses, smartphones, external hard drives...

We could also specify the consumption linked to the use of computer servers, by journalists, but more crucially by our thousands (millions !) of viewers. This carbon footprint is still difficult to assess, as it depends on the network, the device that was used and the viewer’s location.

As we wanted to share our experience with our viewers, the carbon footprint of each video is now indicated in the end credits.

The carbon footprint is shown at the lower right corner of the screen

What did we learn? First, that confirmed one thing: one single flight completely undermines any effort made elsewhere. The air travels from Paris to Guyana and Madagascar represent 95.4% of the total carbon footprint of the whole video program, while only 19% of the videos produced for it.

The car also increases the balance sheet: 60 km by car between Britanny’s small village of Morlaix and the city of Brest produced six times more carbon than the return trip Paris-Morlaix by train, that is 1,000 km long.

Overall, the 25 videos we produced between September 2019 and February 2020 emitted approximately 16.6 tonnes of carbon equivalent. As a comparison, each French emits around 9 tonnes of CO2 per year, which is four times more than recommended by Ademe.

Giving ourselves new rules for energy savings

This calculator would be just a gadget if it was not a stimulus to do better.

Here are the new rules we follow :

  • We never fly for reports in mainland France or in neighbouring countries;
  • We give priority to overnight stays over a same day return trip that would involve a fast but polluting transport solution (car or plane).
  • On a city scale, we only travel by public transport.
  • If we must fly, we try to extend the travel to carry out at least two reports.

This is a first step! Please, feel free to try and improve this calculator.

🌱

Head of video @lemondefr, journalist • Co-funded a longform mag @LeQuatreH & a local film library @CinemathequeN • occasional mead maker

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