Staying Green In Post

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A lot of emphasis is being placed on saving the environment and operating in a “greener” workplace. That may be easy to see in a production on location, where waste is easy to identify, but how is that applied to post facilities and editing boutiques? Let me outline some simple steps to help you do your part.

 

Water

 

I’m not exactly sure when it became the norm for everyone to have their own personal bottle of water, but palettes of bottled water have taken over the frig at most post houses. If you’ve listened to the news for the most fleeting moment, you should be aware that our landfills are being filled with these plastic bottles in spite of recycling efforts. You can make your contribution by going back to other sources of water for yourself and your clients. After all, the source for what’s in those bottles is generally the same as what’s coming from your tap anyway. You can handle this by something as simple as using a large water supply service to stock a water cooler of the same stuff, but in much larger, recycled containers. Or how about enhancing your customer service and actually bringing your clients a tray of glasses and a pitcher of ice water into the session? While we’re at it, the same logic can be applied to cans of soda.

 

Power

 

Through my decades in the business, common wisdom said that equipment should stay on 24/7 and that more gear dies from being powered up than from staying on constantly. I’m here to tell you that at least with today’s technology, this is total bunk. When you’re done for the day or the week – shut the power off! I’ll admit that I have had some gear break when it was first turned on, but these cases have been rare and nothing in the last ten years. In fact, most of the shops in which I freelance, routinely power down decks, computers and drives at the end of the day. None have had any issues. Hard drives are the only item I tend to see left on, but I would recommend turning these off as well. 

 

Remember that many items use standby power even when the units are off. This standby power feature enables faster startups, but in some cases draws almost as much power as if the unit were still on. I would recommend that you put such gear on a power strip. You can hit one breaker switch and turn off the current feeding that unit, after using the computer’s software shut down. This has the added benefit that you are truly turning off the unit, so the next time the computer is booted, it starts clean and “flushes” out any problems that might have been held by standby power. Macs are especially susceptible to this, as “gremlins” are often held in memory in spite of shutdowns or restarts. These miraculously go away when you actually kill the power to the unit and do a reboot from a true powered down condition.

 

Let me point out that power surges and poorly conditioned power do more harm to gear than whether or not it stays on 24/7. So as a normal installation item, I would recommend that all drives and computers be connected to a large uninterrupted power supply (UPS) from a reliable manufacturer, such as APC. If you get the more expensive models (not the cheapos from an office supply store), they will apply some power conditioning to the signal. Believe it or not, I have seen where the absence of a UPS has caused file loss and/or corruption on a SAN array! All purely a result of the lack of this sort of power conditioning.

 

Air Conditioning

 

Another holdover from the old days is air conditioning. Tape rooms used to be set to about 60 or 65 degrees – and suites close to it – so it was a common sight to see editors and clients in sweaters and even heavy jackets during a session on a hot summer day. The logic was that heat kills gear and so if the ambient temperature was about 65 degrees, then it was hotter inside the equipment racks and probably close to 100 degrees on the circuit boards themselves. Again, technology has advanced since the 1950s. In a recent Google study, their engineers analyzed the failure rates of hard drives at Google data centers. In this study they found that there was no strong correlation between heat and drive failure. The researchers are careful to point out this doesn’t mean that there isn’t one, but that heat is only one of the factors in drive failure rates.

 

Ultimately all drives fail, so you have to balance the energy costs against the hardware replacement costs and decide whether 10 degrees difference in temperature is worth the possibility of gaining an extra year or so of life from your hard drives. Most of the smaller boutiques in which I work haven’t had the luxury of designing large, cold machine rooms that mimic a Google data center. Instead, racks are installed in standard office or remodeled home environments. Since equipment and people share the same spaces, I find that the thermostats are typically set in the low to mid 70 degree range. Low and behold the gear is just fine and anecdotally, I don’t see any higher failure rates than when I worked in the frozen tape rooms of the past.

 

Cleanliness

 

Heat is one factor, but an even bigger factor is how clean your gear stays. Most computers and drives that employ fans, use a front-fed, flow-though ventilation. Air is sucked in the front and pushed out the back. Most of the rooms where you find this gear could hardly be considered a “clean room” environment. Even the cleanliest environment has dirt and dust, especially if there’s carpet. Take a look at the fans or open up your computer occasionally and you’ll be appalled at the amount of dust that’s trapped inside. This dust prevents proper cooling, so if heat is a factor, then this dust is greatly reducing the efficiency of your air conditioning. The best solution is to establish a monthly maintenance routine in which computers are opened and vacuumed out. Drives are removed and either vacuumed or blown out with compressed air. Obviously the latter should be done outside so that you aren’t simply blowing this dust back into the same environment from where it came.

 

File Based Media

 

Many people are discussing the concept that video technology is cleaner than film technology and that ultimately file based digital productions (P2, XDCAM, RED, S.two, etc.) are environmentally better. I haven’t done any sort of analysis on this and quite frankly, many environmental arguments often don’t actually hold up once you look at the total net effect of the alternative. For example, yes, manufacturing film stock and processing negative is a very dirty technology, however, there’s not much 35mm film production being done worldwide anymore outside of the motion picture industry. On the other hand, digital storage for still photographers and videographers is mushrooming – so I don’t think you can definitively say yet whether manufacturing all the solid state storage, hard drives and data back-up tapes to enable this digital revolution is actually cleaner than what it has replaced. After all, manufacturing digital media is not without its own environmental impact.

 

That is, of course, primarily a production question, which means the decision has been made before it gets to the editing suite. On the other hand, there are a lot of things editors and post facilities have historically done to protect assets in post and these practices should be revisited in light of cost and the environment. For instance, if you produce a set of shows, it’s common to output various formats (master, textless, 4×3, 16×9, letterboxed, etc.) to individual tapes. This is an item that is consumed for each piece of programming and even if you get the right length of videotape to match that program, the cost of cassette shells, cases and mechanisms is the same whether it’s a 5 minute or 60 minute program. Hard drives are cheap these days. It makes more sense to archive this content in a data format. You can get many more programs on a single hard drive or even data back-up tape than if videotapes are used. In the future, as massive online storage becomes the norm, courtesy of folks like Google, it might be feasible and in fact preferable, to archive your assets in the Internet cloud and not on-site as a physical piece of media.

 

Review And Approval

 

Edit sessions used to involve working with a client who sat in on the session and then walked with review dubs (3/4”, Beta-SP, VHS, etc.) for their bosses or clients. As our business changed, more of this work has become long distance and I find it to be the exception when a client spends the entire time in the session. At first, this meant making dubs to review (VHS or DVD) and shipping these across the country via Federal Express or another carrier or locally across town using a courier service. Hence, cost for materials – that eventually get tossed into the trash – as well as transportation. Again, the Internet is your answer. Many editors routinely turn to services like YouSendIt, SyncVue or Xprove to send review files to their clients. Internet services have become fast enough and compression quality good enough that it takes next to no time to upload or transfer 320×240-sized review videos at a sufficient quality level to get client feedback and approval. On most of my projects, voice-over recording sessions, music library searches and client review and approval cycles are entirely handled via the Internet. No material or transportation costs involved, so all-in-all, a much more environmentally-friendly process.

 

Even if you don’t believe in many of the environmental or energy arguments offered, it still makes perfect sense to come up with a plan to incorporate these suggestions. If nothing else, they will go a long way towards reducing your business’ operating costs and might just be beneficial for the rest of us, too.

 

©2008 Oliver Peters