5 Tips On Making Your Business Greener From Matthew Modine

Filmaker Matthew Modine talks about how he's helped the film industry go green, and how you can help your industry too.
Contributing writer and columnist, Business Insider
August 17, 2011

Actor and filmmaker Matthew Modine—of “Full Metal Jacket” and “Vision Quest” fame—is also an avid environmentalist. In fact, he couldn’t be more unlike the corrupt city developer he plays on Showtime’s Weeds. While not filming the last installment in the Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, or promoting his latest project, Jesus Was A Commie, he is living and promoting a green lifestyle—for example, with his DO-ONE Campaign, a viral video project that encourages and empowers individuals to "Do One" thing everyday to reduce consumption and wastefulness.

“The film industry is always working to reduce waste on sets,” he says. “Most of the artists in the business are progressive thinkers, so there are great efforts to recycle on sets. Some are better and more conscious than others.”

We spoke with him about the environmental impact he’s had on the film industry and how small businesses can apply similar principles to become greener and more sustainable:

1. Change the old system and bring in new ideas

In the mid-90s, Modine convinced the William Morris Agency to do away with printing single-page scripts and instead print them double-sided. This effectively cut paper consumption in half.

“I shared this idea of paper reduction with other actors and agencies, and today, double-sided scripts are a film industry standard [that has] saved billions of sheets of paper over the years,” he says.

While working on location in Ouerzazate, Morocco, Modine noticed how the local crew was littering water and soda bottles all over the desert, not only disrupting many of the film shots, but also trashing the town. He helped institute a plastic-bottle deposit and recycling program.

“The effort not only cleared the desert of littered bottles, but also provided young kids that collected the bottles with pocket money,” he says.

2. Create realistic goals

You’re not going to totally change your company overnight or suddenly find yourself the next Al Gore. Start with a few attainable transitions like turning off equipment when it’s not being used and communicating by e-mail to avoid printing and faxing paper.

You may also consider using a paper supplier that offers maximum-recycled content and working with other suppliers that reuse packaging, as well as refurbishing products and furniture instead of replacing them.

Modine suggests Interface Carpet: “They were recycling carpets, re-purposing old carpets, collecting old ones and putting them into their big machine and grinding them up before people were even saying ‘recycling,’” he says. “They design their carpets into squares that can easily be removed and replaced if they are stained or damaged. This way the entire carpet doesn't have to be removed.”

3. Work with the community

Support other local businesses by sourcing what you can from them. This not only reduces your carbon footprint, but creates a community of support for your business.

“I always try to buy things I need from locally-owned and operated businesses,” says Modine. “Barter with them for services. Trade merchandise and build strong alliances. See if you can obtain everything you are selling within 50 miles of your business. Of course it will be impossible for some merchandise, but try. This creates a strong fabric of individual threads.”

While this type of community networking might be easier in New York, Los Angeles and other big cities, within these cities are actually tiny communities of people collaborating.

“People [everywhere] want to gather, talk and share ideas,” says Modine. “Look at the success of all the tiny independently-owned coffee shops. These are cozy places where ideas are shared. Seek out those places, or get a group of people and invest in a shop where people can gather and ideas can be shared.”

4. Be transparent with your environmental values

People are attracted to businesses with high standards. “Consumers are willing to pay a bit more if they know businesses are truthfully protecting the environment with their business practices,” says Modine. “If they get caught lying, as Whole Foods has a couple of times, their loyal customers move away and become suspicious. [You want to] maintain consumer confidence.”

5. Do some research on your community

Contact the Environmental Protection Agency and see what your business can do locally. Don’t do business with known polluters in your community. In New York, Modine is a proponent of the clean water organization the Riverkeeper Alliance.