How to Green-ify Awards Season
Habits of Waste founder Sheila Morovati gives tips on cutting the plastic water bottles, ditching the Escalade and opting to rewear on the red carpet.
This story is part of The Hollywood Reporter's 2023 Sustainability Issue (click here to read more).
As the 2023 awards season fades into the rearview mirror, it's time to look past the big winners and red carpet moments to the long-lasting environmental impact of major awards shows, and how it can be improved going forward. Sheila Morovati, founder of sustainability nonprofit Habits of Waste, has made the fight against single-use plastics in Hollywood, and at large, her mission, and has put a particular spotlight on the use of plastic water bottles at awards events.
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Morovati points out that for years, companies like Fiji Water and Icelandic Glacial have partnered with shows -- including the Golden Globes, Grammys, Critics Choice Awards and Spirit Awards -- as sponsors, leading to hundreds of plastic bottles being consumed by guests. The brands have also become part of the culture, with the meme-able moments of the Fiji Water Girls walking down red carpets; Michelle Yeoh even pretended to be a Water Girl at this year's Independent Spirit Awards, bringing around trays of plastic bottles to passersby.
"A lot of these awards shows are really just banking on the sponsorship dollars from the Fiji Waters of the world, the Icelandic Waters of the world, without realizing how many people are watching and how many people are actually being affected," Morovati says, noting that some environmentally minded celebrities have also made it clear that they don't want to be photographed with the bottles and used to promote plastic.
She calls on the water companies to come up with more sustainable ways to promote their brands at the shows, which can be as simple as switching to glass bottles or cans. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, only 9 percent of plastics are recycled worldwide, while the EPA reported glass at a recycling rate of 31.3 percent and cans at about 50 percent. And Morovati notes water companies have shown they could make the change, as when Icelandic sponsored the Golden Globes, they served plastic water bottles on the carpet but had glass bottles on the tables inside.
The fight is also part of Habit of Waste's larger "Lights, Camera, Plastic" initiative, which is aiming to eliminate any portrayals of single-use plastics onscreen and replace them with sustainable options to denormalize their usage.
"I think it's time; it's time that by next year, every single awards show should be plastic-free," Morovati says. "There are alternatives now; there are other ways to do this that will not impose too much of a burden on the production." She points to the Oscars as the one show doing it right, as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has cut single-use plastic and this year has a partnership with Red Carpet Green Dress Global on a Sustainable Style Guide, among other environmental initiatives.
SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher also mentioned in her SAG Awards speech a mission to end single-use plastics on-camera and behind the scenes, which Morovati says was an important step: "It takes people like her that can stand up in front of this entire industry and make statements that everyone's listening to."
On top of the plastic plan, Morovati has some other ideas as to how awards shows -- and their A-list guests -- can make a big impact with some small green changes. She celebrates that several of the shows in recent years have served vegan meals, saying a statement like that goes beyond just the moment as well: "Of course, the carbon offset right there from thousands of meals is huge, but at the same time, it's the millions of people who are influenced by it afterward [on TV], I think is the best part of it all."
Sustainable fashion is also a big step, which stars like Cate Blanchett -- who at the SAG Awards wore a reworked version of a dress she had worn to the 2014 Golden Globes and 2018 Cannes Film Festival -- have embraced.
"I think getting more and more vintage dresses on the red carpet is so cool and just rewiring part of the culture now and let that be a cool thing," Morovati says. "I think it's again another way to kind of reset a new normal amongst society that you don't need to have a brand-new dress for every single time. The impact that the fashion industry has on our planet is enormous, and sometimes we forget about that."
Awards shows also typically see hundreds of black Escalades drop off/pick up each guest and their date, which Morovati suggests could be replaced by electric vehicles, possibly even at the suggestion of the awards show itself.
"It would be nice if the awards show, prior to the event, made some suggestions of what you can do to make an impact and make a difference at this awards show: Show up in an electric vehicle, show up in a vintage gown, and talk about these different things all while you're getting interviewed, what matters to you about the environment," she says. "It does sometimes help to just give some guidelines and some suggestions to people who may not be thinking about it."
"These little nudges make such a difference throughout society and for just everyday people," Morovati continues, noting how if stars think, "'How can I make a difference tomorrow on my events day?' that will help them take that final step to making that better decision."