Binge watching has become a common leisure activity of the modern age. But do we know how much our viewing is costing the planet? Jess Gower, Australian actress turned climate tech entrepreneur, is on a mission to rewrite the script and reduce the impact of your entertainment.
It’s Friday night. You nonchalantly kick your feet up, lay back on the couch with a Cosmic Microwave NEIPA and a pizza. Netflix suggests you continue watching the series you’ve been passively binging for the past three evenings. It’s an environmentally innocuous activity, isn’t it? Friday night Netflix? Your beer was brewed within a 5km radius and your pizza is made from vegan, organic and local ingredients delivered to your door by a local hipster on a bicycle. Aside from growing ancient wheat in the backyard and brewing your own honey mead, I’m not sure how much more environmentally conscious you can get.
You may be surprised to know that it’s not your culinary activities driving up your individual carbon footprint. It’s your latest TV series that is the problem. According to the inaugural carbon footprint report from the Sustainable Production Alliance, an average 1-hour of scripted TV drama emits 77 tonnes of CO2 (for context, the average Aussie household emits around 18 tonnes of CO2 per year). If you’re squirming in your seat thinking about the impact of your binging habit, you may also think twice before sitting back for the next Blockbuster: the average emissions of a Blockbuster Film round out at about 3000 tonnes of CO2. That’s the equivalent of 11 one way trips to the moon! Frightening, isn’t it. Australian actress and producer, Jess Gower, was frightened by these numbers too, thus she began her journey into climate tech.
The average emissions of a Blockbuster Film rounds out at about 3000 tonnes of CO2. That’s the equivalent of 11 one way trips to the moon!
For Jess, the path into climate tech was not linear. ‘As a kid, if we looked into a crystal ball, I would never have believed it if someone had seen climate and clean energy technology in my future.’ A shy child, Jess was drawn to the arts as a way of expressing herself. “Acting was self development in a way,” she says, “finding what I needed in order to find my voice.” Jess pursued acting straight out of high school and moved to LA to follow her dreams.
Jess found those dreams in LA and enjoyed an illustrious 20 year career as an actress and producer. She starred in numerous films and television series including Blade: The Series and other local classics like All Saints and Blue Heelers. After two decades in the industry, Jess’s worldview changed, ‘some of the magic wore off for me’, she says. She started to become aware of her impact. Her impact as a performer and her impact, ‘as just a human on the planet.’
During the pandemic, Jess changed tack. She undertook a Master of Arts Screen in Business and Leadership at the Australia Film, Television and Radio School to learn more about the business of screen production. While researching for her Capstone Project, she uncovered the staggering environmental cost of the industry and the numbers that had you questioning your latest Netflix binging habits just moments ago. ‘I discovered that creating screen entertainment generates CO2 and waste, leaving a large footprint on our environment,’ she says.
'We have a social responsibility to create these stories with the smallest impact to our environment as possible.’
Spurred by this new recognition of the impact of her industry, Jess sought to re-think screen production practices. In 2022, Jess and her partner, Puven Pather (also a veteran of the film industry), founded Equoia with a vision to reduce emissions from the entertainment industry. ‘As an industry that uses the human condition as a tool to tell stories and entertain, we have a social responsibility to create these stories with the smallest impact to our environment as possible,’ Jess believes.
In 2022, Jess joined EnergyLab’s Women in Climate and Energy Fellowship to learn more about climate tech and build a community of women in the climate space. ‘I was craving community,’ she says, ‘I wanted to surround myself with other women solving complex problems. I wanted to feel a part of something.’ When reflecting on her time in the program, Jess commented, ‘being part of a collective of change makers was thought provoking and supportive.’
‘I wanted to surround myself with other women solving complex problems. I wanted to feel a part of something.’
Acting may seem a long way from tech entrepreneurship but Jess has embraced the challenge. She admits the learning curve is steep ‘everyday I’m learning something new. I have to get used to the fact that it won’t be comfortable.’ Despite at times feeling out of comfort zone, Jess relies on her industrious nature and her self belief to keep moving forward, ‘Acting is the same kind of beast,’ she says, ‘no one believes in you, you have to believe in yourself and what you are trying to achieve. I have the spirit to just keep showing up for myself.’
‘I have the spirit to just keep showing up for myself.’
Showing up is paying off. In 2023, Jess’s company, Equoia, will introduce their first product with a Demo Day to the industry and are focused on building out their team, working on their third product iteration and expanding their operations.
The next time you sit down to relax on a Friday night, hopefully you can kick your feet up and enjoy that Cosmic Microwave alongside the latest Netflix drama, knowing that Jess is rewriting the script for a cleaner entertainment industry.
Words by Milly Young