Bringing 'eco-reality' to mainstream TV
Last year, we asked TreeHugger readers if green-themed programming could make a comeback on mainstream television. We started the discussion on the heels of the premiere of TerraCycle’s newest show, Human Resources, a reality show on Pivot based out of our Trenton, New Jersey headquarters. We were eager to make a television show that people would have fun watching, but could still learn something about waste and recycling from the unique TerraCycle perspective.
We weren’t sure how Human Resources would be received, especially considering the stigma associated with reality television. Thankfully, the show’s first season was such a success that we’re eagerly awaiting the premiere of season two today, August 7, at 10:00pm ET on Pivot. So what did we learn to get us here today?
Something we picked up right away is that there is an important equilibrium that must be maintained to create successful “eco-reality” television. Reality TV has to be entertaining, but we didn’t want to lose grip of our primary message and mission along the way. We achieved that equilibrium by integrating TerraCycle projects, mission goals and events into each episode, highlighting all the crazy moments and insanity that occur in the office environment. One episode may feature our Materials Sales team as they struggle to find a recycling solution for dirty diapers, while another may follow our Zero Waste Box team as they set up recycling stations at racing competitions for our client GU Energy, makers of sports nutrition products for runners and athletes. Various story arcs follow real TerraCycle initiatives and events, like donating recycled playgrounds to local schools, bringing viewers into our office to see what we do and how we do it.
What also helped during filming was the fact that the stars of the show, TerraCycle employees, were eager to be on camera. This positive attitude helped production significantly and made filming far more organic. The personalities and situations seen on camera are natural, which we attribute to the optimism a majority of our employees had as the film crew went about the office. There are no scripts, and everyone on camera continued to bring great energy to the office on filming days.
More importantly for us, we used Human Resources as the platform for a social action campaign, called Recycle Right, developed in collaboration with Participant Media and nonprofit Recycle Across America. The campaign’s goal is to educate the public about proper recycling in an attempt to decrease confusion, reduce contamination in our recycling streams, and improve recycling rates. Our overall recycling rate in the U.S. is stagnant at best and declining at worst, so it’s never been a more critical time to raise awareness. By introducing standardized recycling bin labels, pushing for product labels like the How2Recycle Label, and by bringing PSAs and other messaging directly to viewer’s TV screens, we think we can help get recycling back on track.
Filming two seasons of reality television has been a wild ride, but it’s been invaluable to our company’s message. While we can’t say for sure that Human Resources will galvanize greater support for mainstream environmental programming, it’s a good start nonetheless. The success of the show is proving that people are interested in reality TV that goes beyond the Jersey Shore club scene and D-list celebrity drama, and we hope that it continues to be as fun for viewers to watch as it was for us to film.
If you want an inside look at what makes a recycling start-up tick, you can watch the premiere episode of Season 2 for free right now at Pivot’s website.