How to make a short video on sustainability

How to make a short video on sustainability


What follows is an easy to understand handbook for the production and publishing of sustainability videos. It incorporates principles from a rubric mentioned in the introduction. This framework was created through researching the success of some of the largest developmental projects in the world. The handbook is written in an easy to follow manner in plain, simple English. This work allows a much wider audience to access the communications rubric.

This is a how to do short-form sustainability videos. It is a good representation of the thought process as a project pulls together. This handbook is an opportunity to prompt readers to consider the practical applications of scholarship and how sophisticated research can yield a document that contributes to an easily understood format.

Referenced below are some examples of additional handbooks guiding media and interpersonal sustainability communication. These are, perhaps, more sophisticated and in a more graphic and developed form: (Töpfer & Shea, 2005) (Trussler, 1998) (Townsend, 2013)

While younger video viewers may already be familiar with the basic process of making a video, this easy to understand advice is gleaned from years of my media production experience. Young or old, anyone can learn from this. This handbook is suitable for a junior or senior high school advanced project or college. Beginner environmental communicators all the way up to graduate experts can all find something here that might help their work.

People who have been displaced or are in countries with marginal infrastructure could particularly benefit from this so please share it as far as you can. For instance It could be used following the application of the UNESCO Media Indicators (UNESCO, 2008) to foster the development of democracy and practice free press. This document offers specific practical advice about how to create sustainable communication once the infrastructure for free speech is in place. Think of this as a primer for sustainability communication video production in the digital age.


This handbook describes the basic format of a short sustainability video. It offers production and planning advice and is based primarily on Servaes rubric for sustainability assessment (Servaes, Polk, Shi, Reilly, & Yakupitijage, 2012). Each section builds on the previous. So although one could jump around in the handbook as a way to get familiar with it, it’s best to follow sequentially — step by step. Included at the end is a link list of example videos for inspiration and study.



Think about it, sustainability knowledge!

When making a video about sustainability:

 First watch some short videos related to sustainability that other people have made.

 Then read a bit about the topic of sustainability to help guide the work.

There is a link list at the end of the handbook for short form videos. Additionally, there are some other handbooks on sustainability to get started with. Sustainability issues can be complex. A short form video might only be a guidepost along the way to help people find answers to tough problems. Use the included links to get started and the make some searches on the subject you are interested in. This will generate ideas and conversation starters.

Talk to co-workers, friends and family.

 Talk to the sorts of people that would be interested in the topic.

 Ask them questions about what sustainability means to them and how it effects them.

 Make some notes.

 Think about what the responses are and how it effects them personally.

Gather a team.

Who are the actors in the project off camera and on?

 Network to find interest and skills for video making.

 Identify an entertaining friend that would like to be in the video.

 Identify a camera person.

 Who will edit it?

 What authorities want to help?

 Financial help?


 Technology?

Speak with an expert

Find an expert and have a conversation with them about their ideas of what would make an effective sustainability video. For instance if making a video about recycling talk to an earth science teacher or call up a local recycling plant and ask to speak with a staff member. Or to make a climate change video call the local television or radio station and talk with the weatherman or someone on the staff that makes the weather broadcasts.

Who are the actors in your project off camera and on?

What story do you want to tell?

Sustainability topics:

Health — Governance — Education — Environment

After reading up on the subject, there should be a clearer idea about what can be said and shown. Once the subject is defined a plan must be made to use the short format of the video.

Short form videos limit how much can be presented.

 Make a plan

 What is the script?

 Who is the audience?

 Make the script relevant to the audience.

 Who will appear? Get their informed permission perhaps even written.

For example will the video cover a health topic like organic food? How is local government working to help the poor? How are local school issues in education important? Are local street trees in the community plentiful and well kept?

Remember this is a short video so in the story consider just teasing the audience so that they will be interested in the subject. Then direct them to find more information through a link or a suggestion to read a book.

How far is your reach?

What level is this work for — Personal, Local, Regional, National, International, and Global?

 Is this project just for fun or to learn something?

 Is it to show to friends and family?

 Is it for a company’s board meeting?

 Is it for the high school class?

 Will the video be shown to government leaders?

 Will it go to television as a public service announcement?

 Is it a commercial project?

Decide the scope of audience and then think about what screen(s) to be on and what resources are needed to place the video there.



What resources are there to make a video? What factors support the video?

Consider what resources are available to shoot the video. Is there a professional camera to use? Far reaching videos have also been made with a simple cell phone camera as well. How much time is there? What camera skills are in the team? How will the video be edited? What is each team member’s role?

Who is motivated to help with the video? What is the budget? Are there some people who are interested in helping with their time but not with money? Are there people interested in contributing money only?

Think about all that might be needed to get a project like this done and how each resource might be related.

Perhaps team members are also interested in networking. Consider the project from as many perspectives as possible. Is there food provided for the team? What transportation will move the team and gear to the shot locations? Where is the edit room? Can these things work together somehow? If resources are small ask the team for what is missing.

Location, Location, Location

What locations will be featured? What will be your environment?

Camera Framing

Will the video be outdoors or inside buildings — or both? Think about how those places will look though the viewfinder of the camera. Make a brain storm list of these places. As many places as possible. Then think about how to get access to those locations and cross off the ones that don’t make sense. Make appointments when possible for those locations that are obtainable.


Consider what time of day it will be there and what the light will be like on the shot locations. Shoot as much as possible with the light or sun on the front of the subject and on the back of the camera person. Sunny days are the best and sunny days at sunrise or sunset are spectacular. Planning a shoot at sunrise or sunset can bring enormous production value to the project.

How do these places, and people tell a story?

Bear in mind how each of those locations you shoot can add something to the story.

What activities happen at those sites? Are they busy or serene? Are they noisy or quiet? Picture the people you may want to interview there? Can voices be recorded at these sites? If not consider recording the interview at a place where it’s easy to hear and put the voice over these scenes. Make some specific notes on these observations. Knowing your shot locations before using your camera will enhance the shoot.

Start to pull the project together.

Now make a list of all the places and people you want to include and what those shots will look like. Sketch it out on paper if possible — even stick figures can help to work out where the camera should be and where you want the subject. Doing this can help determine what the places you have chosen will look like through the viewfinder.

Schedule your time, places, people, gear and shots.

Now make a schedule to shoot the video.

How much time is there? How many places will be covered? Are these places public or private? Is permission required to enter the sites? Contact locations ahead if possible– some great spots might only take a phone call or a friendly favor to allow a video camera recording. What camera gear is needed? Shoot in the best light. Perhaps some trips will only be a test shoot to get an idea of how the final shot will look. Determine what time of day the shot will be.

Get in touch with the people you want to interview and make a date with them. Tell them where and when to meet you and your crew (if you have one). Tell them to wear solid color clothes because stripes don’t work well in video.

Set up the shots.

Arrive to locations early to look over the place. Set up before people will arrive and get ready to shoot when they come. That way they will see that a clear plan has been made. Having a plan helps people feel more comfortable on camera. This is because some people are shy or unfamiliar with being interviewed and it builds confidence to know that the people behind the camera are organized and know what they are doing.

Sometimes when setting up to make a video shoot a passersby may become interested. That’s great. Camera shoots are interesting. If curious about these onlookers make an introduction. Perhaps passerby would like to be interviewed. It’s great to get a local person’s perspective on a place, and even better if they speak about on the video. This adds intensity and authenticity. Make sure these participants are informed what the video is for and get their permission.

Now there’s footage.

Congratulations. The project is 1/3 the way through. Now that the camera work is complete, it must be edited. Backup the work. Save often!


Clear, easy to understand, well produced.

Take a look at the material. What app will be used to edit? Bring the video into the edit program and look at how the video pieces tell the story. Cut out the bits that are unclear or unflattering to the subjects. Start to match video pieces together. Sustainability video should be clear, easy to understand and well produced. Pick the shots that are best lit. Look back at notes from preproduction. Think about what will best bring the original message across. Time spent watching all of the video will show how each piece might fit together. Label each clip. Consider the length of time aimed for and pick the best pieces that start to add up to that amount of time. Consider each part of the video as related to all the rest.


Pick music that is interesting — better yet, find a local musician and ask to use their music. Just add some at the beginning and at the end for spice. After you get the video almost done perhaps fade in some music here and there to taste. It is easy to overdo it with music. There is useable music on YouTube. There is music at the free music archive as well. Make sure you give the artist credit! . Make sure that you have the rights to use the music you chose.


After there is an edit of the video that portrays the intended story, get others to take a look at it and offer advice. Wait until the video is pretty much completely edited before you do this. It’s difficult for people to imagine what a video will be like before it is completed. Feedback before this point from people unfamiliar with the process can be confusing (unless they produce or edit video themselves).

Get feedback from those originally spoken with in steps two, three and four. Send the video to a favorite expert and ask their advice on the topic. After this feedback, take some notes and let the video sit for a little while and come back to it. It is surprising how much taking a step back can refresh the eyes. Put together the opening credits and end credits and any web links that are important for viewers. Get your team to have a final look. This is called: prescreening.


Showing the Video

What Channels will be used?

Once there is an initial version completed decide who will see the video for an initial public screening. Is it just for friends and family? Is it for church or school? Will it be played on a computer screen or big screen TV? Perhaps have a viewing party so that the team can show off the creation and celebrate all the hard work.

Will the video be small enough in file size to be played on cellphones? Will the video be seen in a large auditorium before another event? Perhaps advertise it beforehand and make sure it is printed in the program along with credits and links to more info. That way people will know what to expect.

Online Video — YouTube or Vimeo?

What Channels will you use?

Of course, there are many places online to share video. YouTube has many videos but it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. There is a mish mash of quality. Vimeo offers the most sustainability videos. Perhaps this is due to Vimeo’s reputation as a place for quality independent productions rather than merely simply thrown together video from a cell phone with no plan other than to show a cute dog.

Social media

Share the media with friends online. Here’s a suggestion: place the video on Vimeo or YouTube and then link to it in an email address or any other social media like Twitter or Facebook — rather than uploading the video itself everywhere. Encourage conversation about the sustainability topic online in the comments sections.

Further promotion can be made through the efforts of your team in social media. Use email, Facebook, and twitter to promote your work. Create a conversation to carry the message as far as needed to reach the intended audience. Send emails to all the people that might enjoy the work. Use social media and email for low budget promotion. A more significant budget may allow advertising and print media to coincide with these efforts.

Perhaps there are online contests that support the topic covered. When contests are entered make sure that all the team members and actors involved know about the contest and can support the effort as well. Ask the social media folks to up vote and like the media.

Measure success!

Qualitative, Quantitative?

Will a focus group be used to get feedback on the quality of the video? How many have seen it on YouTube? Find some way to measure. This will help determine the success of the project. How will you know if people got your message? Did people understand what was communicated? Did the team seem to like the experience? Create milestones to determine how much was accomplished from the effort.

Resources for the Handbook

Example Primers on Sustainability:




Suggested general sustainability topics.

These could be introduced to lead the viewer to consider an expert opinion or a project. Included are inspirational short-form video examples.

3rd world development

Bees? — Colony Collapse Disorder?


Climate Change

Corporate Sustainability

Wind Power


Conserving Energy At Home


Dwindling Environmental Resources


Environmental Journalism

Environmental Migration

ECO Graphics (Infographics for the environment)

Green Roofs

Global Farming Practices


Lakes and rivers and streams

Local NGO’s that have a story to tell

Ocean Management

Organic Eating




Species Extinction

Sustainability in Design

Sustainable Development — What is it?

Tree Planting

Vanishing glaciers — fact or fiction?

Water and Sanitation

What does it mean to be “organic”?

Wildlife Conservation

Zero Energy House


Servaes, J., Polk, E., Shi, S., Reilly, D., & Yakupitijage, T. (2012). Sustainability testing for development projects. Development in Practice, 22(1), 18–30. doi:10.1080/09614524.2012.634177

Töpfer, K., & Shea, L. (2005). Communicating sustainability: how to produce effective public campaigns. Retrieved from

Townsend, S. (2013). The Naked Environmentalist. Retrieved from

Trussler, S. (1998). the Rules of the Game, 19, 16–19. doi:10.1108/eb039904

UNESCO. (2008). Media Development Indicators : A framework for assessing media development, (March), 102.