The Camerons first met on the set of Titanic, directed by Oscar winner James Cameron and starring then-actress and environmental activist Suzy Amis Cameron as Lizzy Calvert. Soon after, they married and had three daughters together. The filmmaker then set his sights on his next project: Voyaging to the jungle moon of Pandora. "I was very present on the first Avatar," Amis Cameron tells A.frame, "and I just whispered into Jim's ear, 'You have made the largest environmental film in history, you have to have a green set.'"
Avatar, Cameron's blockbuster epic about the power of living in harmony with nature and the Na'vi's fight against environmental destruction, became the highest-grossing movie of all time, and went on to win three Oscars (Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, and Best Art Direction). By the time the film was released, Amis Cameron (who has since retired from acting) and her sister, Rebecca, had already founded the eco-friendly K-12 MUSE Global School. "What really pushed us over the edge was when we became the first plant-based school in the nation, which won us the title of the greenest restaurant in the world," Amis Cameron says. "We still hold that title."
In 2009, upon the release of Avatar, Amis Cameron headed another major initiative known as Red Carpet Green Dress. "It became very clear that we were going to be going to the Oscars," she recalls. "I had never been before, but it's pretty well known that the first thing [reporters] do is put the microphone up to a woman and say, 'Who are you wearing?' I just really wanted to be able to have a super positive story about it that connected back to the school, children, and sustainability."
In partnership with the Academy, Red Carpet Green Dress expanded its environmental efforts and earlier this year, rebranded as RCGD Global, a women-led global change-making organization bringing environmental and social sustainability to the forefront of the conversation and action within the global apparel and design industry. Meanwhile, Amis Cameron produced the documentaries The Game Changers, about plant-based athletes, and Milked, exposing the impact of the dairy industry, as well as authoring The OMD Plan: Swap One Meal a Day to Save Your Health and Save the Planet.
According to Amis Cameron, it was her success with MUSE Global School that inspired her and her husband to bring their sustainability efforts to the set of Avatar and, even more so, to the production of this year's Avatar: The Way of Water. "I went in with my team, and we found a sustainability officer within the Avatar production and trained them," she shares. The sequel became the first Hollywood production to serve only plant-based food on set.
"They served 55,000 plant-based meals," Amis Cameron explains. "The whole production — two sound stages — was completely powered by solar power. They had filling stations everywhere, and everybody had their own water bottle. We also went in and redid all of the bathrooms, so the faucets and the toilets were low-flow. They saved 29,315,000 gallons of water and an enormous amount of carbon. It was really, really a fun project to work on, because everybody on the set knew how they were making a difference."
Their efforts on The Way of Water didn't just reap environmental rewards. "In the end, they saved money, and saved water, and saved carbon," Amis Cameron points out. "Everyone was and is not only proud to be part of the film, but also proud to know that they helped make a difference. When you're a part of a film production, it becomes like a huge family, and everybody really was proud to have contributed." Now, coming off her work on The Way of Water, Amis Cameron doesn't have to think too hard about the advice she'd offer to another production looking to increase their sustainability efforts.
"I would say offer plant-based meals. One person swapping out one meal a day to a plant-based meal for one year saves 200,000 gallons of water, and the carbon equivalent of driving from Los Angeles to New York. That's just from one person! So, implementing that would make the biggest impact. The second piece of advice I'd offer is to install water filling stations to reduce the number of plastic water bottles on set, because they're usually everywhere. Usually, people take two sips of their water bottle, put it down, and then they can't remember whose it was."
Considering the success of her efforts on Avatar: The Way of Water, Amis Cameron only hopes to expand her reach on the film's forthcoming sequels. For one, RCGD Global has created its own eco-friendly fabric in partnership with Tencel. ("I would be willing to bet that Avatar 3 and 4 and 5 will probably incorporate those things.") She is also interested in providing more in-depth guidance to other film productions through her organization.
"People tend to get a bit paralyzed when they start considering eco-friendly changes to their routines, but there are very simple, elegant solutions that they can adopt."
"We have a track record now with The Way of Water, so we're very interested in being able to give people insight, and give them resources to help them create greener sets or even just put them in touch with plant-based chefs or people that can come in and cater with plant-based food trucks," Amis Cameron says. More than anything, she sees her and RCGD Global's efforts both on and off the set of films like The Way of Water as part of one all-encompassing mission to make a more positive impact on the planet. "The wonderful thing is that the conversation just keeps growing. My kids used to say, 'Oh God, mom, would you just stop? Any subject that comes up is either about eco-fashion or plant-based eating,' but they don't say that anymore. They're all concerned now about the world that we’re leaving them."
"People tend to get a bit paralyzed when they start considering eco-friendly changes to their routines, but there are very simple, elegant solutions that they can adopt, like swapping out one meal a day or shopping at a secondhand store," Amis Cameron continues. In the end, she knows that it takes more than just one sustainable film production to ensure a better future.
"If we don't do something about the environment, it won't matter if we have electric cars. It won't matter if we have sustainable clothes, or sustainable sets, or any of that stuff,” Amis Cameron concludes. "If you're going to do one thing — one thing at all — swap out one of your meals a day for a plant-based meal."