How to lower your carbon footprint as a photographer
Worrying about the planet can be overwhelming, especially when we live in an energy-driven world. But it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. Yes, we all own climate change and carbon dioxide emissions are unavoidable, but leaving a carbon footprint doesn’t have to be!
Instead of going into panic mode, let’s first focus on our own carbon footprint. So what is a carbon footprint (CF)?
“Although greenhouse gases occur naturally, human activity contributes a great deal to greenhouse gas emissions. Your carbon footprint — or your impact on the environment — measures the greenhouse gases that you are responsible for creating”.
To be a functioning human being and a contributing citizen in today’s society, we know we need energy. And without rerouting our entire livelihood, choosing to make small conscious choices instead, can lead to a huge impact! When we frame it like so, solutions seem more attainable and therefore become more actionable. We can start to erase our CF contributions by taking responsibility for the trail we’ve left and following the tips below to help erase our tracks:
- Unplug your devices…
- Switch to LED light bulbs…
- Use rechargeable batteries…
- Thrift your lens and equipment…
- Buy ethically…
- Sell, donate, repurpose, or throw out old equipment responsibly…
- Travel green…
- Purchase carbon offset…
- Switch to environmentally-friendly photography products…
- Use best practices for film photography…
- Utilize Sprout Studio’s green features…
1. Unplug your devices
Yes, photographers, we are all guilty of doing this!! You may think, what difference does it really make if I just let my battery pack sit on the power bar — the battery isn’t even inserted! Think again. “Vampire power” is responsible for draining up to $19 billion in energy every year. Anytime your cord is plugged into a socket, it’s drawing energy, so although your device isn’t charging, you’re still contributing to your carbon footprint.
2. Switch to LED light bulbs
Oh, light… our never-ending love affair with light as photographers. If you haven’t made the switch yet, watt are you waiting for?! Seriously, LED bulbs use drastically less energy to produce the same amount of light and last more than 50 times longer! They are cool to touch, less susceptible to damage from shaking or vibrations, and most are easier to recycle than incandescents.
Bi-color LED lights are also a great option for professional photographers because they offer dual settings, tungsten or daylight, where you have the ability to adjust the color temp typically from 3200K-5500K, which eliminates the need for separate lighting. Do you require strobe or speed lights? Opt for products that are listed as energy-efficient and hold a longer battery charge. And of course, natural light is the best light!
3. Use rechargeable batteries
Today, most devices come with a rechargeable battery pack of some sort. However, if your device requires standardized batteries like AA, AAA, and so on, there are great universal, rechargeable options widely available at fair prices. Such as Energizer AA/AAA Battery Charger with 4 AA Batteries available at Amazon for $22*. These batteries also lose very little energy (less than 2% a month) when stored on a shelf. Psst… if you do have just a battery pack, remember suggestion 1 and unplug everything from the power bar once finished.
*Amazon price subject to change. Conversion rate not applied.
4. Thrift your lenses and equipment
Did you know that fast-fashion is the world’s second-largest polluter?! With 1.2 billion tonnes tons of textile waste attributed annually (2018, DownToEarth) and 1% truly getting recycled, we ask you to think twice about that trendy new camera bag. Camera retailers, both big and small, commonly sell gently-used bags that are in great condition. They also *almost always* sell used gear and equipment. This brings us to the bigger ‘trend-spending’ habit of professional photographers: the gadgets.
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Now gadgets aren’t exactly made from textiles, but they sure do follow the short-lived popularity of fast-fashion trends. We get it, the latest tech is extremely tempting and photographers are constantly getting bombarded with newer, faster, upgraded devices. But before you buy on impulse or with the notion that you need this item, take a moment to consider what the desired result(s) is from the purchase. Can you buy the same or similar product and achieve a likewise outcome? The used department from retailers such as B&H or Henry’s are a great preliminary search options for the carbon-conscious, as well as Facebook Marketplace or even asking around your photography friends/community groups. Another great tip is to buy a lens adapter, that way you can keep up with the latest techniques and artistry.
5. Buy ethically
If you would rather buy new over used, you can still reduce your carbon footprint by consciously choosing companies who support and implement these environmental practices. Stray far away from those who use cheap labor, provide unsafe working conditions, and operate in countries with low environmental regulations.
A company like GROUNDTRUTH is an excellent forerunner in ethically and environmentally made bags. Every single element in their range is made from 100% recycled material, has a 15-year guarantee and identifies as carbon-neutral. They estimate by their third year, their products will have removed more than 3 million plastic bottles from the environment. Read more about their purpose here and check out their bags here.
Tech-wise, Cannon has led the pack with their own Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives since 1990. They annually release a public report on their past, present, and future sustainability efforts. They participate in Energy Star’s high-efficiency program, offering over 200 Energy Star certified products that reduce fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions. They continue to aid the Canadian Red Cross’s immediate and long-term relief efforts. They’ve hosted Environmental Education Day every year since 2017, as well as launched the Branch Out program that provides employees the opportunity to participate in local green initiatives. They have also issued their own Procurement Standards Act that emphasizes the priority over using environmentally-friendly materials and parts in their products. You can even search for materials contained in their products here. Their dedication and commitment to environmental conservation continues to be recognized, as Canon Canada was just named one of Canada’s Greenest Employers in 2019.
To be intentional about your purchases, you need to do your research. This can be as simple as a quick Google search. Companies who strive for social change will typically have it broadcasted somewhere on their website. If you’re ever unsure, reach out and just ask — remember a question like that has the power to make a greater change.
Here are some other green companies and products who popped up on our radar:
6. Sell, donate, repurpose, or throw out old equipment responsibility
So you’ve got old equipment and it’s not currently being used as art on your mantelpiece… If it is still in good condition, we urge you to sell or donate it before throwing it to the bin.
So make some cash while being green-conscious:
Trade it to…
And if you have to throw it (defective, damaged, etc.) do so properly and responsibly:
Recycle My Electronics Ontario
Canon Recycle Locations
US Environmental Protection Agency Locations
…Plus, recycle your toner with Cannon!
7. Travel green
This one is a tough one for professional photographers, especially with the amount of gear and luggage one may have to bring on location. So when you can: carpool, train, tram, or bus it! Carpooling is notably more relevant when you have a team of photographers on a shoot and not so much when you’re working solo. However, putting an option in your client questionnaire (ie. for an on-location portrait session) to coordinate a carpool pick-up and drop-off as apart of your company’s green initiatives, could be a unique alternative and cool customer experience booster.
It may seem strange, but you’d be surprised what an impact it can make when you share your mission with your clients. The OneTreePlanted.org reports that “87% of consumers will buy a product based on values, 70% of consumers say companies have an obligation to support issues that may be unrelated to everyday businesses, and 7/10 millennials are hopeful businesses will lead social and environmental change.”
As for wedding destination and travel photographers, a great resource for green accommodations is Global Stewards, where you can search for environmentally friendly hotels, resorts, and more. Read suggestion 8 below for a potential solution for erasing high carbon activity with air travel.
8. Purchase carbon offsets
A carbon offset is an amount of money you can pay for a project that reduces greenhouse gases somewhere else. If you offset one ton of carbon, the offset will help capture or destroy one ton of greenhouse gases that would otherwise have been released into the atmosphere. Offsets also promote sustainable development and increase the use of renewable energy.
You can calculate your own carbon footprint by using the Terrapass Calculator here. This assesses where your carbon emissions are coming from – car, plane, house, trash disposal — that then determines how much carbon you need to offset. Terrapass funds U.S. projects utilizing animal waste from farms, installing wind power, and capturing landfill gas to generate electricity. It also offers a monthly subscription for offsets for both businesses and individuals.
9. Switch to environmentally-friendly photography products
Here we are focusing on the little things. Take a look at all the products that are related to your photography process and analyze the materials… are they eco-friendly? Not to worry, quick swaps can easily be made such as green lens cleaner or a lens pen, as well as, microfiber reusable cloths or biodegradable wipes. Experiment with recycled photo paper and give vegetable inks a try! Likewise, reduce your packaging by using canvas bags, tins, or recyclable boxes.
10. Use best practices for film photography
Many of the silver ions produced in film-processing are toxic and get rinsed away in water. In Stockholm, Sweden they found “silver pollution” was the cause of half of the contamination in their sewer systems over a five-year period. For analog photography, there is a new breed of eco-friendly darkroom chemicals that are now readily available. Remember to discard your chemicals responsibly and submit chemical waste pickup requests.
Another conscious thought is instead of printing every photo at the same time you get your roll developed, choose your selects and get only those printed. Or only get a contact sheet — a larger size print with thumbnails of every frame to choose from.
11. Utilize Sprout Studio’s green features
Album proofing is an excellent green feature that prompts clients to edit and request picture, sizing, and layout changes before it gets sent to the printers. Sprout’s online presentation provides a realistic experience where customers can truly imagine the look of their final product. This limits the amount of obsolete and wasted images that may get printed. Sprout Studio currently does not offer lab integration, which means you can choose any lab you’d like; you’re not limited to only a couple of labs! A great lab that provides a high-end, luxurious feel to their albums, all while using 100% recycled paper is Artifact Uprising.
Virtual IPS is another great Sprout tool that digitally displays your images on the walls of your clients’ rooms! This tool visually aids clients to narrow down their pictures, as well as conceptualizes the best collection of images together. We encourage photographers to bring up these features while meeting with clients. Your green initiatives could prompt a sale that would otherwise be fulfilled with another company post your session, such as Shutterfly or even simply, Walmart. And remember, just by being a Sprout Studio user, you are already contributing to a greener world.
You made it to the end!
Kudos to reading all the tips above — this already exemplifies your carbon-conscious effort!
Photographers tend to have a deep appreciation for the world around them. Thus, we hope this article provided some helpful tips and insight into creating a more sustainable world and business practice. Leave a comment below of your favorite tip or join our Facebook Community group to follow along with more of the discussion!