I’m not a Green Wedding Photographer – And neither are you.

Green Leaf ApertureI love the industry trend of Green Weddings right now. I love [intlink id="green-wedding-dresses" type="post"]cotton and hemp dresses[/intlink], I love the detail that wedding coordinators are getting into to minimize the impact on the planet. I really do think it’s great that people have that much care for the world to keep even their wedding day low-impact.

You see, I grew up surfing in Imperial Beach, which is just a few short miles away from the Tijuana River, I would see it regularly spew out contaminants into the ocean rendering the beaches locked down for fear of Hepatitis outbreaks.
At even that young of an age, I recognized that human beings created a pronounced stress on the natural world and it’s resources and I quickly became a huge proponent of the Sierra Club and the Surfrider Foundation.

But here’s what annoys me today: Photographers, especially Wedding Photographers, trying to capitalize on the “Green Movement” by claiming that they are “Green Photographers”

I typically reserve the term “Green Washing” for big corporations that say they are “green”, only to promote consumerism by pumping out millions of products in environmentally harmful plastics that mostly end up in landfills. But Photographers are just as bad.
Just because a photographer buys a digital camera doesn’t autteomatically make him/her “Green.”

Digital Photography is not a “magic bullet”

Sure, film has pretty much gone the way of the dinosaur. And given the choice, I’d stick with digital anyway; as Vincent Versace, a rather prominent photographer, says: “Film is what you get on your teeth when you don’t brush.”

But the absence of film has left us with other problems in the camera department:

  • Consumerism
  • Technological Obsolescence.
  • Waste
  • Energy Consumption Increases

Film had waste and chemical implications, but what exactly do you do with that Nikon D100 when you have 2 D3′s and no one want’s a crappy old digital body? Recycle it of course. But how can you be sure your electronics are being recycled properly?

Somewhere it’s been mentioned that Nikon and Canon produce new camera models on a 18 month cycle. Because each revision is “twice as better,” every photographer wants one, which feeds the cycle of buying, depreciating, and eventually throwing away of products.

I should also include that the major camera manufacturers Nikon, Canon, and Olympus are based in Japan. That means that a tremendous amount of energy is expended to get that D700, 5D mkii or E3 into your hands. One of the tenets of living sustainably is locality of goods, and supporting local economies. Until an American company (ahem Kodak), jumps into the professional level camera market and begins manufacturing in the U.S., we all fail.

With most enhancements in camera technology comes the need for more computing power. Not only are we, as photographers, addicted to our cameras, but we are now slaves to our glowing LCD screens.  I found it difficult to find any figures for world wide computer energy consumption, but, yearly, an average computer consumes about “1,000 kWh/y, or almost as much a the total electricity consumption of a high-efficiency household.” – Greenpeace.
And we are always on our computers, Photoshopping, blogging, running our business, marketing, checking Twitter and Facebook, etc. You know those late nights editing, sorting, watermarking and blogging those pictures… Yeah, that’s a LOT of energy consumption.

Products – Yes a DVD is a product

So for the photographers that still insist they are “Green,” let’s breakdown the product side of things to expose to them their persistent ignorance.

  • DVD’s – Manufactured in China where environmental laws are skirted, shipped to the U.S. on huge tanker boats that each create more pollution than 50,000,000 cars. (Make sure you read the staggering statistics at the bottom), and stacked on Mega-Wal-Fry’s shelves to be sold and provide the out of state corporations with well over 80% of the profit and the local economy with the scraps.
  • DVD Cases – See Above.

*A side note about DVD’s: They are currently a format that will be rendered obsolete in a matter of years. And as such, there will be millions of DVD’s eventually transferred to some new medium and thrown away, adding to our growing landfill problems.

  • Prints and Canvas – Fortunately these tend to be held onto much longer than DVD’s, but with with true photographic prints, there are still chemical wastes that need to be disposed of properly, and the infrastructure to handle that.
  • Albums – I got to admit… I love a [intlink id="new-sample-albums-in" type="post"]pretty album made with dead cow’s skin[/intlink]. I know there are alternatives, and non-leather albums out there (I’ve heard great things about Wild Magnolia books). But when people see my lovely Leather Craftsmen albums, they just got to have them, and I’m such an enabler.
    Now, while they are somewhat local (to me), and they tend not to use overly harmful components in manufacturing, they still need a supply of leather (leather = dead cows) to keep up with demands. So even the albums will have a long useful lifespan and end up being passed down to future generations, they aren’t immune from having an affect on the environment.
    *Vinyl albums are a 100 times worse, but ewww.

Conclusion:

Wedding photographers that say they are “Green” are liars.

Uhhh… So what can we do then?

Well… That’s tough, I don’t have much for answers, but here’s a few tips:

  1. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (you’ve heard it a million times, but our industry has very few options right now).
  2. Purchase local (go to your local camera store, yeah, it’s a little more, but you stimulate your city’s economy and not a big corporation, besides B&H has all those New Yorkers to buy from them in New York). Who knows, maybe your local store will sponsor you if you are good enough and purchase your equipment there exclusively.
  3. Hang onto that old camera or computer just a little bit longer. Come on there is a little more life in it. Perform a little “ISO CPR” if you have to.
  4. Look to ways you can provide low impact deliverables. Provide creative post-consumer DVD packaging instead of petroleum based plastic cases.
  5. Start a camera manufacturing company here in the good old US of A.  :)

And most important of all:  Don’t let the “Green Hype” sweep you up in a fever that takes advantage of unknowing consumers. Be honest with your clients. The industry has great strides ahead of itself, and it’s a breach of ethics and trust to claim to your clients that you are something you are not.

Those are all the ideas I have… What are yours?

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4 Responses to I’m not a Green Wedding Photographer – And neither are you.

  1. Lea September 6, 2009 at 9:10 am #

    I enjoyed reading this. It was informative. I hope you don’t get bashed too badly. Keep on keeping on.

  2. William Bay September 6, 2009 at 1:39 pm #

    Thanks Lea,
    Well, I’m not concerned with being bashes by other photographers.
    I feel that we owe it to our clients to be ethical and honest, and if a photographer is going to claim to be something, they should have full understanding of what it is.

  3. Robb Duncan September 6, 2009 at 5:21 pm #

    Nicely said William. I really hope this stirs up some debate, its a topic that does deserve some open-ness and honesty. I also hope it gets Wedding photographers to take a good hard look at themselves, both the “Green washers” and those with their heads in the sand as well.

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