I am currently reading the book Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough & Michael Braungart. To my closer friends this probably isn’t much of a surprise since it’s easy to get me talking about environmental destruction, overpopulation and our responsibility to change the course of our actions for the benefit of future generations. Blah, Blah, Blah, you might say.
To that end, we have conducted three environmental impact studies at our little company over the last six years, with the last one being a little more than two years ago. The results:
1. My travel causes over 75% of our total carbon emissions as a company with the vast portion of that pollution coming from flights.
2. The majority of the other pollution we cause comes from a) the equipment we use and b) our productions. Since we are only three employees and we all work from home, the carbon footprint of our office is quite small. We do print portfolios and fine art prints but again, that impact is small.
This post focuses on the equipment.
There is already much talk about changing transportation but I hear almost nothing about revolutionizing impact created by the fundamental aspects of the photography business – the processes of taking pictures. Those are the processes where we as photographers need to demand change.
The point of Cradle to Cradle so far (I’m only on page 80), is that we need to stop operating under the idea of reducing, reusing and recycling. Those ideas are only leading to a slower destruction of our resources while not actually changing the course or impact of our actions. From the back cover:
“‘Reduce, reuse, recycle,’ urge environmentalists; in other words, do more with less in order to minimize damage. But…. such an approach only perpetuates the one-way, “cradle to grave” manufacturing model, dating to the Industrial Revolution, that creates such fantastic amouts of waste and pollution in the first place. Why not challenge the belief that human industry must damage the natural world? In fact, why not take nature itself as our model for making things? A tree produces thousands of blossoms in order to create another tree, yet we consider its abundance not wasteful but safe, beautiful and highly effective.”
The cradle to cradle philosophy in photography.
How do we fundamentally alter the photography industry to create closed-loop industrial cycles? Where the “waste” from a camera becomes “food” for a future product or the planet. Nothing would end up in landfills. No products would be downcycled. The engineering here far exceeds my knowledge but here are a few simple thoughts that I hope would one day be feasible.
CAMERA BODIES. Over the past eight years I have owned 5 different models of Canon Cameras (EOS D30, 1D, 1Ds, 1Ds Mark II, & 5d Mark II). What if instead of having to buy new cameras I could have simply order a new chip and processor, snap it in, and send the old one back to Canon? The functionality of my Canon 1Ds is at least as good as my 5D Mark II. And imagine if the chip and processor were made of materials and manufactured in a way that every last bit of them could become a future chip.
BATTERIES. This is the real F-you to consumers everywhere – why does every camera need another shape battery and another charger? This is design with the purpose of selling products. It is flat out unnecessary and greedy, with horrible waste implications.
LENSES. Why does every manufacturer need a different camera mount? Again, profits. And where are the systems for use to make good on future use of the materials in our lenses once their working lifespan ends.
LIGHTING and GRIP. Search for “profoto and recycling” and you find information about the fastest recycle times but not the impact of their products. I bet a C-stand could be melted down and the metal reused but what about the black paint on some of those Matthews stands? What chemicals does that release onto our hands and how does it affect the ability to reuse the metal in the stand? Does the adhesive in gaffer’s tape cause cancer? Maybe, I have no idea because we as photographers never discuss the impact of the products we use.
We only care about more megapixels. Faster recycling times. Sharper lenses. Deeper blacks in our portfolio prints.
Canon does have a recycling program HERE. Nikon is HERE. But recycling is again, based on an old system that slowly poisons us all. Digital may directly inflict less chemical exposure on a photographer than processing our own film, but the worldwide impact of photography products and their associated waste is staggering!
THE DESIGN OF PHOTOGRAPHY EQUIPMENT NEEDS TO TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THE FUTURE OF EVERY ELEMENT/MATERIAL INCLUDED IN THAT EQUIPMENT. Imagine a camera with more megapixels and sharper lenses where all the materials (from the back cover again) “can be ‘technical nutrients’ that will continually circulate as pure and valuable materials within closed-loop industrial cycles, rather than being ‘recycled’ — really, downcycled — into low-grade materials and uses.”
That is a dream for the future and to get there we need to simply start discussing the environmental impact of our photography equipment.