Sustainability guru and a photography business owner

I am in an industry that is not known for being very green. I want to change this, so I am taking small steps as a business owner to pave the way and hopefully others will follow suit. 


I offer a “sustainability discount” for those who can walk, bike, or take public transportation to their session. The discount is $50.


I am very very picky about where I spend my dollar – not just in a business sense, but in relation to all things in my life. I try very hard to “vote” with my dollar and support small local businesses, women/minority/LGBTQ+ owned businesses, and those that care about the environment. I am well known for boycotting businesses that exploit their employees and the environment.


That being said, I have done a lot of research about printing companies and their policies. My goal was to find a professional printer that has a small environmental footprint, that has amazing prints, fits my brand, and is a womxn/minority/LGBTQIA+ owned business. Haha and let me tell you, I came up short – big time! So I had to pick and choose which of the following I would be ok with giving up.


I currently partner with 3 different printers one is local, one is national, and the other is international. I have picked them all for different reasons and only order specific things from each of them. Folio, for example, who I order handmade albums and clamshell boxes from, is who approaches sustainability from business practices to materials for production.


Artifact Uprising, is who I order “goods” from (i.e. blank cards and wood calendars), is a local company and sources their materials from The Rocky Mountains. Their wood products are made from Pine Beetle kill and all of their paper is made from 100% recycled materials. The printing company that I use is womxn owned and has a very high employee retention rate. They use recycled materials when possible. Unless a client requests otherwise, I always print on deep matte paper, which is unlike glossy paper, which has an additional coating of toxic chemicals. They also focus on using vegetable-based ink as opposed to petroleum-based inks.


I don’t do this with just prints, my business cards are made from recycled paper, and use vegetable-based ink. My mailers are also made from recycled paper and can be used twice – so please reuse them!


I don’t include any “goodies” in my mailers yet, as I cannot find anything that falls in line with my brand. I LOVE stickers (I don’t know why but I do), which are not eco-friendly at all! I have looked into eco-friendly vinyl and there just isn’t a market for it yet. So, until there are other ways to manufacture vinyl, I am opting out. So, there are no surprises haha, you won’t be receiving any branded scented lotions (and let’s be honest, it’s weird if you get that from a photographer), you won’t be getting any baked goods (you don’t want any stale cakes from me haha), or a fruit basket. 🙂 What you will get though are some badass prints, a beautiful album, and items that won’t end up in your junk drawer.


Speaking of junk and waste, who knows of a good way to recycle electronics?? I sure don’t! There are a few local businesses that allow you to bring in old electronics for a fee and their recycling methods aren’t particularly transparent so they could end up in the landfill for a steep fee? Who knows? Please email me about this if you have used any recycling centers that you use and what they do with their products.


Do you still have that phone charger from 1994 that at one point charged the Nokia Brick? So do I! Contact local artists who might be able to use their charging cable –  there are lots of ways that we can repurpose those cords and turn them into art! At some point, I am going to create a list of artists who accept electronic equipment donations that is used for artistic purposes.


How about that old phone, iPad, computer, camera, etc. that you have sitting collecting dust? You don’t think you can get any money for it so you haven’t gotten rid of it even though you don’t use it. Have you considered donating it? Have you reached out to a manufacturer to see if they can refurbish it? This is more of my bread and butter here.


Most people don’t know this, but a camera and a car are similar in the way.  A. Neither item lasts forever and B. the more miles you drive/the more shutter counts you have, the more maintenance you will have and the more they lose value. I used the example with cars and cameras because they are very similar. Once you have reached over 300,000 miles driven on a car or over 300,000 shutter clicks on a camera, the more money you have to spend to maintain either the camera or car. The chances of failure or death after the 300,000 mark becomes greater. Realistically, if you do not have a professional camera, your camera will likely already be dead at 300k. Currently the leading professional cameras die anywhere from 300-500K in shutter actuations.


I have only had one camera live past its prime and I spent a lot of time, money, and effort on getting it repaired. Significantly more than the camera was valued at.  I learned my lesson once and won’t be doing that again. Rather than just discarding the camera, I have decided to donate my old cameras (and other functioning electronics for that matter), to artists or students who can use them for their creative process.


What about buying used? My answer is hell ya! I am sure you probably already know this or could have guessed, but professional cameras, lenses, lights, and all the other equipment that comes with it, is expensive AF. When there is another professional offering to sell a lens that I have been needing to buy, why would I not do that?  You need to be careful about doing this, obviously, but some of my best purchases have been from local photographers selling their equipment that is in excellent condition.


I have created a little rule for myself called the 90-10 rule, which I am trying to kind of model my business after. I realize that I cannot go 100% paperless since I sell prints, but if I can be 90% paperless, that is a great goal! If I kept 90% of my profits and reinvested them back into my business, then I could use that other 10% to donate to a local charity or organization that supports my brand. Another example, one that I haven’t totally dialed in on yet, but I am close, to support and partner with 90% small businesses.


A future goal of mine is to offset my carbon footprint completely by investing in carbon offsets. I do travel a fair amount for work, and I would like to be able to put my miles (both flying and driving against something).


You might read this and think to yourself that this isn’t going to make a difference, or I may not be doing enough. Just like anything else, you have to start small to make an impact. Things take time and unfortunately, making changes like these is no cheap feat. For example, a 4×6 print through my printer is more than $1 over what is the nation’s largest professional printer. I am not doing this because it is cheap. I am doing this because this matters to me and to my business. If we all take baby steps, then maybe, just maybe, we can accomplish something for the greater good.