Monday, December 8, 2008

Environmentally Friendly Business Practices

As many of you may know, I'm very dedicated to being a greener photographer and business owner. Here are some of the methods and products that have helped make my business greener:

- Home Office
As primarily a wedding photographer, most of my shooting is done on-location. While having a separate studio and meeting space is very glamorous for the business brand, I just don't find it to be a very energy efficient way to run my business. I do have a dedicated office space in my home in where I can meet clients and even shoot stock or portrait work with a backdrop if I'd like. We chose a downtown loft-style location which is overall more efficient than a traditional home due to shared energy and resources use among the community within the building, and the downtown location makes it easy to walk or take public transportation to pretty much anything I need.

- Natural Light
When searching for a place to live and work, I made sure to select a location with plenty of natural light in order to avoid using additional energy during the day. Perhaps if you work from your basement or an interior room in your home, you can consider switching rooms with another location in your home which offers an opportunity to save more on energy usage. Natural light also extends to the times and location in which I choose to shoot as well as a preference toward using reflectors over battery powered strobes. I tend to utilize natural light as much as possible in my images so that I don't have to use extra energy to charge large portable battery systems. Obviously your work will have a very natural look to it without the use of additional artificial light, but that's part of what helps to define a style.

- Virtual Meetings
I try to encourage clients to "meet" me over the phone or via web chat (iChat, AIM, Skype, GoogleChat) as much as possible. If they insist on meeting in person, I try to combine my meeting with them in a location that is mutually convenient and can combine the use of public transportation or mutl-tasking with other meetings I might need to have that day. Sometimes this means having them come to me, sometimes it means meeting somewhere in the middle, and sometimes its meeting at my hotel room in whatever city I happen to be in at that time. The key idea is to use as little energy on both ends as possible while still being accommodating to the client. If I must travel by car, I rely on fuel-efficient vehicles.

- Laptop versus Desktop
I used to work from a desktop 90% of the time because I found it to have the most consistent color accuracy. Since getting a MacBookPro, I've noticed there's a much better consistency in screen color rendition and I can actually calibrate the laptop monitor, which has not always been possible with past laptops. Working from a laptop not only allows for more portability but also for better energy efficiency because I can rely on a rechargeable battery versus constantly being "plugged-in". To help save even more power on my laptop, I reduce the brightness of the screen to match the brightness of my environment which also saves additional strain on my eyes.

- USB External Drives
Most of my works in progress are stored on USB powered external drives (my favorite is the Western Digital Passport 320 GB USB 2.0 Portable Hard Drive). This allows me to only use power to access the data when I'm actually using it. When the data is not in use, it's disconnected and not utilizing wasted energy as some larger external hard drives do. And now that USB 2.0 has pretty much exceeded the transfer times of most firewire capabilities, there's little to no lag time in accessing and transferring data.

- Electronic Documents & Media
There's very little need to do anything on paper anymore. Contracts can be produced and signed electronically. Faxes can be sent and received via email. Receipts can be sent and received via email. Price lists and product brochures can be created and sent electronically. Membership numbers can be stored digitally on your handheld device. Notes can be transcribed from voice messages and recorded into emails. Audiobooks can be downloaded directly to your computer or mp3 device. Magazines and newspapers can be subscribed to electronically. Billing statements from vendors, bank accounts, and credit cards can all be received electronically now. Really, I just don't see the need for a paper lifestyle anymore unless you have an accountant who insists on having paper records of everything (even though it's just as easy to keep a CD or DVD backup of all your electronic receipts and records for the year- in which case, I'd say- get a new accountant.) In order to make signing electronic documents and contracts a breeze, I keep a digital copy of my signature on hand which can be dropped into any document using Photoshop so that there's no need for printing and scanning a document.

- Public Resources
When I'm interested in a new book, I always check my public library first to see if they have it. If they don't have it and I absolutely must read it right away (which is rare) I'll purchase the book and then donate it to the library so that someone else can benefit from it being a public resource. When I need business or legal forms, I always check the library rather than going out and buying a book that might be full of forms I don't need. Most libraries are connected to a large network of resources not normally available to individuals and librarians can be the most efficient way to access exactly what you're looking for- and often times they can provide you with an electronic resource which allows you to only download the forms you absolutely need.

- Electronic Banking
Did you know that there are banks which will allow you to scan checks and deposit them online instead of mailing them or taking them to the bank? Your bank might even offer it and all you have to do is ask! If you haven't started utilizing electronic banking to automatically schedule your bill payments, I highly suggest you start ASAP. You will save money on checks, stamps, and postage- thus saving energy and waste in the environment. It helps you eliminate the worry of missing a bill or being out of town when a payment is due. I really could not do what I do if it weren't for electronic banking.

I encourage my clients to make their payments online via credit/debit card with a secure online billing process which allows clients to keep their information private, rather than sharing it over the phone, which has become one of the least secure forms of communication. The billing system I use also automatically notifies clients when their next payment is due and then automatically bills their card, which is not only convenient, but time and energy saving for both the client and myself. I will still accept paper payments if they absolutely insist, but I always default to sending them an online invoice first and then let them inform me if they need to make alternate payment arrangements.

- Digital Proofing & Downloading
As a visual artist, I am able to share my visual work with clients online instead of needing to print it out and deliver it. While I think most people have moved to digital proofing, I think that digital downloading hasn't completely caught on yet as many of the professional digital proofing sites still do not allow for the option of digital downloads. Many clients simply want a copy of a photo for their computer, or maybe they want a print, but the shipping and packaging is very costly and a drain on the environment. If we can offer digital downloads of our work to our clients than they may be less likely to have it printed, but if they do seek to get it printed- it will likely be done locally or with their resources at home. While it can present some quality issues, we can overcome those issues by simply educating our clients up front that if they really do prefer a photographic print, that the best quality will come from us or a lab that we recommend to them locally. In order for the companies we prefer to work with to start making these changes, they need to see the demand from their clients. A simple letter to the president or CEO of the company you work with, multiplied by 10 or more people can have a big impact on the company's desire to start offering a service or product.

- Drop Shipping
Rather than having products sent to me first for additional packaging, I prefer to work with companies that will drop ship directly to my clients with professional packaging that utilizes reduced waste. This takes a considerable amount of trust in the companies that you've chosen to work with, so if you may need to develop that trust first by doing several test runs with items shipped to you first, but once you're confident with the company, it is much more energy efficient to have items shipped directly to clients. There are some companies whose products I enjoy, but tend not to use because of their excessive packaging policies. I've written emails in support of having leaner packaging and have yet to see this implemented. However, if enough people take the time to ask their vendors to make changes in support of the environment, vendors will eventually get on board in the hopes of meeting their clients needs.

- US Postal
The United States Post office delivers to just about every resident in the country, just about every day. It is far more energy efficient to use a shipping option like the US Post, which is already making deliveries to your clients, than it is to use a service which will need to make a special route just to reach your client. With the click-and-ship option, you don't even need to make a special trip to the post office because it becomes a free pick-up service as well. Unless you're shipping to your client's workplace and you know that they use a dedicated delivery service, it's often much better to combine existing resources rather than utilizing ones which will need to use additional energy to complete the task.

- Rechargeable Batteries
There's a myth out there that rechargeable batteries don't work as well as traditional batteries. Not only do rechargeable batteries have the ability to last longer in use, but they can be reused over and over for a good year or two before needing replacement. It's also easier to recycle rechargeable batteries than it is to recycle traditional batteries. Please see my former post on Rechargeable Batteries for information on how to choose batteries with the longest life as well as how to take care of them properly to ensure that they will remain good longer.

- Analog vs Electric
There are some things which simply do not make sense for me when it comes to energy use. For example - the electronic paper towel dispenser. Paper towel can make its way out of a container without needing electricity. If you're going to electrify it, you should have installed an air hand dryer to save on the paper towel waste. Electric blinds are another one of those silly uses of electricity that isn't really necessary and could be likely to break one day- making it even more inefficient. Are there any things in your business that are being done electronically which would actually be done more effectively and efficiently without electricity?

- Temperature Control
One huge impact on energy use is the cooling and heating we use in our homes and offices. By simply turning the temperature down in the winter to a point where we may need a sweater, or up in the summer where we're still comfortable indoors but not in complete shock once we walk outdoors, we can save plenty of energy and money. Same goes with using hot water in the shower - by turning the temperature just a few degrees cooler, we can save money on the energy required to heat the water.

- Carbon Offsets
While it may be tempting to dismiss the benefits of paying for someone else to offset your reliance on non-renewable energy resources, it's a payment that goes toward providing more clean and renewable sources of energy, which will eventually make their way back into the services that you're using to run your business. If you're like me, and you're restricted to using the energy supplier that is wired into the building that you're using, it may not be possible to install solar panels or windmills on your building, but you can still help by building them elsewhere. To learn more about Carbon Offsetting for your busines, visit http://www.carbonfund.org.

- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
This isn't just a phrase, it's a way of life. If you start by reducing the amount of waste and products coming into your business, it's much easier to reduce the amount of waste coming out of your business. Start by only buying what you need. If there's an opportunity to save a lot of money on a really large order, but you don't need that many pieces, see if you can get someone else who is interested in the same product to split the order with you so that both of you can benefit without adding extra waste to your business. Stop junk mail from entering your home and business by visiting http://www.41pounds.org to have your name removed from mass mailing lists. Also, when considering packaging options, choose packaging that will not require additional packaging to be mailed. Most of the things I'm mailing these days are DVDs, so I found a DVD packaging solution that functions as archival storage, a presentation piece, and a mailer all in one. This reduces any need for additional packaging, and because the case is so durable, it is very likely to be reused, and the materials are very recycling compatible.

Reusing items in your business is very simple. Set an area aside to store packaging products which can be reused (like cardboard boxes, packaging peanuts, etc.) Shred junkmail and use it as paper shredded packaging (provided it's not sensitive info of course). Keep a pile for scrap paper which can be used to print on when you absolutely need to have something printed on paper which doesn't require a presentation element (my favorite example would be airline boarding passes - which will hopefully go completely electronic in the next year.) Whenever possible, purchase items that are reusable over items that are disposable. Taking a reusable mug to the coffee shop, or a reusable water bottle instead of buying bottled water, tupperware for leftovers at a restaurant, canvas bags for errands and grocery shopping- by simply thinking ahead and refusing to accept items that will only add to landfills you can make a big impact with very little extra effort. If you have something that you can't reuse, before recycling, consider giving it to someone else who can reuse it first. Freecycle.com and Craigslist.com are great places to list your unwanted items with the chance that someone else will want them!! It's more direct and convenient than putting something on the curb or taking it to a recycling center. If you have electronics that you need to get rid of, visit Gazelle.com who may even be able to offer you a little cash for those electronics! If they can't find a way to reuse your electronics, than they'll find a way to recycle them for you.

We could all be better off if we simply refused to buy products which can't be recycled. Once I found out that certain printer inks couldn't be recycled for whatever reason, I simply stopped buying them and switched to other off-brand inks which were recycling compatible. I didn't lose any quality in my prints, but I did help prevent additional landfill waste. If you think about the recyclability of a product before purchasing, you'll be choosing to support companies that understand the limitations of our resources. Recycling is easier than ever and most states have programs that support public recycling, sometimes even for free. If you live in a community that doesn't offer recycling, send an email around to friends and colleagues and then forward it to your local legislators. It only takes a few squeaky wheels to get programs up and running. To find recycling centers in your area for everything from cardboard to electronics, check out: http://www.recyclingcenters.org

A new organization has been founded for photographers to help promote greener business practices. Feel free to check it out and see if you'd be interested in becoming a part of the greener photography community: http://www.greenerphotography.org

I know there are many more ways in which we can be more environmentally friendly within our businesses, and I'd love to hear your ideas or favorite resources for helping live a greener life!! Please share your suggestions and comments with us! Together we can make a bigger difference!!

Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle & wedding photographer from Boston, MA. She spent 10 years in the corporate & non-profit world before pursuing her passion for photography. When not behind the computer or camera, she can be found exploring the world with her husband. Follow her on Twitter.

6 comments:

  1. AWESOME article, Anne - you covered a lot of ground here! Thank you for posting this, I hope that it inspires other photographers to be greener.

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  2. Thank you for posting about this! I try to abide by as many "green" ways as I can. It's also necessary to educate your clients on green business practice as well, since many people are used to having paper copies, CDs of their images etc.

    I do wonder, if it's a safe business practice to only have business records electronically. Although I am a HUGE advocate of green living, there are some things that really need a paper backup. I subscribe to as much e-billing as possible, but when taxes roll around it seems so important to have paper copies of everything. How do we combat this? Is this just my unnecessary need to physically see everything in front of me, or is it truly an important and time-saving (and time is money) way to do those things?

    -Michelle

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  3. Great suggestions. Kudos to your dad "Battery Dave" for the extensive battery lesson. I prefer using rechargeable batteries in my cameras because after they wear out (about 1,000 charges) I can recycle them through call2recycle.org. They enlist retail locations where I'd buy replacement batteries. There are many locations like RadioShack, Home Depot, Sears.

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  4. Great green suggestions, to me the switching to digital photography has made my world a lot greener, no polaroids, no processing chemicals and on and on. With FTP transfer I don't have to deliver anything and it's faster than FedX, I love it, so do my clients. As far as making my studio greener, In the past I would make reflectors for each product setup. Then I found and have used and reused these tabletop reflectors, Lightright reflectors. To see them there are two demo videos on youtube (search lightright).
    My reflectors are still working after several years.
    Gary B

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  5. Awesome post! This is one I will be referring to again. Thank yo for sharing.

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  6. This is awesome! I appreciate you guys going through all the effort to collect this info! Here is another "green" solution for DVD's really cool design too!

    http://www.loktah.com/index2.php

    ReplyDelete

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