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Going green: Sustainability roundtable

Posted on May 28, 2023

There’s a lot of talk surrounding environmentalism. How are organisations putting these words into practice?

In 2023, sustainability is at the forefront of social responsibility, at the individual level and at large. With the UN currently on its 28th iteration of the Climate Change Conference (COP28), it’s clear that governments, agencies and other bodies are focused on addressing the climate crisis. The onus is now on industries to enact measurable change.

The photography industry is ripe with opportunities to do this, ranging from manufacturing to distribution to kit rental and resale. We spoke to decision-makers at the Imaging Warehouse, Innova Art and MPB, gaining insight into their current practices, future plans and overarching ideas about sustainability in photography.

The experts

Garry Hume, Product Manager at The Imaging Warehouse

Garry Hume is product manager at the Imaging Warehouse, a supplier of photographic film, photo paper, chemicals and darkroom equipment as well as inkjet and fine art printing services. For over 35 years, the Imaging Warehouse has owned, manufactured and supplied brands such as PermaJet, Nova Darkroom and NovajetPro.

Nevelle Bower, CEO at Innova Art

Nevelle Bower has been chief executive officer at Innova Art for over five years. The company is a manufacturer of archival inkjet paper for fine art and photographic printing. He has a background in management, business development and technical support, particularly in the speciality papers market.

Rachel Thompson, Head of Sustainability at MPB

Rachel Thompson is the head of sustainability at MPB, the world’s largest platform for buying, selling and trading photo and video equipment. She previously worked for Gatwick Airport, where she coordinated the development of its ‘Decade of Change’ sustainability strategy. Her specialities include emissions and global trade policy as well as project management.

PHOTOGRAPHY NEWS: Why do you think sustainability matters within the industry?

RACHEL THOMPSON: Visual storytelling is powerful and ubiquitous, with millions of participants, from pros and content creators to students and amateurs using a wide range of kit and technology. This creates human, ethical and environmental impacts.

NEVELLE BOWER: I believe sustainability matters in all industries, but it especially matters in industries that depend on raw materials such as wood pulp. Our customers care about what materials we use and where we source them from, and so do we.

GARRY HUME: A significant proportion of our products are based on wood pulp and/or cotton rag, meaning we can have a very direct impact on improving the sustainability of our industry – by dealing only with mills that are taking steps to ensure their sources of wood pulp are sustainable.

PN: What measures are your companies currently taking to be more sustainable?

RT: MPB buys, sells and trades used kit and we do so in a purposeful way that is good for people and the planet, so we’ve always incorporated green, inclusive principles in our operations and recruitment. Last year, we formalised our approach which includes initiatives in zero waste, reusable packaging, working with suppliers that invest seriously in net zero and promoting inclusion and diversity in our workplaces.

NB: We only use base papers from sustainable sources (for example, FSC), and cotton bases from fair-trade suppliers. In addition, we use renewable energy solutions in our production facilities, like solar panels. Furthermore, we insist that our suppliers adopt the same attention to detail and determination to work leaner and more sustainably.

GH: Our couriers are converting to an all-electric fleet, to reduce the emissions of our deliveries.

Last year, we purchased an industrial shredding machine to allow our warehouse to recycle any cardboard to use for packaging. Any excess is picked up by local companies who can then use it for their own packaging.

We have recently launched our new Heritage Range, four new papers manufactured using 100% cotton. Not only do they look and feel superior to wood-pulp papers, these papers are made from cotton linters – a waste product from the cotton fabric production process. Cotton linters are the short fibres left on the seed head after the long fibres of the cotton have been removed.

PN: What positive impact are these measures making? 

GH: We only deal with paper mills that have sustainable sources of pulp – and our CO2 reduction is coming fully on stream.

RT: We have reached zero waste to landfill and 45% of renewable electricity across our operations – and our packaging is plastic-free, reusable and recyclable. 

In the past year, we have sponsored over 15 visual storytelling events or awards with a focus on the environment, diversity and accessibility. And we are proud that our first advertising campaign, Change, won the 2022 AdNetZero award for the technology sector.

PN: What future targets have you set for yourself as a business from a sustainability perspective?

RT: Our goals include being the most-trusted platform for used kit and for the circular economy – choosing used by default – to become mainstream. We also want to reach 100% renewable electricity by 2025 and net zero carbon for our buildings and data centres before 2030 – which means no fossil fuels for heating or cooling, only renewable electricity.

NB: This year we are working towards the ISO 14001 certification to increase our sustainability focus and awareness even further. For us, this is a continuous effort. We are also moving closer towards our target of 100% plastic-free packaging, as well as focusing on other areas where wasteful practices can be addressed and ultimately eliminated.

GH: We are investigating if there are any other areas of our business where we can make a positive contribution. We have recently joined the Woodland Trust as a corporate member. The Woodland Trust invests in replanting and restoring broad-leaf woodland, providing habitats in the UK for a wide range of native species of plants, animals and insects.

“We want the circular economy – choosing used by default – to become mainstream. We also want to reach 100% renewable electricity by 2025”

PN: How do you think sustainability will change products in the future?

RT: On the product side, we’ll likely see more reuse and repair. Quality camera bodies and lenses are designed for durability, interoperability and repair, so there is a built-in circularity that more photographers, videographers and content creators can embrace by selling, trading and buying used. Kit with less plastic and more reuse of metal is also on the agenda.

That said, I think the bigger changes are likely to be around how products are used, for example access to more sustainable transport and travel, and greater focus on diverse representation and ethical practices.

NB: We will consider the product life cycle in more detail, including the ‘post-use’ recycle-ability of the products we develop as well as the waste involved in production, with the aim of making products that have less impact on the environment from start to finish.

PN: What sustainable choices do you think consumers should be making now?

GH: Choose from our range of cotton-based papers. They look and feel better than traditional alpha-cellulose, wood-based papers. While more expensive, they are manufactured using a waste product from cotton fabric manufacturing as the main raw material. The cotton linters are a byproduct that would otherwise go to waste.

RT: Selling or trading kit they don’t need any more so that another photographer can reuse it – and then buying used themselves. Making the effort to scout out reliable recycling for batteries and filters. More broadly, travelling sustainably by using public transport instead of road transport for short and medium journeys will have an immediate impact, and making sure to choose airlines that are investing seriously in cleaner fuels and aircraft.

NB: I think that our customers already make good sustainable choices, and will in fact demand more and more as others in custody of the product chain become more aware. But again, it’s about education. As we apply and communicate our sustainable focus and efforts, we are trying to help our customers to understand what it really means for all our stakeholders, and that includes the end consumers. PN

Article originally published in Issue 107 of Photography News.

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