Hey, camera makers! Stop lying to us.
We photographers care about the environment. Camera and equipment manufacturers, however, let us down. Most are just protecting their bottom line while causing significant environmental damage.
So how eco-friendly is your camera manufacturer? How much CO2 do they produce? Do they mainly use recycled materials? Are their products recyclable? Do you know? If you can’t find this information easily, if it’s not highlighted in an easy-to-understand format, and if they make a big splash on small projects, then they’re guilty of greenwashing.
Let’s start off good by celebrating filter and accessory company Urth, formerly known as Gobe. They produce exceptional filters at far more affordable prices than many of their competitors. Significantly, they have more than offset their carbon footprint by actively planting trees in rainforests. Every time we buy a filter from them, they plant five trees. Their website has clear information about what they are doing now and where they are striving to improve.
As we explored options to offset our impact, we quickly realized that planting trees was the best way to do this, as trees sequester carbon, purify water and rejuvenate ecosystems. We fund tree planting projects run by Eden Reforestation Projects – our tree planting partner – to plant five trees with every Urth product and provide jobs for those affected by deforestation.
So far, they have planted over five million trees, offsetting over 1.6 million tons of CO2. Their ambitious goal is to reach one billion trees by 2032. They are also committed to using low-impact materials. The longevity of their products resulting from their quality keeps them away from landfills. All of their packaging is also recyclable. What is evident is their honesty and openness about their products. They provide easy to find, accurate and understandable data on the impact of their products and what they are doing to address it.
Therefore, the business is flourishing.
Unfortunately, most other photography companies aren’t quite as open, hiding what little they do by greenwashing. These companies do one of two things. Either they produce huge documents that are inaccessible, impressive to look at, boring to read, but without substance, or they publish no data.
Take Canon as an example. They provide a mass of documentation that requires someone with plenty of free time and a deep understanding of environmental data to find the relevant information. You have to search hard for the report, but when you find it and scroll to page 47 out of 133 pages, it says that in 2020 their raw material production generated around 3,147,000 tonnes of CO2. Development, production and sales generated an additional 940,100 tons. Transportation of their products to their outlets and other outlets, 304,000 tons. This represents just under 4.4 million tonnes of CO2. This is before adding an additional 2.264 million tons resulting from the use of their products. They say their total lifecycle CO2 is higher than that, at 7.72 million tonnes.
To put that into context, the average American produces 19.8 tons of CO2 per year.
On top of that, their production process releases 0.8 tons of sulfur oxides, which can dissolve in water to form sulfuric acid. 47.9 tons of nitrogen oxides, which can dissolve to form nitric acid. They also emit 372 tonnes of controlled chemicals and discharge 6.755 million cubic meters of wastewater.
In a bold title of a flowchart is the word “Recycling”. They used 1,248 tons of reused parts and 2,303 tons of recycled materials. Awesome! Yet that’s a drop in the ocean compared to the 616,000 tonnes of new resources used to produce their goods.
They claim they have good news, and they make a big fuss about their CO2 output which has dropped significantly over the years. But it’s still huge, and this reduction seems painfully slow.
They also shout about their Bird Branch project, which involves “bird-centered activities.” This includes studying migrating birds, adding nesting boxes to their site, cleaning nests and encouraging people to photograph birds. Does that look like a significant contribution to the environment? For me, that’s not the case.
Compared to other big companies, Canon is doing better, but if you compare it to the efforts of the relatively small company, Urth, they don’t seem that impressive, do they?
It should also be noted that they are also contributing 8 million yen (62,462 USD) in humanitarian aid as part of a total social contribution of 2.2 billion yen (about 17 million USD). . That also sounds remarkable, but with net sales of 5.51 trillion yen ($30.55 billion), that’s about 1/1800th of that. Meh!
Sony’s Road to Zero webpage has impressive infographics that talk about fighting climate change, promoting biodiversity, controlling chemicals and conserving resources. But the web page contains no real substance. Their “goal to provide environmentally responsible products” and “minimize consumption and maximize recycled materials”, or their statement “to set our own chemical substance management standards” and say “we are aware that our operations can affect the natural environment in various ways” are all generally vague statements used in greenwashing.
Its global environmental plan says Sony is “striving to achieve a zero environmental footprint” throughout the life cycle of its products and operations by 2050. Yet that’s just one goal. , not a measure of success.
You need to tap on the little hamburger menu to find their performance data and results. Even then, they are only displayed in percentages. Their highlighted 5% drop in power consumption does not reveal that they are still using 25,000 terajoules (25,000,000,000,000,000 joules).
Digging deeper into Sony’s corporate website, you can download a PDF document that reveals their true impact on the environment. On pages 131 and 132 of a 199-page document, you can discover that in 2020 their sites alone produced more than 1.2 million tons of CO2. But there are still 17 million tons produced from other factors such as purchased goods and services, transport and distribution, waste, business travel and, mainly, the use of their products sold represents to them only 11,403,000 tons. Note that Sony does not use the metric ton, so the numbers seem smaller.
They also produced 15.45 million cubic meters of wastewater. However, they have one notable success: of their 51,000 tons of other waste, they recycle all but 1,000 tons.
Like Canon, Sony is gradually improving, but are they doing it fast enough? To me, it seems they are not.
Nikon is also aiming for zero carbon emissions by 2050. Surpassing its 2014-2021 18.2% reduction target, achieving a 25.9% reduction, the average is still only 3.7% per year . Also, as we saw earlier, a 25.9% reduction in a huge number still leaves a huge number.
They too hide their actual CO2 production figures on page 47 of their sustainability report: 182,625 tons. They also emit 3,297 cubic meters of wastewater, 27 tonnes of dichloropentafluropropane (depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer, global warming and health impacts), 10 tonnes of toluene (damage to plant leaf membranes, toxicity to marine life, harmful to human health), etc.
Nikon highlights its participation in Earth Hour. That’s just one hour out of 8,760 hours a year.
Of course, these are just the three biggest companies, and I’m sure most other companies operate the same way and hide their results the same way. Moreover, the problem will not be limited to just the photographic industry, but to most manufacturers in most industries. Indeed, Canon, Sony and Nikon all produce more than just cameras.
So, let’s start pressuring the manufacturers, all of them, to put their acts away and let them give us these ten reasons to buy from them.
1. Publish and highlight clear and understandable environmental data that your consumers can easily access and understand.
2. Recognize your flaws and correct them quickly.
3. Demonstrate your commitment by setting ambitious annual CO2 reduction targets that reach zero well before 2050.
4. Stop fooling us by spinning your data and whitewashing your performance.
5. Offset all of your current CO2 output and more by planting trees in areas that have suffered from deforestation and, like Urth, join the global 1% for the Planet network.
6. Switch to renewable energy in all manufacturing plants.
7. Modify your production processes to reduce hazardous and environmentally harmful chemicals and prevent them from entering the environment.
8. Make your products recyclable and use recycled materials in their manufacture.
9. Encourage and help your customers to do the same.
10. Reduce your wastewater.In the meantime, let us photographers shame those big, wealthy corporations who shout about the painstaking actions they take. We should also encourage them to do much better using the power of our wallets. Whenever possible, buy products that are demonstrably better for the planet.