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Tips for Greener Photography: Shipping

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By Jessica Riehl

Most of us underestimate the impact of shipping our products and supplies. Did you know that components of photographic products are often shipped multiple times before they are assembled? Did you know that air shipping is the most carbon-intensive form of shipping? From Yvon Chouinard’s book “Let My People go Surfing,” here are a few statistics on generic energy costs to ship per ton:

Rail or boat: 400 BTUs per ton mile
Truck: 3,300 BTUs per ton mile
Air Cargo: 21,760 BTUs per ton mile
Air Cargo uses 6.5 times more fuel than shipping by ground.

We should not only ask questions about where things come from, but how they are shipped as well. As Elisabeth Rosenthal reported for The New York Times, “Under longstanding trade agreements, fuel for international freight carried by sea and air is not taxed” (Elisabeth Rosenthal, "Putting Pollution on Grocery Bills," The New York Times). In other words, no one is paying the environmental cost of shipping.

What can you do to reduce the impact of shipping?

• Build the extra time into your workflow to use ground shipping and inform your clients of the ecological benefits.

• Recycle your print boxes and sheets of cardboard used to protect your photographs. Cardboard sheets can be donated to art classes. Most local shipping stores will take your old packing peanuts and reuse them.

• Consolidate your orders. By ordering once a week or every two weeks you will reduce the number of boxes you receive and the number of trips a shipping carrier will make to your door.

• Reuse your packing materials such as peanuts and air bags. You can also shred old papers for a colorful alternative to buying peanuts.

• Utilize the home or studio pickup service provided by many shipping carriers. One less trip to the post office will save fuel.

• Support companies that are changing the way they do business. For example, use United States Postal Service priority mail boxes instead of other services. According to the USPS website, they are the only company which holds a Cradle to Cradle certification for their packaging. Cradle to cradle ensures all products of the manufacturing process are recycled, reused, composted or consumed. USPS also owns the largest fleet of alternative fuel vehicles in the country, and they already stop by your home or business every day.

• Use water-activated recycled gum tape instead of other types of adhesive. For more information go to Provincial Papers.

• Using the right sized box to ship in will reduce the amount of money you pay for shipping and the amount of packaging needed for your product.

• Let your clients know about the actions you take to reduce your shipping impact. Make a stamp or sticker to put on your boxes, letting your client know up front you reduce your impact on the environment by using ground shipping and recycling your packaging materials.

Jessica Riehl is an active member of Greener Photography, Virginia Professional Photographers Association, Professional Photographers of America, and the owner of Jessica Riehl Photography.