Professional Photographer Magazine Web Exclusives

Tips for Greener Photography: The Photographer's Water Footprint

By Thea Dodds


In our last web exclusive we discussed ways to reduce your personal water footprint. In this article we will focus on identifying and reducing the photographer’s water footprint.

Photographers may not realize the extent of water waste associated with our work, but water is consumed in virtually every aspect of our lives and every choice we make for our business. Precious fresh water is used each time you turn on a light, and in the production of every new computer, camera, and photographic print. By learning more about where and how water is used in our professional lives, we are empowered to make choices to keep that use to a minimum. Here is an overview of how water is associated with the products and tools of photography businesses:

Electric Power: According to Rosebro, 2009, it is estimated that over a third of all freshwater withdrawals in the United States are used for energy production. Electricity has a direct connection to water because electric plants use fresh water for pumping crude oil, cleaning plant exhausts, generating steam, regulating heat and washing away unwanted residue.

Photographers use a fair amount of electricity, but the amount we use as individuals is small in comparison to the amount used to produce the tools of our trade. The United Nations University published a paper citing 3,600-8,300 Megajules of electricity are used to manufacture an average desktop computer and 17-inch monitor.

Electronics: The electronic industry uses not only large amounts of electricity, but water to produce its products. According to the United Nations University, the average manufacturing of a computer and monitor consumes about 396 Gallons (1,500 KG) of water. The semiconductors that require ultra-pure water (UPW) for refining are particularly large water consumers. "In 2007, Intel and Texas Instruments used a total of 11 billion gallons of ultra-pure water (UPW)" (Rosebro, 2009). Ultra-pure water is also ultra energy intensive, requiring an intense amount of energy during the purification process.

Metals and Mining: Computer chips are mostly made from crystalline silicon. Silicon is mined, and then purified with water. According to Williams, et al, 2002, it takes about 70.5 pounds of purified water to make a 32-megabyte memory chip and its plastic package. Your computer is also composed of aluminum, steel, copper and combined precious metals (gold, palladium, platinum, and silver). Water is required to produce and refine these metals so that they can be used to build electronic components.

Raw Materials: The majority of all water consumed in the United States is in the agriculture sector. This sector provides raw materials for photographers to print, frame, and make books and albums. Here are a few examples of raw materials photographers use and their water footprints:

Paper: The making of photographic paper is water intensive. Kodak Park reported using 26.5 million gallons of water per day (MGD) in 2001 (Wainwright, 2001).

Cotton: According to, it takes about 11,000 liters of water to make one kilogram of final cotton textile, the amount found in one cotton tee-shirt. Cotton rag and canvas used for printing by photographers are made from cotton-linters, a waste product of cotton production; these printing materials are Greener Photography's 'greenest' photographic print recommendation. Keep in mind that even though cotton-linters are considered a waste product, they are still related to the pesticide-ridden, water-intensive cotton industry. So although these materials are “natural” and do biodegrade over time, the water footprint involved in their production has a high environmental cost.

Leather: The water footprint of leather depends on the type of animal it is from, but reports the average cow requires 16,600 liters of water for 1 kg of leather.


Now that you understand how embedded water waste is in the value chain of the products you use, what can you do? The best thing is to know your suppliers’ practices and make the best choices for the planet and your business. Check for a list of the most eco-friendly photographic suppliers. To minimize the water footprint associated with your business processes and products:

• Buy fewer new electronics.
  - Make an environmental purchasing plan.
  - Buy used electronic gear whenever possible.

• Support businesses with an environmental action plan.
  - When buying new is necessary, buy from companies with an environmental statement and measurable goals to help the environment. Some examples are Canon, Kodak, Epson and many more on Greener Photography's links page.
  - Look for products that are Forest Steward Certified (FSC), recycled and/or organic.
  - Be skeptical. If a company calls something "green” there should be supporting data readily available to the public.

• Print only what you need.
  - Use on-line proofing, in-person projection ordering sessions, or proof books if necessary.
  - Design collections or wall galleries for your clients so they don’t print without a plan to display their photographs.

• When printing, print with archival materials to ensure the longevity of your products.
  - Educate clients on how to preserve and properly care for their photographs.

• Reduce, reuse, recycle.
  - Turn off and unplug your electronics when they are not in use.
  - Donate your still-usable electronics.
  - Participate in local e-waste recycling efforts for electronic gear that is not usable.

Thea Dodds is a wedding and portrait photographer based in New Hampshire. She is also a founder of Greener Photography, a non-profit organization that promotes environmentally-responsible photographic practices and products. You can learn more about Thea's work at and


Rosebro, Jack (2009). "Report Finds Water Stress Rapidly Becoming Key Strategic Risk to Commerce; Impending Water/Energy Co." Retrieved December 21, 2009 from the Wiseearth website:

Williams, Eric, Robert Ayres, and Miriam Heller. "The 1.7 Kilogram Microchip: Energy and Material Use in the Production of Semiconductor Devices." Retrieved December 21, 2009 from the Environmental Literacy Act website:

Wainwright, Gary (2001). "Water conservation in a water-intensive industry." Retrieved December 21, 2009 from the Clearwaters website: