MY CARBON FOOTPRINT
Updated: Apr 19
I wanted to audit my photography businesses' emissions to see what impact I have on global emissions. Are the solar panels we have enough to make my photography business carbon neutral, or can we even count them against emissions on the ledger? There are many ways in which a business contributes to GHG emissions. Parcel deliveries and even having a website hosted in the cloud all count, so it's a tricky calculation to get right. To help with this I used Carbon Neutral's free carbon calculator.
Digital photography is a far less pollutive industry than in the days of film. Consumables such as film and processing chemicals are now gone and then we also had the multiple car trips which are no longer required.
Nowadays travel is mostly just to the job and back, however in the days of film each photoshoot had around 6 car trips associated with it.
1. pick up the film, polaroid and any hire gear
2. drive to photo shoot
3. drive to processing lab after the job for testing film called a 'clip test'
4. later drive to lab again to see clip test and give processing instructions
5. drive to lab once more to see film +/or proof sheets
6. courier the film to the client or for scanning, and then to client.
Consumables in day to day running are negligible. Using a large collection of rechargeable batteries for cameras, lights and triggers keeps means little is actually purchased new for each job. Good quality lithium batteries are lasting over 5 years. Embodied energy however, the energy and emissions associated with the construction of my photographic equipment, is not accounted for in this audit. Embodied energy is something I hope will be discussed more widely as we all look to reduce our impact on our environment.
I work mainly from a home studio built in my back garden so it's hard to extrapolate some areas of emissions from general household use. Family and business emissions such as from recycling and municipal waste, water and electricity were not divided up and simply put onto the ledger. Then I added emissions from the car, estimated packaging and consumables, paper used, takeaway food, air travel, accomodation, online cloud storage and public transport related to my business over one year. (Skip to the conclusion)
Photography being mainly a digital product means I am working in a relatively low emissions industry. A massive change from the dark room toxic chemical days. Travel and electricity are the main factors to consider as consumables in day to day running are negligible. Using a large collection of rechargeable batteries for cameras, lights and triggers keeps means little is actually purchased new for each job. Good quality lithium batteries are lasting over 6 years... although the embodied energy in the construction of my photographic equipment is not accounted for in this audit.
* The main areas of carbon emissions were electricity, travel and waste.
Car - 3.43 Tonnes
Electricity - 4.9 Tonnes
Waste - 0.55 Tonnes
Paper and Packaging - 0.35 Tonnes
Work Food and Drink - 0.17
Air Travel - 3.6 Tonnes
Water - 0.1 Tonnes
Public Transport - 0.24 Tonnes
Online Storage - 0.15 Tonnes
Accomodation - 0.33 Tonnes
Air travel was estimated as one economy domestic Australian flight and one economy international flight per year. To be honest I haven't flown for over three years as I have a young family and work mainly in Sydney and Wollongong, getting to jobs by car or public transport. One domestic flight was added to balance out the previous years I have flown for work. I also added one international flight to the ledger to allow for the air freight of photography equipment I might purchase online in a year. I feel one long haul return international flight would likely cover the freight aspect to my business purchases. International flights are a massive emitter of pollution.
The allowance for my electricity emissions also cover scope 1,2 and scope 3 sources. Scope 3 emissions are non-direct emissions further down the chain as part of supplying the service. I thought it was interesting to see this reflected in that the Carbon Neutral calculator suggests my electricity emissions 5 tonnes, however on my quarterly electricity bills say "indicative greenhouse emissions" are 1.3t + 0.8t + 0.6t + 0.7t = 3.4 tonnes. I have used the larger figure of 5 tonnes. I assume this is the more accurate scope 2 and 3 included.
Also it is worth noting that the electricity calculations do not include all the power we self consumed from the 11kw's of solar panels installed. I would expect the home, pool and my business usage would be at least double than the meter and bills show. Self consumption doesn't need to be included as it balances itself out on the emissions ledger as being emission free power usage.
SOLAR POWER EXPORTED
^ 37 panels on the roof and still not enough
According to our last four electricity bills the solar panels exported 8.469MWh of electricity while we imported 3.585 MWh from the grid. Those figures do not include the bulk of the power that we make as self consumed power is not seen by the meter. Overall though what is shown on our bills is that we sell twice as much power back to the grid than we import from it. Winter is the only quarter we get a bill. In 2019/20 the power company paid us $454. Not a bad result since they sell it back to us at such a premium and then there's the daily connection fee. The daily connection fee alone works out at $319.20 a year. The average household in NSW pays $1420 a year in electricity. This shows that even a large solar array costing about 13k probably pays back in 5 or 6 years even with interest on the loan.
* most of the power made and used is self consumed and does not show up on bills.
Black coal power stations emit roughly 900 grams of carbon per 1kWh of electricity produced. This is quite a lot when you consider most homes use about 18kWh's a day. That equates to16 kilos of carbon dioxide per household per day.
* Lithium batteries used on all shoots are mainly recharged during solar hours and tend to have a good life span. However they highlight areas not considered in my audit that have an impact on the environment with scope 3 embodied energy and the resources used in construction of lighting and camera equipment.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So my business is NOT carbon neutral. From this rough audit, which took me about 4 hours to compile using the online calculator and my water and electricity bills, I've estimated my business emitted 13.82 tonnes a year. Our solar array saved the grid 8.47 tonnes of per annum which, depending on how you consider it, leaves me 5.35 tonnes behind neutrality. I thought I might have done better considering our large solar array.
HOWEVER.... it's also vital to note that solar panels only 'save' power from being consumed. They do not remove CO2 from the atmosphere of course and so what are they offsetting? And then we have embodied energy to consider. Offsets are important to discuss as I think the debate about carbon neutrality is often confused by simple reduction of emissions and then actually going carbon positive. Solar panels reduce emissions overall in the grid, but removing carbon from the atmosphere is what trees do.
So the reality is that my carbon footprint is basically what I emitted as I pulled no carbon out the atmosphere. The self consumption from solar is a big win, however, I cannot count the emission reductions in the positive side of the ledger if we are honest about wanting to tackle the climate crisis properly. This is something our current government and others conveniently do not understand when discussing net zero targets. Do not be greenwashed by this trick in accounting.
The best idea is simply to reduce power use and be mindful about what we consume to begin with. We must support the development of fossil free power and stop actions that support deforestation.
WHAT TO DO
To offset my impact and balance the emissions ledger I wanted to consider who is actually having a large impact in Australia when it comes to stopping the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Although they are not offering carbon offsets, the Environmental Defenders Office has had a string of large wins for the environment in court and from that has had a huge impact on greenhouse emissions for our country. Using the law is one of the most effective ways to attain climate justice and so they are my preferred way to offset my emissions. You can read about their victories for the environment here. The judge in the case against the proposed Rocky Hill coal mine in Gloucester said " ...the GHG emissions of the coal mine and its coal product will increase global total concentrations of GHGs at a time when what is now urgently needed, in order to meet generally agreed climate targets, is a rapid and deep decrease in GHG emissions." My sole trader business made a $360 donation to the Environmental Defenders Office today.
So how do I work out how much to pay for offsets? Over 40 countries and many cities around the world already use a carbon pricing mechanism. Although we don't have one here, the IHS Markit Global Carbon Index is currently at $20USD/t. So my calculation is my emissions of 13.82t x USD20 = AUD360 at todays exchange rates. The Carbon Neutral calculator website also offer offsets which you can buy once you work out your totals.
As online carbon calculators continue to get more sophisticated and allow small businesses like mine to access them I hope more people will pay for their impact and contribution to climate change. Hopefully the carbon calculators find a way to include embodied energy in their results. Public discussion is also needed when considering buying offset credits versus the actual removal of carbon in the atmosphere. How do we get to net zero if we aren't actually taking carbon out of the atmosphere? They maths doesn't work if we are including "potential" and "saved" emissions, such as from renewables, against actual produced emissions from fossil fuels in the ledger.
Have a go at trying the calculator here.