Optical printing is a dirty and time-consuming process. The chemicals involved in printing are bad for you and bad for the environment. Digital printing hasn’t changed much of this impact for the better. The chemicals used to treat photographic printer paper aren’t great for the environment. The paper itself uses a significant amount of resources to cultivate. Do you ever wonder if there is a better alternative?
Let’s start with the premise that printing your images is good for your photography. It helps you to see where you’ve succeeded and where you could improve. Although most people don’t experience it anymore, the darkroom is full of science that verges on feeling like magic: the red light, the floating paper, an image rising from what seems like nowhere. Printing digitally can have the same magic. As the image slowly rolls out of the printer, your work is revealed one line at a time. To me at least, this has the same basic anticipation and magic that the darkroom had.
Both of these methods of bringing your work to light can have very negative environmental consequences. The chemicals used to grow paper’s raw materials, the optical brighteners and paper coatings, not to mention the use of water for crop materials and the disastrous consequences of logging are all very serious. Sure, moving away from coal or oil will have a more significant impact, but this is a photography portal, so let’s focus there for now.
I think we’re probably beyond arguing that using green materials is better for the environment. After all, why use more than you need, why leave a bigger mess than you have to?
Before I continue, to be clear, this is not a sponsored article. I have not received any compensation, financial or otherwise, from Hahnemühle or anyone else to write this article. I am simply interested in these environmental issues and ways in which we can reduce our footprint. I wanted to share with Fstoppers’ readers some products that may reduce some of the environmental impact of our craft. Now, back to Hahnemühle.
According to Hahnemühle, their papers have been vegan since 1965. The new line of bamboo, hemp, and agave takes this green approach a step further. These papers are made up of plant fibers that grow quickly and don’t require pesticides. This rapid growth means that more product can be grown in the same physical and temporal space as other raw materials. These plants also require much less water than the materials used in traditional papers. I also find it encouraging that Hahnemühle’s Natural Line doesn’t need optical brighteners, reducing the chemical footprint of these papers. Overall, this saves resources and protects the environment.
Hahnemühle’s bamboo paper is described as a soft, lightly textured felt structure with a sensual feel. This paper is designed to work best for warm hues and monochrome prints.
In terms of the paper quality, the bamboo is acid- and lignin-free and meets the most precise requirements in terms of age resistance. All of the Natural Line meets ISO 9706, conforming to museum quality for age resistance.
Looking at its green credentials:
- Bamboo grows 20 to 30 times faster than wood. It is one of the fastest-growing plants on earth with growth rates of up to one meter per day.
- It can be harvested every five years without damaging the plant. The stumps from the harvested plants will sprout and grow again.
- Bamboo can thrive in depleted soil.
- It needs less water than crop plants and doesn’t need fertilizers or pesticides at all.
- By dropping leaves throughout the year, bamboo creates its own natural compost, effectively turning degraded soil into farmland.
- Due to its strong root system, bamboo prevents erosion.
Hahnemühle’s describes its hemp paper as a lightly textured paper with a pleasant, silky feel. Hahnemühle calls this paper a truly versatile fine art inkjet paper.
It’s hard not to buy into the archival nature of hemp. After all, the first prints of the Gutenberg Bible and, as rumor has it, early drafts of the US Declaration of Independence used hemp.
In terms of its green statistics:
- Hemp is fast-growing and reaches up to four meters within its first 90 days of growth.
- It’s an undemanding plant and grows almost everywhere without needing a special climate or soil.
- It requires considerably less water than other paper material.
- It doesn’t need any pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides.
- Every part of the plant can be used — the seeds, the leaves, and the stems.
For those of you that have, um, problems with hemp’s relation to the marijuana industry, industrial hemp has no intoxicating effect.
Hahnemühle’s description for its agave paper reads:
The rough, yet delicately defined surface texture gives the subject a captivating sense of depth and impresses with a pleasant, soft feel.
Hahnemühle claims that its agave paper provides outstanding print results with excellent reproduction of color and detail, deep blacks, and optimum contrasts.
Looking at its green value:
- Agave is an undemanding plant can grow in dryer conditions that would stunt most other paper materials.
- It needs about four years to grow before it’s ready for harvest. In this growing phase, other plants like corn or beans are cultivated between the agaves, which counteracts monocultures and improves the soil quality due to humidification of harvest residues.
- Agave doesn’t need any fertilizers or pesticides.
- The leaves of the agave can be harvested several times a year over a period of up to 15 years.
On top of the paper itself, Hahnemühle’s Green Rooster funds a series of projects related to reforestation, animal welfare, and environmental education programs. To date, more than 220,000 € has been donated to various environmental initiatives. Hahnemühle donates 5% of the proceeds from its green papers to these projects. To me, their donations to the mountain gorillas in the Congo is enough reason to spend more time investigating their papers.
While writing this introduction article to Hahnemühle’s Natural Line, I talked with Lynn Johnson, Michelle Valberg, and master printer Tom Underiner. In my next article, I will talk about how Hahnemühle’s papers have affected each of their photographic growth.
Your Approach to Green Strategies?
In the meantime, do the environmental concerns of printing ever enter the equation for you?
All images of Hahnemühle's product provided by Hahnemühle. Image of infant gorilla provided by let us go photo.