Reducing the Environmental Impact of Your Photography: Hahnemühle's Green Papers

Reducing the Environmental Impact of Your Photography: Hahnemühle's Green Papers

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? 

Enter Hahnemühle

Hahnemühle FineArt launched their Natural Line, part of their Hahnemühle Digital Fine Art Collection of papers, in the fourth quarter of 2019.

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.

Green Rooster

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.

Curious infant mountain gorilla and mother in Bwindi, Uganda.

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.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Mark is a Toronto based commercial photographer and world traveller who gave up the glamorous life of big law to take pictures for a living.

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I've had great results with Bamboo paper - definitely a warm paper. Haven't tried the other but they all look pretty similar. While I am totally in support of any effort that supports sustainability and respect for the environment, I don't think these papers will make much of a difference. For one, they're only really used for fine art printing, not large scale commercial printing such as books, pamphlets or even 4x6 prints. Secondly, I'm not sure that these papers are 100% made from those sustainable materials. Again though I appreciate the step in the right direction even if it is mostly marketing. It would be great if the majority of paper products were made from these sustainable materials.

I m with you, this is marketing stunt t best.

I'm happy if anyone even wants to try. Sure, the papers will be more, and yes, likely for art printing instead of mass production. But, it's A LOT better than nothing, isn't it?

I personally haven't had a chance to touch and feel it yet. I'm looking forward to giving it a shot.

Like I said, the Bamboo is a really nice matte paper for fine art.

Isn't their photo rag made from used/recycled cotton cloth? And since it's archival, I assume there are very few chemicals involved (lack of chemicals is basically what archival is)? So as things go, even their basic photo paper doesn't seem all that bad for the environment.

Keep in mind that trees are sustainable and, in fact, are planted by the millions every year to keep the world in lumber, paper, etc. Having said that, using recycled stuff is something that I was involved in WAY before it became hip to be green. I worked in an industry that recycled waste products from the steel industry. ;-)

I completely agree. Trees as a resource CAN be sustainable. Historically, and in many cases today, it's not.

These days we have some of the largest forest burning like the amazon and Australia down due to climate change so they are not currently sustainab.le

And, keeping in mind the Amazon is at least in large part, being burned on purpose to put in cash crops like cotton (for paper and textile) or grass land for beef farming.

You do understand that before there was fire fighting equipment that when a forest or grassland caught fire it burned until Mother Nature put it out with rain or it ran out of fuel? In the United States alone, about 1.6 BILLION trees are planted each year. Additionally, by 1997, the United States is growing 42% more trees than being consumed.

In Canada, there are about 1000 seedlings planted EVERY MINUTE. Yes, it's self interest because it's the lumber industry, but my contention that trees are a sustainable resource is certainly in force, at least in North America.

Further, because of responsible forest care, there are more trees in the US now than there were 100 years ago. This is due, in part, to the fact that when a forest catches fire, there is a huge effort to stop the fires.

I'm not sure, but we may be talking at cross purposes. And, we're certainly drifting from my original point that there are better 'crops' than trees and cotton to be used in paper.

The Amazon is being burned in part on purpose. That has nothing to do with US fires. US fires are also much more dangerous these days as people move closer and closer to and into the burn zones.

I can't personally dispute your tree plant numbers, but, do those numbers come from paper companies? Somewhat related, there is no way that seedlings that are planted to replace 40 year old mature trees are doing much to help with clear cutting.

In the end, I'm not confident that lumber / paper companies are the best stewards of the environment. That's just like letting the oil or gold companies self-regulate. We've seen where that goes.

I made sure that the stats I found weren't from the lumber industry. The fact remains that prudent stewardship of trees as proven in Canada and the US can sustain a healthy forest. Your 40 year statement would have merit if the trees had just started to be planted. Fact is, the trees used for the lumber industry have been planted for much more than 40 years.

What's happening in South America is due to their need for food over wood. More and more land is being cut to produce food stuffs. I'm not the person to judge what they are doing since I don't follow their politics.

I do know that the lumber companies in North America realize that if they don't care for their product, they will be out of business. Self interest can be a powerful motivator to do the right thing and the fact that the US has 42% more trees than it did 100 years ago proves my point. Trees are a renewable resource. Whether or not countries choose to allow this doesn't change that fact.

"You do realise" that old growth is still logged for paper. "You do realise" that cotton is enormously environmentally destructive.

My point is that trees are sustainable. What you say may be true, but it has nothing to do with the fact that trees are a sustainable resource.

I don't disagree that trees can be sustainable,

I'm just not a believer in Adam Smith in our world. Selfishness on the scale we're all seeing today isn't going to do anything but destroy the planet. Shareholders are just as short sighted as the oligarchs of old. I have 0 faith in these companies being stewards.

I've seen oil company presentations talking about how drilling on the North Slope a km from one of the largest polar bear denning locations on the planet won't affect bear population at all. Lumber companies are no better.

There were great forests in Europe and the UK a few generations ago.

I live in North America. Maybe Europe should follow our lead and start planting trees.

The arrogance of human kind to think that they can destroy the planet is absurd. Do you know about the Great Bombardment around 3.5 billion years ago? How about the Permian Extinction about 250 million years ago? Mother Earth is still here and it's endured WAY more than we puny humans could ever do.

I'm making an educated guess that when you say 'destroy the planet' you mean human kind will vanish. That, sir, is inevitable. It won't be from plastic bags and straws, it'll be from that 15 mile wide asteroid/comet with Earth's name on it. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. Jupiter can't sweep away every comet or asteroid. And Bruce Willis or his heirs won't stop it.

Or maybe the Yellowstone Caldero will let loose. It might not wipe out human kind, but it'll put a major dent in it not to mention the disruption of life around the planet.

I do my bit; I recycle, I have reusable bags for groceries, keep my thermostat at a reasonable temp. If that's not good enough, then I guess Gaia will punish me when I assume room temperature. :rolleyes:

I'm not a fan of your tone, but, I'll chalk it up to the medium of the message and not the message itself. I'll assume that you don't intend to imply that I'm speaking here without any knowledge whatsoever. Especially with that supremely condescending tone and sarcasm

You are correct that I'm talking about humanity, however, I'm also talking about the mass destruction we, as humans, are currently inflicting on the planet and the other inhabitants. To use a metaphor, just because someone can heal from a stab wound doesn't make the act of stabbing someone any less sinister.

We're going to have to agree to disagree on how we will be the engineers of our own destruction, if that asteroid doesn't hit us first.

I still come back to, why not use more sustainable materials. Even if we don't literally destroy the planet, don't we want to stick around for a while?

I worked in an industry that is the world's biggest recyclers; the steel industry. As a matter of fact, the company I worked for recycled a waste product from the steel making process and turned it into consumables.

Yet, when people that don't know talk about steel mills, all they see are the old pictures of coke plants and Bessemer Converters spewing garbage into the air. Since those days, the steel industry has spent billions to keep pollution to a minimum. Well, let me qualify that by saying the steel industry in North America and Europe. I can't vouch for other countries beyond these. I know because the company I worked for worked in the mills in the US, Canada, and Europe.

So, what you say about using more sustainable materials, I agree because I've lived it. And to come full circle, trees are sustainable. It's a fact.

We will agree to disagree about the end of human kind. In the end, it's those that blame humanity for all of the ills and those that believe that humanity fixes mistakes they've made. I believe humanity fixes just by my life experience. Example:

I had a '76 Corvette. 350 cuin engine and all of 180 bhp. 0-60 in forever and got 13 mpg. Today, you can buy a C7 Corvette with 455 bhp, does 0-60 in about 3.5 seconds and gets 22 mpg if you keep your foot out of the throttle. And is very clean burning.

There's a myriad examples of how humans can and do fix what they've broken. What has to happen is this sort of mindset has to move to other parts of the world that have done little or nothing to curb their polluting ways. That is undeniable.

Lastly, my apology for coming off being snarky. Sometimes I let fly when I shouldn't.

About hemp: "It doesn’t need any pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides."

This is not true. A lot of pests love hemp. And it can be attacked by powdery mildew. Without pesticides or fungicides, these can spread very quickly and kill all your plants in a matter of weeks or even days.

My understanding is that pests may love it, but, that pesticides are not used on hemp. I was sure that in Canada, the US and many European countries, there are no approved pesticides. Instead farmers are encouraged to rotate crops etc. . . .

There are a lot of pesticides approved in every country, including for organic production of plants grown for human consumption.

I'm not an expert, but, I did find the following:

From the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture / Food and Rural Affairs: "No pesticides or fungicides are registered for use on hemp in Ontario. Crop rotation would appear to be a good cultural practice to avoid disease build-up until more is known about hemp's susceptibility to disease organisms. A 4-year rotation is recommended. Do not grow hemp on the same fields following canola, edible beans, soybeans or sunflowers."

Recent comment on new EPA rules taking effect 2020:
In a major step toward making the newly legal crop a national commodity, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday approved the use of 10 products to control insect pests and diseases – nine biopesticides and one conventional pesticide.

Perhaps this isn't an accurate representation of the law? Would you have any suggestions for further reading, this certainly interests me?