14 Ways of Cutting Carbon from your Fashion Shoot, According to Alice Wilby
Happy 20th birthday, 10 Magazine. What to get the fashionista who has everything? How about the gift they never knew they wanted: a conversation about the carbon footprint of a fashion shoot? Wait… come back! With 2020 touted as the year fashion finally takes sustainability seriously, the ability to dial down your environmental footprint will be the Cinderella slipper everyone is fighting to cram their size 7s into.
You’d have to have spent 2019 in a coma not to be up to speed with the crushing existential crisis that is the climate emergency. Across the globe, activists have been quick to call capitalism’s biggest offenders to the table. The fashion industry, alongside fossil fuels and animal agriculture, is coming under increasing scrutiny to shape up – fast.
In September, framed by Greta Thunberg’s impassioned speech at the UN, and Extinction Rebellion’s London Fashion Week protests, Gucci announced they were going carbon neutral across their entire supply chain, with Kering following suit. Meanwhile, in New York, designer Gabriela Hearst debuted a much-lauded, carbon-neutral fashion show. After a decade of dancing with sustainability, the industry appeared to have found an answer.
But does carbon offsetting actually work? The answer is not as straightforward as the PR machine would have us believe. If used as part of a calorie-controlled diet, carbon offsetting could have a place in future-proofing the industry. But used to increase consumption and perpetuate the myth that high-carbon lifestyles are sustainable, offsetting sidelines the real issue: that we have to drastically cut our carbon emissions across all industry if we are to stand any chance of keeping the rise in global temperature to a non-catastrophic level.
Until now, the fashion shoot as a tool to propel growth has been celebrated. But post-2019, as our planet buckles under our rapacious appetite for new clothes, the practice of glamorising our unsustainable habit of mass consumption is rapidly looking, at best, gauche and out of touch and, at worst, like dangerous denialism. So how can we restyle the fashion shoot? How do we create an image-making revolution that reduces its environmental impact and inspires a culture of regeneration, renewal and repair?
1. Allow enough time to implement change.
To enable us to successfully lower the impact of our fashion shoots, we need to consider every element of the production. We’ve all been up against the clock and forced to make unsustainable choices. Hello, last-minute overnight delivery of “that look” from New York that isn’t even used. Or ordering takeaways wrapped in loads of single-use plastic for lunch because you didn’t have time to source a local caterer. Allowing enough lead time to plan and prep your shoot means that the lowest-impact solutions can be sourced and made available.
2. Be flexible with your brief.
Being flexible with the brief will enable your creative team to deliver the most sustainable options. And if you are booking crew for their sustainability expertise, then involve them from the start of the creative process, so they can advise best practice.
3. Choose a sustainable studio.
Go for a studio that runs on green energy and has a wraparound ethical ethos that will support your shoot, such as Sunbeam Studios in west London. Sunbeam run on 100% renewable energy and are arguably the most sustainable film and photographic studio available. Strongly influenced by zero-waste-living principles, their ethos sees them utilising a wide range of solutions. When your book with Sunbeam, the environmental impact of your shoot is reduced through their existing initiatives. If you’re on a budget and don’t need a big space, you could try the no-frills, sustainable Green Lens Studios, in north London. For film, try Mount Pleasant Studio in Clerkenwell.
4. Green your transport.
Let’s start with couriers. CitySprint have a zero-emissions fleet of cargo bikes and electric and hydrogen vans. You have to request them when booking and check they are available. You’ll also want to check out Green Courier. The UK’s leading environmentally friendly courier service, they offer a mix of zero- and ultra-low-emission vehicles, providing a carbon-balanced service. They also have a car service comprised of zero- and ultra-low-emission passenger vehicles, so your crew and talent can arrive on set with minimum environmental impact. If you want to make a real dent in the environmental impact of your shoot, then minimising air miles is essential. If you’re shooting on location, only fly a skeleton crew and hire everyone else locally. Also, take a look at your international courier services. Anything last-minute will involve flying, so ensure you leave time for sea and rail transportation. If you’re wanting to offset, see number 12.
When planning catering, go for seasonal, locally sourced plant-based companies. Keep the urge to use single-use plastic to a minimum by asking all crew to bring a refillable water bottle and coffee cup. If you’re on location and don’t have a freshwater supply for refills, bulk-buy water and refill.
6. Props and set design.
First, check if you can hire or borrow. If you’re making, remember most set designers are ingenious. So they are likely already recycling and upcycling more than you realise. Encourage it. Make it a visible part of the set design. As in numbers 2 and 3, include your creative team as early as possible to implement the most sustainable solutions. And once you’ve finished shooting, encourage the use of Set-exchange.com to recycle and reuse. If you’re using flowers, make sure they’re fair trade.
7. Hair and make-up.
Conscious-beauty consultant Khandiz Joni suggests that we resist the urge to order in new product from PRs for each shoot. Instead, practise using up everything you have to minimise waste. Then, when restocking, source cruelty-free products and those that come in recyclable packaging.
8. Conscious clothing.
If you want to shoot sustainably, you’ve got to prioritise sustainable fashion brands. The biggest carbon footprint of a garment is committed in its extraction and creation phase. So before you pull in new clothing, try championing clothing that already exists. Use your platform to promote rental, upcycled clothing and vintage. And look to innovative sustainable brands such as Phoebe English, who offer customers the chance to hire instead of buy, or upcycler Duran Lantink, who re-crafts luxury brands. If you want a big-name brand, then request to pull from their deadstock. Kate Phelan managed it with aplomb in January’s British Vogue, proving the brands will lend.
9. Model citizens.
Stop booking celebrity models. Repeat international travel has gifted the celebrity a larger-than-average carbon footprint. The ubiquitous celeb is also a shortcut to driving high sales for lots of brands. So in order to re-educate people about mass consumption, cut our carbon footprint and encourage another narrative that is planet friendly, let’s ditch the celebrity. Instead, view the casting process as another space to create a positive impact. Take a leaf out of pioneering sustainable designer Bethany Williams’s book. Williams casts from TIH, who work with models affected by homelessness, work that is vital in restoring hope and identity to people adversely affected by socioeconomic barriers. Or take the lead from feisty feminist brand Birdsong, who cast their own customers and community in their images, fostering a diverse image of beauty that reflects the reality of society and is sustainable.
10. Change the narrative.
The fashion shoot is an important tool in inspiring change and future-proofing the fashion industry. Use it to tell stories of real sustainable solutions and encourage enjoyment of clothing that doesn’t centre on constant newness. Inspire people to reconnect with nature and the resources that make our clothes. Ensure that, from the body images we idealise, to the narrative we perpetuate, all the elements of the shoot are as sustainable for people and the planet as possible.
11. Stand in solidarity with the global south.
Nothing says luxury, glamour and escapism like a far-flung location. However, times are changing. The people of the global south are now front line in the fight against climate change and are feeling the effects of the climate emergency daily. They are seeing their homelands flooded, eroded and threatened repeatedly by ever-worsening weather. We cannot keep jetting off to shoot in “luxury” locations, perpetuating the myth that everything is OK. It’s time to stand in solidarity. Let’s stop flying in to capture the beauty of their disappearing lands like nothing is wrong.
12. Too offset or not to offset?
Offsetting is often seen as a zero-sum game. Studies show that when big businesses start off-setting, it often enables them to emit more carbon than they did before. Many carbon-offsetting schemes are coming under fire from activists and environmentalists for dodgy methodology and lack of transparency. If you want to compensate for your emissions, then pick a scheme that focuses on carbon drawdown, such as Mossy Earth, who focus on restoring wild ecosystems and wilderness.
13. Communicate the changes.
A Novel Approach is an agency that gives clients an impact report when they’ve finished shooting. This can include everything from plastic waste and carbon footprint, to the human impact on set. Let your client know where you have saved them resources, so that the changes you implement aren’t invisible to them. If the client keeps pushing you to a place where your sustainable decision-making is compromised, unleash your inner activist and speak out.
14. Have fun with it!
No, seriously. If you’re still reading this, great, you get it. Despite all the doom, there is an exciting opportunity to effect radical change. Sometimes the best creative challenge is a restricted brief. Combine that with an urgent message and a powerful platform, and we have a chance to radically transform the industry.
Illustration by Charles Jeffrey. Taken from Issue 64 – BEST, FOOT, FORWARD – which is on newsstands now.
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