Social Impact Photography

Giving back to the community and being a good neighbour is a pillar of many business strategies. Unfortunately, not all businesses appear to be completely sincere with but one way of demonstrating commitment and telling credible stories is through social impact photography.

A recent report from Deloitte states: ‘…consumers are also being more proactive in their pursuit of adopting a more sustainable lifestyle, whether by choosing brands that have ethical or environmentally sustainable practices and values, or by no longer purchasing certain products because they have concerns around the brand’s ethical or sustainability practices or values.’

There is clearly greater demand from consumers (and investors) to support businesses who operate with purpose-led values but how that is conveyed is less clear. Some schools of thought advocate certification schemes and membership of relevant bodies but research suggests that consumers don’t know enough about these types of schemes to make an informed choice or trust them. What we do know is that consumers, journalists and even employees will often expose bad practice through images. So why not use images to tell your positive stories?

I would argue that photography is a more effective tool for conveying social impact than a scorecard from a certification body. In an article called ‘The decade of worthless green initiatives is over’ the author writes ‘Brands that do not take ESG seriously will consequently lose out on talent, surrender customer loyalty and fail to survive in the long run. This is why sustainability communication is so vital.’

This is why sustainability communication is so vital.

Photography, rightly or wrongly, is still regarded as truth and evidence, whereas reports and accreditations that people don’t fully understand aren’t always accepted as being true.

The same report from Deloitte found that only 25% of consumers trusted labeling as an indication of sustainability. A 2022 report into the fashion industry called, Licence to Greenwashing by the Changing Markets Foundation, claims ‘While fashion brands double down on production and environmental destruction, they’re using sustainability certification schemes and voluntary initiatives as a smokescreen.’

Social Impact Photography Tree Planting

Social Impact Photography – images not just words

Not that many years ago Nike was just one global brand being called out for unsustainable practices in its supply chain. Nike then went to work to rectify the situation and now publishes its ‘Impact’ report on its website, which is heavy with images. We can now see Nike’s supply chain through photography, we can see the people, the surroundings and the conditions they are working in. We can also see Nike employees working in the community to deliver social impact through sport. Nike also has numerous sustainability accreditations for its work, but the pictures speak louder than the words.

For a number of years I have been asked to photograph the work of volunteers across the country but particularly in and around London.

I’ve documented individuals and businesses bringing former industrial land back into use for the local community.

Social Impact - Cody Dock biodiversity survey

I’ve witnessed local authorities, charities and volunteers working collaboratively to protect communities and businesses from the future impacts of climate change.

Social Impact Photography woman tree planting

I’ve spent many mornings with groups of individuals and corporate volunteers cleaning up the shorelines of the River Thames.

Social Impact - Group st shore of Thames ready to clean up

These types of community projects, which are often sponsored or supported by businesses, can go unnoticed unless documented and celebrated. The purpose of documenting isn’t necessarily to promote the business, it’s to celebrate the people, whoever they are, and the contribution they are making to society.

When I was asked to visit the regeneration project at Cody Dock, a former gas works, I was told that nobody had really shown much interest in what they were doing. Several months later my photographs were in the City AM newspaper as part of a feature on the project.

Barnes Group portrait of river cleaners

It’s not just the business that benefits – boost the impact

Documenting social impact projects, whatever they might be, demonstrates an interest in the initiative and boosts the confidence of all those involved – whether they are volunteers from your own business or from elsewhere. Just the act of showing an interest through photography seems to validate the work people are doing and inspires them to do more and go further.