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Sustainability And Ethical Practice

Updated: Jun 3

Since listening to Sara Howard's talk at last year's NPA potters camp I have become a little bit more conscious as a maker. My impact on the environment is tiny compared to that of an industrial ceramic enterprise nevertheless I can still make changes to my practice and play my small part.

I have spent the last 12 months learning as much as I can, I’ve attended interesting seminars by Make Southwest, joined Design Nation’s sustainability group, read a few books on the topic and watched YouTube videos. There is quite a lot of stuff out there, it’s just knowing where to look and what could work for you.

Yuliya Makliuk’s book “Potters Save The World” is a collection of practical ideas from a number of potters including the writer which I have found particularly helpful. Each chapter has a summary at the end providing the reader with a quick reference point for those in a rush or who are like me, a bit impatient!

So what things have I been more conscious of and what changes have I made? Well first I’ve stopped using cobalt oxides both in my practice and at workshops I deliver, due to the human rights of those mining the material. I understand that Potclays now sell an ethically mined cobalt oxide which potters might look to use instead. I am also trying new ways to develop my own copper oxide at home to reduce my usage of mined metals and therefore using a more sustainable process.

I have always tried to use eco packaging for delivering my work to customers and galleries, which will continue. Something new I am trying however is making my own grog from broken bisque ware. In the past I would have sent it to landfill but a well aimed hammer will hopefully make better use of it.

Firing choices are probably where the potter can make the biggest impact, which is the most polluting stage in making ceramics. Quality control is an important factor, if a piece already has a crack in it, the crack will only get bigger once it’s fired so why waste the energy and resources. I’m more conscious that my kiln is kept in good working order, it is relatively new so has excellent insulation, but I keep a logbook of each of my firings to identify any deterioration in efficiency.

And lastly, I’m more inquisitive as to where my materials have come from. I already use local materials as part of my clay body recipe however I have started to switch materials that come from Europe and America for those that can come from the UK, porcelain from Cornwall being an example.

There are many ways a ceramicist can reduce their impact on the planet, from asking questions, having discussions with suppliers, to making small changes in their practice and sharing their knowledge with their customers and other artists.

What steps can you take today?

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