Building a ceramics practice that is good for the planet

Building a sustainable ceramics practice.

I have been giving a lot of thought lately on sustainability in our ceramics practice. It isn’t something I have talked about a lot, probably because I didn’t think we were good enough yet. Are we ever?

I started listening to episodes of the Making Design Circular Podcast with Katie Treggiden. The podcast is all about the steps we can take for a more sustainable practice, in our own imperfect way, rather than being hung up on perfection. So here we are.

I scored Mud Dept. against Katie’s 10 actions checklist for starting actions. I was pleased to find how well we were doing, particularly with our recycling, waste, and power.

I thought I would share some of the things we are doing for our bit and also some of the things we are still working towards. You might find this useful for your studio , or perhaps it is important to you to understand where how ethical your Mud Dept. ceramics are.

Here goes:

  • We recycle clay - no clay is wasted in this studio, and I am ever more ruthless on not firing things I think I won’t be happy with in the end. Clay can be rehydrated and reused right up to before it is fired.
  • We have solar panels installed which powers the studio heating, wheels and has enough kw to drive the electric kiln.
  • We have started using an EV for deliveries
  • We use an ethical bank for the business finances - Bank Australia
  • We donate part of our earnings to social or environmental groups. This year our funds are going to the Bob Brown Foundation.
  • We skip the use of toxic glaze materials, even if Barium does make for some sweet, sweet glazes.
  • We have been smashing our failed pots for use in drainage pits around the studio. It isn’t much but saves a little gravel
  • We use Australia Post for deliveries and Australia Post provides carbon neutral delivery
  • We use Ecosia as our search engine. Profits go to planting trees.
  • We use fully recycled and recyclable packaging. No plastics are used, which comes at an additional cost. We even collect used packing peanuts from a few local businesses and keep a careful eye out for the perfect size packing boxes to recycle.
  • We have a bucket of glaze test excess scraps we keep that will soon be used to make a monster glaze. It may be ugly or it may be beautiful.
  • We have been exploring and testing using wild clay dug from our garden in our pieces. So far this hasn’t been as successful for functional ware but does make some really lovely non functional pieces.
  • We fire our pieces to stoneware so that they are strong enough to last a long, long time.
  • We design with timelessness in mind - we would love our pieces to be family heirlooms, passed down through the generations.
  • We subscribe to Who Gives a Crap for our comfort and cleaning needs
  • We make some of our own tools from bits and bobs in the shed.

What else are we thinking about? …

One of the suggested actions from Making Design Circular was to sign up to 1% for the Planet. 1% for the Planet is a certification program where businesses commit 1% of revenue (not profit) to organisations working to save our planet. I looked into signing up and certification. I was surprised to see it isn’t widely adopted in Australia.

I decided against certification. Why? As a small creative business I did the maths and more of my money would be going to fees for 1% for the Planet than to the Environmental Partner I want to support, the Bob Brown Foundation. So I am personally committing to 1%, just without the certification.

A big one for us is gas use. Oh how I love and hate gas. The colours, textures of our clay and glazes, and the lovely speckled finish of our Mud Dept. ceramics, are the result of a process called reduction firing. Reduction firing is usually done with gas or wood fired kilns and can’t really be done with an electric kiln. In the interests of transparency we use about 30-40 litres of gas per firing of our large kiln. We always wait until we have a full load about 60 pieces before firing it up.

Our gas is supplied by Elgas. I did a little research recently and it turns out they offer a carbon neutral gas supply. Of course the carbon neutral comes as a result of offsets but Elgas are working towards a renewable gas supply and I am going down a rabbit hole trying to understand what renewable gas actually is, or indeed if it is even a thing. For now though I have switched to carbon neutral supply and will keep testing for a happy switch to electric.

There is a great article in the British Crafts journal on a sustainable pottery studio here if you want to learn more. 

All in all I am proud of the steps we have taken to make Mud Dept. a more sustainable business. I would love to hear if you have other practical solutions

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