Tuesday, 11 May 2010

crafts, environmentalism and green woodwork

Is craft environmental friendly? There have been a spate of "craft and environmentalism" conferences recently, I haven't attended any, the last one was in Plymouth so the choice was a day each way on the train or an hour in a plane, many folk flew. I have had a very long standing interest in environmentalism and came to craft through working in conservation but I have never sold my work on a green/environmental type label. I am just back from the annual meeting of the green wood workers and pole lathe turners, an event inaccessible by public transport and without any lift-share arrangement. Many green woodworkers make their living by being paid to demonstrate at shows which necessitates driving often long distances. I don't know but I suspect driving 5 miles uses far more energy than running an electric lathe for a day. Using a foot powered lathe is not necessarily environmental friendly.

I guess what I feel is that in order to sell work on an environmental ticket we need to conduct a total audit of the production process, the sales and delivery chain and the lifespan of the product too. Today is my birthday and I was delighted with a gift from Nicola of a merino wool top from howies.

howies as a company do just this sort of research, see their blog here http://brainfood.howies.co.uk/footprints/know-thy-enemy/ 
"Making our products uses this much energy:
Bringing our products to you from our factories around the world consumes this much energy:
Washing and ironing our products uses this much energy:
As a company that wants to find the lowest impact way to make its quality clothing, that long red line needs all our energy.
We have to start designing products that need to be washed less.
It might take us some time. But at least we know who the enemy is."

howies products are not cheap but they are so well made they last and last. I struggle to find a pair a decent work jeans that last more than a few months but I bought three pairs from howies in the sale and they have outlasted all others (18 months very hard wear and still perfectly presentable. It is true they can also be washed less and still look presentable. I like this philosophy, I am far from perfect myself, it is difficult in a rural area in the 21st century UK to live an environmentally sensitive lifestyle. We are so car dependent. I wonder what our grandchildren will think, "Jees Grandad you mean you drove 5 miles in 2 tons of metal to get someone else to cook your dinner?"

So is craft environmentally friendly? I don't think it is inherently any more or less so than many other production methods and since I and most other craftsfolk drive a car we are part of the problem not the solution. I don't sell my work as being environmentally friendly, this year I will fly to Japan (last long haul flight was 2001, one long haul flight uses all your individual carbon allowance for a year) next week a friend and I ride our motorbikes to Italy. I have heated our home with carbon neutral wood for 20 years and pedal a foot powered lathe but still in global terms I use far more than my fair share of the earths limited resources.


  1. I think people would often link the two worlds together as the ethos of a traditional crafter is usually a 'green' one - locally sourced materials, hand tools over machinery etc

    However the word craft is being over taken by the likes of Etsy, the purses I make are considered craft (I sell at craft fairs) but I import the fabric I use from Japan, and use a sewing machine to make them... they certainly aren't green. Perhaps you could bring some fabric back for me when you visit! ;)

  2. I sell my products mostly on the internet which means I am not using my car. I use felt which is made from recycled plastic bottles, but unfortunately it has to come all the way from the States as they are the only company which make recycled felt. I could use non recycled felt made in the UK but it which uses up more of our natural resources.

    I think trying to be green is all a matter of swings and roundabouts. There will always be something you have to compromise on. You just have to do your best.