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:
8%
Bringing our products to you from our factories around the world consumes this much energy:
3%
Washing and ironing our products uses this much energy:
80%
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.

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6 Responses to crafts, environmentalism and green woodwork

  1. Tico May 11, 2010 at 12:18 pm #

    Thanks for calling attention to this, Robin. Right now the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico is overwhelming my mind. The public, typically, is looking at it as another "spill" and expecting volunteers to come to the rescue, when, in fact, it is our lifestyles that must come into deep scrutiny.As woodworkers we, especially, should feel an obligation toward environmental stewardship. Car dependency is absolutely a key issue, with no easy answers, but very vital to address.

  2. Brian May 11, 2010 at 1:51 pm #

    Natural wool is one of the best, don't have to spray the sheep with fertilizer or herbicides and pesticides. You can turn the heat way down in a nice wool sweater. The lanolin tends to shed dirt and stains, the color masks most of what does stick, and so you can get away with a pretty long time between washes and even then I just dissolve a spoonful of soap in a bucket or the bath, soak, rinse once or twice and line dry it. They are also pretty easy to track down for a couple of bucks at thrift stores in perfect shape as people often get them as gifts but don't wear them much…

  3. Roued May 11, 2010 at 4:46 pm #

    Just visited Howie's shop in London yesterday and was very impressed. You want environmentally friendly clothes for babies and children – easy peasy! For women – becoming better! For men – forget it! My husband really wants to wear environmentally friendly clothes but to find any that is still stylish is so difficult. Braintree Hemp has a bit and so does People Tree. But to be honest it's not a lot and not that flattering. So I am glad to hear that you have test driven their jeans. Will have to wait for the next sale though.

  4. Sean Hellman May 11, 2010 at 5:37 pm #

    Good points, I too drove to the Bodgers Ball, and can try to justify it by saying I made to delivers of benches one in Exeter and one in London, on the way I visited a sculpture garden that wants to display my work. These deliveries and visits are arrange well before hand so that I cam maximise the use of my time and the use of the van.I would be happy to provide my service to my locality only, say a 20 mile radius of where I work, many woodworkers do this, but buy there wood from Europe or the USA, I forgot Asia and Africa. I am yet to find the best way of doing this with the green wood part of my business.In an ideal world I would work only in my community (village) and provide the woodwork needs within it, like Walter Rose in the Village Carpenter. The few major shows I travel too each year are an event for me, not only selling, demonstrating, but great in the sharing of ideas and techniques, Perhaps I should make a hand cart and walk, selling my wares as I travel.

  5. flyingshavings May 11, 2010 at 10:19 pm #

    Happy birthday Robin! You've certainly got something there. I reckon to be a bit green in so far as my stuff is made where the timber is felled, but then I get there in a diesel supping Land Rover, it is good for bringing the logs home however; the trailer weighs so much with the splitter and a load of logs. It makes me laugh when people accuse me of 'cheating' when I use a battery drill and ignore the Landy sitting next to the workshop! I used to commute to London – by train so I guess my carbon foot print may be a little smaller now, nobody's perfect though, bit depressing really. Perhaps i should get a horse and cart …

  6. flyingshavings May 11, 2010 at 10:19 pm #

    Happy birthday Robin! You've certainly got something there. I reckon to be a bit green in so far as my stuff is made where the timber is felled, but then I get there in a diesel supping Land Rover, it is good for bringing the logs home however; the trailer weighs so much with the splitter and a load of logs. It makes me laugh when people accuse me of 'cheating' when I use a battery drill and ignore the Landy sitting next to the workshop! I used to commute to London – by train so I guess my carbon foot print may be a little smaller now, nobody's perfect though, bit depressing really. Perhaps i should get a horse and cart …

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