Studio ceramics have seen a resurgence in interest and activities in recent years, but making methods continue to be largely based on established practices: energy-intensive processes that often rely on industrially refined materials and air-polluting firing technology. Craftspeople, researchers and educators sensitive to issues of sustainability are leading numerous initiatives in the effort to "clean" studio ceramic practices. These actions are important steps forward but tend to focus on reducing the impact of existing processes and, overall, lack a more comprehensive analysis that can rethink the process of making ceramics by hand more broadly.
Studio practitioners' efforts are no match for the considerable improvements achieved by the ceramic industry, informed by life cycle assessments and aided by the economy of scale of industrial processes. While these solutions are not directly available to studio makers, a transdisciplinary approach to sustainable craft making would adapt lessons from material science and innovation in industrial ceramics to inform hand production. Research suggests that major benefits would be gained by improving three key operations: the procurement of ceramic materials, the firing of ceramics and the distribution of products to customers. For instance, when a high carbon footprint is generated even before the clay reaches the maker's studio, solutions must be sought by involving the suppliers of ceramic materials.
The talk provides an overview of issues, artworks, technical solutions and scientific findings in this area, focusing on practical innovations that can be implemented more widely. Finally, the author introduces the Sustainable Pottery research project he leads at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan. The project marries the needs of studio practitioners with the technical know-how of a national engineering university with a long tradition in ceramic research. Current experiments with urban waste, recycled ceramics and firing with bio-fuels are demonstrating the validity of this approach. A new online platform gathering international best practice from multiple sources offers a useful overview of current resources and aims to become a focal point for science-based discussion of sustainable solutions for studio pottery and handmade ceramics.