Glass is beautiful, gorgeous and is a lovely way to add colour to any room, but sadly making glass isn't a very eco-friendly process.
Even though the raw ingredients for making glass are pretty plentiful (sand, sodium carbonate and lime), it uses lots of energy to melt them together to make the "raw" glass; more energy to fire it into designs and it can be transported long distances from the manufacturer to end-customer. I'm very aware that this high carbon footprint doesn't sit well with my eco views, so I try to do as much as possible to offset all these factors by reducing our other uses of energy, or making sure that the energy we use is as eco-friendly as possible.
I use Bullseye glass which is manufactured in Portland, USA. I've looked for a nearer manufacturer who offers a similar range of colours, but can't find one... and it's important to stick to one type of glass to avoid disasters in the kiln (maybe I'll write a post about why, one day!) When it's transported to our UK supplier the Bullseye glass travels via container shipment. Although not perfect, this method of transportation releases around 95% less CO₂ compared to air freight.
Given that the manufacturing of the glass is the biggest part of the carbon footprint, it makes sense to make use of every scrap of glass. Nothing gets wasted in my studio. Offcuts of clear glass are parcelled up and sent to a lovely man in Scotland, who melts them down to produce cast glass items. Even the smallest fragments of coloured glass are carefully collected and will often find their way into jewellery or other small pieces of art.
When fusing glass, my main kiln is a Kilncare FK5. It was manufactured in the UK to extremely high standards -Kilncare kilns are known to be amongst the most well-insulated and therefore energy-efficient kilns available. The insulation is actually so good that it can be really annoying when I want the kiln to cool down a bit faster so I can see what lovely things are inside! After careful experimentation, I've also programmed the kiln to use the lowest possible temperature and duration to get the desired effects - further minimising the energy usage. The kiln's fabulous build quality and reliability mean I get very few failures and so I rarely need to waste a firing by putting a piece through twice. Both of our kilns are heated by electricity and all of our electricity comes from renewable energy sources - in the UK, that mostly means wind turbines, which don't contribute to global warming.
To further reduce the carbon footprint, our heating for the glass studio comes partly from solar panels on the roof, with any top-up powered by a wood-burning boiler. The boiler is fed with wood pellets purchased from reliable FSC sources, which ensure that new trees are planted to replace those that have been cut down to turn into the pellets. Newly planted trees grow faster than their older relatives, absorbing extra CO₂ from the air, so our heating ends up nearly carbon-neutral. The kilns obviously generate a lot of heat when they're on, so many glass studios get too warm rather than too cold - but our home also has a heat recovery system which takes any excess warm air from the studio and moves it to cooler parts of the house, meaning less need to put our heating on. At the same time, the glass studio's lighting is completely based on LEDs, which have the lowest possible energy usage (and they are again powered 100% by renewable energy sources).
One other way that we can reduce our carbon footprint is at the delivery stage. If you are local, we will often deliver your glass ourselves, usually in an electric vehicle (charged using 100% renewable electricity). If you are further away, we will send your glass via Royal Mail. They have the lowest reported CO₂ emissions per parcel amongst major UK delivery companies and we will, of course, take your parcel to the Post Office in our electric vehicle.
One final thought - I could make artwork from other materials, and some of them would have lower embodied energy... but none of them would have the same wonderful properties and longevity as glass. So much of our carbon footprint is caused by the throwaway culture of fast fashion, but when you buy a piece of glass art, you're not just buying something pretty for today - you're buying an antique of the future. Making glass may involve using more energy than I'd like, but it'll also have a lifespan that far exceeds most other materials. After all, archaeologists routinely dig up Roman glass artefacts that are thousands of years old and still look beautiful after a quick wash.
What do you think? How could I reduce my carbon footprint further? Please send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org