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  • Writer's picturewyldeoakeartistry

What does sustainability and ecologically friendly mean to WOA?

Updated: Dec 9, 2023



This is a blog that has been playing on my mind a little of late particularly due to the rise in sustainability as an important aspect from the point of both industry and of small businesses particularly as increasingly want to know what businesses are doing to help the environment, both now and in the future. To understand and to be able to make a statement for WOA first I must get to the bottom of what sustainability is versus, or in conjunction with, what being ecologically friendly is? are they different? and if so why and in what manner? Like many as an individual I am very much conscious of my plastic usage, our waste in a throw-away and highly commercialised/capitalised society the use of pesticides, fungicides and our human impact on the planet including our carbon footprint particularly due to academic study. However, as an art practice we, as a partnership, find ourselves in a dilemma as currently we are aware of using cellophane bags that come with the mounts that are ordered and, of me as the artist, being horrifically, naively, ignorant of whether my soft pastels, pencils and papers that I use are either cruelty free, environmentally friendly or sustainable.

Henceforth, before I go further I just want to examine what exactly is the definition of sustainable and ecologically friendly? According to the United Nations Bruntland Commission sustainability is "“development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (EcoCart, s.d.) with sustainable art being defined as ".... the creative practice of making artwork that are not harmful to the environment as well as works that address topics such as climate change, waste and social issues." (arttera.ca, s.d.). Furthermore, EcoCart states: "Environmental sustainability strives to preserve our planet’s natural resources, ecosystems, and biodiversity. We’re talking about reducing waste, being energy-savvy, and protecting habitats to ensure our environment remains healthy and resilient. And here’s why: the world’s population is currently consuming 1.6 planets worth of resources per year, a trend that simply isn’t sustainable over the long run." (s.d.) Eco-friendly is more succinct as it simply means not harming or minimizing harming the planet but research reveals it is a broad and often ambiguous term. Recycling paper is seen as ecologically friendly but if as an artist you then paint with acrylic paint it negates that usage due to the microplastics and toxins within the waste water created when washing brushes or rinsing palettes. Furthermore, the paper itself cannot be recycled further, perhaps on a compost heap, for the same reason and currently causes me a bit of a conundrum - the photo attached to this blog is of my most recent fungal book that has been transformed, and decayed by fungal mycelium but its continued existence is due to the toxins of the acrylic paints and pastels used in the artwork that makes up the pages. Paint contains volatile organic compounds (VOC's) with research suggesting that some fungal strains can break down paint flakes under stress conditions (Isfaq et al, 2015) but this is an area that is piquing my interest and I would like to do further research on this subject. I have almost completely stopped using acrylic inks and paints for similar reasons that I moved away, very early on in my MA, from spunbonded fabrics: the latters usage was concerning me in terms of microfibres but also of the health and safety concerns regarding inhaling carcinogens when melting the material. Additionally, I started to question the recyclability and how ecologically friendly the spunbonded brands I was using at that point in time, even when ordering from a local suplier, whilst being away eco-friendly brands were coming into the market place but at price-points that were not economically viable to our art practice. This brings me to the point that EcoCart makes the distinction that being eco-friendly is making the choices that affect the planet now but which may not be sustainable in the long run (s.d.): for me sustainability also takes into account economic factors too when considering our own practice as a growing business model. EcoCart further states: "....sustainability goes beyond just reducing harm to the environment. It also encompasses the social and economic aspects that impact the planet’s health. So, while eco-friendly products are a step in the right direction, they may not check all the boxes required to be considered sustainable" (s.d.). One of these boxes is whether you can be sustainable within an art practice if you are ordering materials from outside of your home country e.g. living in England and ordering from Europe, Australia or the USA? this question has arisen due to both talking to other artists, my research of artists over my time in academic study and also as I search for new suppliers of artistic materials, studio supplies and incidentals such as packaging. To answer this I must be objective, rather than subjective, as our carbon footprint, without question, impacts upon any sustainability statement due to transportation even if the companies themselves have a transparent sustainable framework, ethics and guidance. A quick research reveals my two primary soft pastels are made in France and The Netherlands although I order from a UK based company. To address firstly Sennelier, their website states that it "still mines the earth for minerals and other natural elements from traditional sources - pigments like clays and iron oxides used in ochres and the preparation of 'burnt' earth colours from calcified soil." (Sennelier, s.d.) and henceforth I have emailed the company to ask them about their sustainability statement/framework as I was unable to find direct information or any company statement at the time of writing and will update this blog accordingly. In contrast Royal Talens, who licenses Rembrandt, states: "At Royal Talens, sustainable business means that, in addition to generating profits, we also strive to look after our planet and the people who live on it. We are pursuing the right balance between social responsibility (people), concern for the environment (planet) and providing a sustainable economic future for our employees, customers and the company (profit)." (s.d.) The company also further states: "Royal Talens attaches great importance to sustainable business and has undertaken a variety of measures to help protect the environment. We also aim to reduce our ecological footprint for the future. We are achieving this in several ways such as lowering electricity consumption (-2% per year), decreasing transport mileage, and reducing (packaging) materials and waste. In addition, we are striving to use more sustainable energy sources and packaging materials, such as cardboard and bioplastics." What I find particularly appealing about continuing to associate and use Royal Talens products are the fact that these two statements are just the summaries of their overall sustainable statement which expands on transport, gas consumption, energy, re-using of soft pastel waste and their usage of sustainably grown wood to produce products which hold the Forest Stewardship Council trademark. The FSC is an "... organisation sets global standards for responsible forest management, carefully considering the interests of people, the environment and the economy. " (Royal Talens, s.d.). Furthermore, and perhaps most vitally, the statements cover and mention directly their licensed brands including the aforementioned Rembrandt soft pastels. This is unquestionably important to me particularly as reading further the company also uses an environmentally friendly treatment plant which brings me to my subjective opinion that sustainable and ecologically friendly go hand in hand - they are not separate issues but work together to protect our planet. Notably, Derwent and Faber Castell also both carry the FSC certification and with the latter also showing clearly on their individual pastel pencils their ecological/sustainable creditions including varnish and carbon neutral production as well as full statements and a transparent framework. Both companies also have clear sustainable statements and reports demonstrating their commitments and goals to the future and henceforth I am understanding how both professionally, and personally, the transparency surrounding this matter invites me, as a customer, to continue using their products and in doing so understand that as an artist I am using materials that are made within companies that have high sustainable ethics. The brands I have mentioned are also just the one I am using now but in doing this research I have noted new soft pastel companies that will be investigated - more of this shortly. It is worthy of note that EcoCart suggests looking for "Certified B-Corps are businesses committed to social and environmental responsibility. These companies undergo rigorous evaluations and must meet the highest social and environmental performance standards." (s.d.)/ I am still only at the beginning of understanding what B-Corp certification is and its impact but a recent series of Small Business Saturday webinars has caused me to be aware of the high standards and hoops that must be jumped through to attain this certification and hence I will be looking for suppliers, wherever economically viable and possible, that have achieved the required standards. However, this research has shown up an issue which highly disturbs me, and I am kicking myself for: the issue of animal products and whether or not the materials I am using are cruelty-free which mean personal ethics intrude on professional ethics of care. Derwent pastel pencils and Faber Castel Pitt pastel pencils are not tested on animals and nor do they contain animal products - there is the aforementioned question on some of the colours of the soft pastels themselves which will require further research with Sennelier and Rembrandt. However, I have become aware of the fact that Jackson's Art, Schmincke, Unison and possibly Koh-i-nor are all either not tested on animals or again do not contained animal products with the exception of some blacks but again this particular issue will require further research. The point that disturbed me was seeing that the Canson Mi-Tientes paper that I have utilised for some months uses gelatine as sizing and there are questions on the glues that are used as well as potentially not being cruelty free although I will be doing further research and emailing the company directly. However, here I speak almost to myself, rather you the reader, as I remind myself that my artistic preferences have changed towards the Clairefontaine Pastelmat paper which is cruelty free along with Hahnemuhle and Fabriano Ingres pastel papers which I have yet to try - the Pastelmat at the point of writing is my paper of choice due to its ability to take several layers whilst being able to blend and draw with beautiful accuracy. I do realise it seems as if I have digressed somewhat from the ecologically friendly-sustainability topic of this blog but cruelty free is more likely to be eco-friendly by its very nature through use of sustainable processes and practices that potentially use less planetary resources. Henceforth, this becomes becomes unquestionably another important factor for me within this practice particularly as wherever is practically possible and traceable - again company transparency comes into play and will affect my choices of materials going forward. However, I still question what makes art sustainable? arttera.ca states: "Sustainable art is a term that is associated with green art and eco-art. Eco-artists use recycled or up-cycled materials in their practice and often try to make their studio practice sustainable. They might use local materials and resources, organic materials where possible, renewable energy sources and environmentally friendly materials. They also may try to use energy efficient methods for making their work." .... but this still begs the question can art be sustainable if it is not using eco-friendly materials and processes? if you source recycled materials but then use synthetic dyes, or wash acrylic yarns then the processes of your art directly causes environmental harm now - unless you use a process called flocculation which Jackson's Art suggests in a blog is an environmentally safe way of disposing of acrylic paint as it binds the molecules into a solid. I also do strongly feel that if you are using non-ecologically friendly art materials then as artist we have a responsibility to the customer to be transparent as this impacts upon any sustainable statement: I state this as this blog aims to instill an open dialogue about the materials I am using particularly as our whole practice is based on environmental issues i.e. surrounding fungi specifically. Henceforth, what this research has done is made me re-evaluate where changes can be made and in what form in WOA with these changes being updated and added to accordingly in the coming days as I think and research further:

  • Use of acrylic inks - these have been negated at the point of writing due to my focus on pastel pencils and soft pastels. However, if I am to work in mixed media going forward I need to consider using something to soak up the waste water to enable their safe disposal - according to Jackson's Art sawdust or even cat litter is a practical solution.

  • Ordering from local companies or UK based suppliers: this is already something in place but I will be more conscious of the carbon footprint of any non-UK based manufacturer and how they make seek minimise their carbon footprint caused by transportation.

  • Re-ordering of soft pastels is to primarily focus on cruelty free/animal product free with more research is needed into which, if any, of the Rembrandt and Sennelier soft pastels fall into this sphere: a caveat here is added that economic restrictions may apply in the short term.

  • Research into other materials used including sticky tapes and glues to consider sustainability/cruelty free ethics.

  • As we re-order the changing of cellophane bags used with our prints, cards etc to biodegradable versions (we already use biodegradable bubble wrap).

  • Increasing recycling of cardboard packaging whether as storage or to post any prints out wherever possible as we take into account the practicalities of storage in our home environment.

  • Consideration of how and in what manner we can reduce our carbon footprint - more research is required.

Sustainability/eco-friendly frameworks in place within WOA at the time of writing:

  • Minimizing of studio wastage with the recycling of packaging, paper etc as appropriate - some research papers are being recycled to create the third fungal book as one example.

  • Ordering of tools that can be re-used multiple times - I have replaced cotton buds for blending with small tools with foam heads that are collected to be washed and reused.

  • Ordering from local companies or UK based suppliers: this is already something in place but I will be more conscious of the carbon footprint of any non-UK based manufacturer and how they make seek minimise their carbon footprint caused by transportation.

  • Foraying as opposed to foraging for fungal research: it is rare that I remove fruiting bodies from the natural environment as my preference is to photograph in situ with minimal disturbance to the leaf litter and conscious consideration of where we walk at all times. If I have previously required spore prints I haven taken less than 10% but going forward will no longer be doing so unless I can do so with the fruiting body in situ.

  • Use of biodegradable packaging including bubble wrap and paper bags - any plastic bags purchased for art fairs will also be biodegradable.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Ansho (2017) company update: Canson. At: https://www.veganartstuff.info/2017/05/22/company-update-canson/ (Accessed 07/12/2023). Ansho (2021) Faber Castell update: complete information. At: https://www.veganartstuff.info/2021/04/02/faber-castell-update-complete-information/ (Accessed 07/12/2023). Artterra’s About Story (s.d.) At: https://artterra.ca/pages/about (Accessed 07/12/2023). Info | Eco-Consciousness and Sustainability | The Picturalist (s.d.) At: https://www.thepicturalist.com/info/eco-consciousness/?source=facebook (Accessed 07/12/2023).

Darmawan, W., Herliyana, E. N., Gayatri, A., Dumasari, Hasanusi, A. and Gerardin, P. (2019) 'Microbial growths and checking on acrylic painted tropical woods and their static bending after three years of natural weathering' In: Journal of Materials Research and Technology 8 (4) pp.3495–3503.

ISHFAQ, S., Ali, N., Tauseef, I., Khattak, M. N. K., Shinwari, Z. and Ali, M. (2015) 'Analysis of paint degradation by fungal and bacterial species' In: Pakistan Journal of Botany 47 pp.753–760. Johnson, N. (2023) Sustainability vs. Eco-Friendly? A Guide to Green Lingo. At: https://ecocart.io/sustainability-vs-eco-friendly/ (Accessed 07/12/2023). London, D. (s.d.) Annual Reports. At: https://www.derwentlondon.com/news/publications/annual-reports (Accessed 07/12/2023). Pitt Pastel pencil (s.d.) At: http://www.faber-castell.co.uk/products/PittPastelpencilwhitesoft/112111 (Accessed 07/12/2023). Planet | Royal Talens (s.d.) At: https://www.royaltalens.com/en/about-us/sustainability/planet/ (Accessed 07/12/2023). Responsibility Report 2022 (s.d.) At: https://reports.derwentlondon.com/responsibility-2022 (Accessed 07/12/2023). Sennelier (s.d.) Pigments & Application Products. At: http://www.sennelier-colors.com/en/Pigments-produits-mise-oeuvre_90.html (Accessed 07/12/2023a). Sennelier (s.d.) Sennelier since 1887. At: http://www.sennelier-colors.com/en/History_54.html (Accessed 07/12/2023b). Sustainability (s.d.) At: http://www.faber-castell.co.uk/corporate/sustainability (Accessed 07/12/2023). Sustainability | Royal Talens (s.d.) At: https://www.royaltalens.com/en/about-us/sustainability/ (Accessed 07/12/2023). The Green Artist | Animal & Environmentally friendly Art product list (s.d.) At: https://www.stepbystepart.co.uk/vegan-art-supplies-checklist.html (Accessed 07/12/2023). What is Sustainable Art? (s.d.) At: https://artterra.ca/blogs/news/what-is-sustainable-art (Accessed 07/12/2023). What is the difference between Sustainable and Eco-friendly? (s.d.) At: https://www.teorra.info/blog/what-is-the-difference-between-sustainable-and-eco-friendly (Accessed 07/12/2023). years, J. C. J. was the editor of the J. A. B. for 10, materials, now writes for the blog part time W. an encyclopaedic knowledge of art, Researching, S. L., California, writing pieces for the blog as she learns something new each time S. studied journalism in, Art, art at C. C. of and regularly, completed the two-year T. S. P. P. in 2019 S. exhibits her paintings (2023) Acrylic Painting, Microplastics, and the Environment. At: https://www.jacksonsart.com/blog/2023/09/28/acrylic-painting-rinse-water-microplastics/ (Accessed 07/12/2023).

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