Sustainability grant transforms FIT jewelry program

Changing old habits isn't easy. But systemic change, that offers new and more sustainable approaches, can alter the way jewelry students do basic tasks, ultimately breaking a cycle of waste.

By Lauren Pineda Portrait Lauren Pineda

The Jewelry Design Department of the Fashion Institute of Technology was awarded a  Sustainability Grant in March of 2011. Our original proposal was aimed to reduce disposable waste, reduce toxic chemical usage, eliminate the loss of metals in the garbage and sink drains, and to educate our students about developing a sustainable jewelry practice of their own.

To begin, we have reduced our wasted by providing hand towels (purchased from the Salvation Army) for the students to dry their work or hands with. These towels are changed out and laundered weekly. All towels are conveniently located near the sinks for easy access. As a result, we now use 50% less paper towels since implementing this simple, inexpensive solution. FIT studio

The next Green Studio Initiative change that we implemented was to switch our traditional ultrasonic solution (used to deep-clean polished jewelry) to a less toxic soap. We are now using Dr Bronner’s peppermint soap with an unheated ultrasonic machine. This simple change ensures that toxic waste doesn’t end up in our water system.

We have also invented trash bins that sift and capture metal filings from larger scrap so that they can be refined and recycled. Instead of throwing away the filings that accumulate in the jeweler’s bench drawers, we have trash receptacles that collect the metal bits to be recycled. By collecting these filings we ensure that they do not end up in a landfill, and that they stay in the metal system to be reused and recycled again and again. metal screen

Our sinks will soon have custom drainage traps that will filter and collect run-off metals particles, preventing them from washing down the drain. The special traps, created specifically for capturing metal particles collect what is called sludge. This sludge allows us to reclaiming metals that otherwise would have washed into our municipal water system.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the Green Studio Initiative was our guest lecturer, eco-educator Christine Dhein.  Ms. Dhein came to FIT from San Francisco to give a one-day workshop to a group of 30 students and 3 staff technologists. Christine Dhein demoTo begin, Ms. Dhein gave a 5-hour presentation on the realities of mining precious metals and stones, the effect of harsh chemicals on our water systems, and how to incorporate sustainable and green practices into our own studios and material sourcing. Following her thorough and engaging lecture, we all went to the studio where Ms. Dhein demonstrated some of the techniques she had spoken about in her lecture including recycling our metal scraps to create new metal. The students really enjoyed the presentation and were enthusiastic about the information Ms. Dhein spoke about. The very next day they were seen implementing one of her techniques.

The changes we have implemented in the jewelry studios have been small but significant. We have reduced our waste, contributed less toxic materials to the environment, prevented metals from ending up in landfills and our water systems, and educated ourselves and our students on how to create sustainable jewelry practices. We were fortunate enough to win the sustainability award that allowed us to create a greener studio here at FIT.

About the author: Lauren Pineda is a jeweler and she volunteers with EM's responsible studio practices committee. She lives in New York City, and is a jewelry studio technician at The Fashion Institue of Technology (FIT). She is the author of the sustainability grant being used to implement changes in the school's jewelry studio.