Sustainable Design Education at Pratt Institute

Jewelry Program Brings Sustainability into Practice

Patricia Madeja Portrait  Alexia Cohen Portrait  By Patricia Madeja and Alexia Cohen

Pratt Institute’s mission is to educate artists and creative professionals to be responsible contributors to society. Sustainability, with its social and environmental components, plays a prominent role in the Institute’s educational practices and impacts every studio on campus including the jewelry studio in Pratt’s Jewelry Program, which is part of the college’s Department of Fine Arts.

Scrap metal bins PrattPratt Institute’s Jewelry Program has adopted a variety of sustainable practices, including systems for collecting, reusing, and recycling scrap materials to reduce waste in its studio spaces. For example, studios have designated sweeps and scrap bins located near the workbenches to collect metal dust and residual metal pieces resulting from studio work. The larger metal pieces are placed into scrap bins to be re-used and incorporated into new student work and the smaller pieces reclaimed. There are additional smaller scrap bins on the end of each bench for sterling and fine silver scrap, which are collected periodically, accumulated, and refined in exchange for new material. This reclamation process ensures continued recycling of all studio metals and greatly contributes to the sustainable studio goals.
Sweeps bin Pratt
In addition to recycling and reusing different metals, studios have an alternative materials section, where different materials and components are organized for student use. These alternative materials are a combination of jewelry community donations and unused student materials. Students often sift through these materials to create new and exciting designs utilizing these repurposed components.Alternative Materials Bins

In an effort to reduce the overuse of paper towels, Pratt’s Jewelry Program has implemented a studio rag system that includes a supply of clean rags for student use. Once enough dirty rags collect they are washed and returned to the clean rags bin for reuse. This process has reduced the studio’s paper towel usage to almost zero and encourages students to develop environmentally conscious studio habits and practices.

Jewelry materials can be inherently unsafe on many levels. Students in the Jewelry Program are strongly encouraged to work with lead free enamels, cadmium free solders, fluoride free fluxes, and silica free polishing compounds to reduce their exposure to toxic chemicals and prevent the contamination of air and waterways. Recently, the program has been experimenting with an electric current etching system in the hopes that this process will limit the use of Ferric Chloride and student’s exposure to its harmful properties and bi-products.

Reducing waste is environmentally and rags at Prattsocially responsible and can yield financially significant rewards. For example, valuable resources are no longer spent on paper towels. The program’s reclaimed metals and materials enable students to save money and trips to suppliers, which reduces their carbon footprint.  Most importantly, by establishing greener practices in the studio, Pratt Institute is educating its students to understand, appreciate, and apply these practices to their professional careers.

On October 6, 2012 Pratt Institute’s Jewelry Program will host a one day Jewelry Symposium to raise awareness about the unintended social and environmental consequences of jewelry making and what jewelry artist and designers can do to reduce their impact. The day will be divided into two major sections: Raw Materials and Practical Applications. The first section will address gem, diamond, and metal mining as well as the positive and negative implications of using alternative materials. The later section will focus on how to realistically adopt sustainable and ethical environmental practices within a small business and how to design a healthy and safe jewelry studio. For more information about the symposium please contact Jewelry Technician, Alexia Cohen at

Pratt is uniquely positioned as the only college in New York City to offer a comprehensive course of study in jewelry and metalsmithing resulting in a bachelor of fine arts degree. This undergraduate curriculum in the Department of Fine Arts embraces all aspects of design, creativity, fabrication, and social responsibility in the discipline. Pratt’s cross-disciplinary approach to learning fully prepares students for higher education, industry positions, and entrepreneurial pursuits.

Pratt Institute is recognized nationally as a leader in sustainable design education. The Institute’s President, Thomas F. Schutte, became one of the first signatories of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), and the Institute was recently one of 10 colleges and universities nationally to be recognized with a Climate Leadership Award by Second Nature and the ACUPCC. Since 2010 Pratt has been cited as one of the country's most environmentally responsible colleges by The Princeton Review in its Guide to Green Colleges.

Pratt’s commitment to sustainability resulted in the creation of the Center for Sustainable Design Studies and Research (CSDS), an educational resource for sustainable best practices. The CSDS also operates the Pratt Design Incubator for Sustainable Innovation, which supports start-up businesses and a design extension program that helps local industries reduce their climate footprint.

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About the authors:

Patricia Madeja is a full-time professor and jewelry coordinator in Pratt Institute's Fine Arts Department. Madeja founded Patricia Madeja Jewelry in 1989, and creates one-of-a-kind and limited production jewelry from ethically-sourced materials that is sold internationally. She has received numerous design awards and her work has been published extensively in jewelry books and periodicals.

Alexia Cohen is the technician in Pratt's Jewelry Studio and a visiting instructor in the Department of Fine Arts. She maintains her own studio practice as a jeweler in Brooklyn, N.Y. and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Jewelry with honors and distinction from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.