Making my art sustainable — and saving clouds

I’ve been working with large cloud forms for several of years — focusing on the universality of clouds, and how they reflect our common experiences and emotions. Through my work with climatologists, which started with the development of my original Cumulus sculpture, I learned that carbon emissions are driving some cloud types towards extinction. It was a revelation. (Climatologist Tapio Schneider's research is explained in this great article from Quanta Magazine).

Working on Cumulus cloud sculpture in cast glass.
Nocturne sculpture in the background.

The pandemic further drove home how connected we are as a species, even if we don’t always feel that way. COVID’s global impact compelled me to think more broadly about how my work fits into a global context, specifically: its carbon footprint.

Making art is my life's calling, and it’s important to me that I do it sustainably. I've always done what I could to make my work eco-friendly, like reusing materials and using renewable energy when possible, but I wanted to go further and make my whole process carbon negative.

It's turned out to be much easier than I thought!

To figure out how much carbon I needed to offset, I calculated all the greenhouse gasses associated with my work since college, and then doubled that total. I worked with Cool Effect, which enables anyone to minimize their carbon footprint by supporting scientifically-validated projects that reduce greenhouse gasses. Even better, Cool Effect's projects also reduce poverty, contribute to better air quality, and improve public health.

I'm very proud that my artwork is now carbon negative!

Stratocumulus clouds are in danger of extinction because of changes in the earth's atmosphere. I made this sculpture based on a stratocumulus form modeled by climatologists at CalTech during my residency at Corning's research facility.

Stratocumulus clouds are in danger of extinction because of changes in the earth's atmosphere. I made this sculpture based on a stratocumulus form modeled by climatologists at CalTech during my residency at Corning's research facility.


To paraphrase Dr. McCoy: “Dammit Jim, I’m an artist, not a greenhouse gas emissions auditor!” so I enlisted my studio manager (who also happens to be my husband), and together we tallied the numbers as best we could.

We found lots of resources to help calculate greenhouse gas emission based on the type and weight of materials. Because we record weights of all my artworks, it was easy to get started:

First, we separated all the all artworks I’ve made since college by medium (glass, bronze, ceramic, etc.) and calculated the total weight of each.

Then, we increased the weight by 20% to capture excess materials like reservoirs and waste.

Using the Greenhouse Gas Conversion Factors issued by the UK government, we calculated the emissions impact of the raw materials.

My sculpture Cumulus 1:3, marble, is modeled on real life climatological data. While I work on hand-finishing, my assistant Lucy 🐾 ponders climate change and lunch.

Detail of Cumulus cloud sculpture in cast glass.

Glass casting involves holding kilns at high temperatures for a long time, so over several months, we measured how much electricity was used to cast my sculptures and converted that into megawatt hours per kilogram of sculpture. Since most of my artwork has been made in the Czech Republic, we used their Default Emission Factors (which let us convert Mwh into tonnes of CO₂ equivalent).

The UK conversion factors include coefficients for calculating the emissions from air freight (which adjust for radiative forcing, a measure of the additional environmental impact of aviation). Calculating the emissions from transportation required figures for weight and distance, so we added up the crated weight of all the artwork. At each step, we wanted to err on the conservative side to be sure we captured everything—so we decided to calculate the emission total as if I had sent all my artwork by air from Prague to Los Angeles!

Finally, we added up all the miles we have flown since 1997 and used them to calculate the CO₂ equivalent with radiative forcing.

Alice Roberts, a sustainability consultant recommended by Cool Effect, reviewed our calculations and made several helpful corrections.

I didn’t want to merely neutralize my carbon footprint—I wanted to make it carbon-negative. I wanted to net reduce greenhouse gasses. Knowing we couldn’t possibly capture everything, we decided to double the total emissions we had calculated.

Working on the cloud sculptures during the pandemic led me to meditate on the interconnectedness of the world and compelled me to think more broadly about how my work fits into a global context.


Finding carbon offsets which permanently and additionally reduce emissions required a lot of research. A 2016 European study found that 85% of offsets failed to additionally reduce emissions, because most reductions were already underway – or imminent.

Initially, I imagined I could offset my work’s carbon by sponsoring tree planting, or preserving forests, but it turns out that those activities can be problematic and often ineffective (ProPublica offers a helpful explanation of these challenges: These 4 Arguments Can’t Overcome the Facts About Carbon Offsets for Forest Preservation).

Finally, I found Cool Effect! As an organization, they select projects with additive reductions, and employ scientists to monitor the projects to ensure long-term compliance and effectiveness.

Cool Effect has lots of great projects, but the two I chose to support are:

 Affordable Cookstoves in Uganda. This project makes and distributes cookstoves that reduce charcoal or wood use for cooking by over 50%. The stoves cut carbon emissions and deforestation while providing life-changing health benefits and cost savings to local families. The reduced fuel consumption saves families who use them save around $110 per year—20 percent of their annual income.

Biogas Digesters and Clean Cookstoves in Sichuan China. Much of rural Sichuan Province in China lacks proper waste management, which creates methane gas emissions that are 25 times more harmful to the planet than CO₂, and leads to public health and hygiene issues. This project builds biogas digesters that transform organic waste (pig poop, etc.) into clean renewable energy that replaces coal or wood and fuels clean cookstoves. The digestors also improve the health of the local communities by creating a sanitation system and create compost for fertilizer that increases agricultural productivity.

I contributed to these projects to offset double the emissions I have produced so far, and I am committed to continuing my support moving forward so that my art remains carbon-negative.


● The Cool Effect website makes it easy to offset emissions, and is filled with information and tools. At the bottom of project page are due diligence documents including reports about verification, monitoring, and certification.

● The UK government’s Greenhouse Gas Conversion Factors are very useful one-stop-shopping for calculating the emission of just about anything.

● The EPA also has a Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator.

Cloud Appreciation Society

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