Eco-Friendly Practice: Northcity4

At our most recent CWC event, we heard from the group of talented and inspiring women who run Northcity4: an Artist Run Initiative encompassing a shared jewellery and object based design workspace in Brunswick, Melbourne. In addition to providing a workspace and innovative learning environment, Northcity4 is committed to promoting and supporting the integration of sustainability into all aspects of jewellery and object based practice.

During the talk, we heard from Ali Limb, one of NC4's founders and Board Members, about the group's sustainability measures. For those who couldn't make the event, and those who did and want to know more, I caught up with Ali to find out more about NC4's impressive approach to sustainability.

What led to your strong focus on sustainability as a group in the development of Northcity4?

From the start, Northcity4 was determined to create a healthy workplace with an environmentally aware approach. Because we were starting from scratch we saw this as a great opportunity to put steps in place to support this vision.

Through Sustainability Victoria we learnt that 80% of the footprint is locked in with the fit-out so this has informed our process from day one. The concept of the space is open plan and wherever possible the materials used are reclaimed such as our big white moveable wall which was kindly donated by ACCA.

Moveable wall donated by ACCA

Jewellery in particular has many negative impacts on the environment due to mining of metal and stones and chemicals used to clean and finish metal. We wanted to start by making ourselves aware of the issues and to gradually change the way we do things with the aim to reduce our environmental impact and potentially inspire and influence others.

What research and background work did you do to develop your sustainability policy and initiatives? 

NC4 has begun a process of mapping the organisations life cycle. The first steps were to understand our potential impact and then begin to develop a policy, which addresses each area of concern. There are many steps needed to reach our ultimate goal but we see this as a journey.

To get started, NC4 signed up for 100% green gas, 25% green electricity (with the aim to increase this steadily), implemented a visible waste system using eco bins, a worm farm to convert our organic waste, plants for air cleaning and a microcline air filter for specific dust and fume extraction.The UBC donated a veggie box so we also grow our own rocket and herbs out the front.

From here we hope to eventually install solar panels, more insulation and begin to build a strong database of ethical suppliers with the plan to influence many of our piers and existing suppliers. We are continuing to research and collate information as we go.

Eco bin waste system at Northcity4

Were there any particularly useful resources you would recommend to other collectives or individuals looking to make their creative practice more environmentally sustainable?

We have been fortunate to receive support and advice from Sustainability Victoria with the initial Life Cycle mapping. NC4 has also signed up for Zero Carbon Moreland through Moreland Energy Foundation Ltd - another great resource.

We also recently signed up to Grow Me The Money, a program run by VECCI designed to help businesses reduce waste and use less resources.

As a jeweler I also often refer to ethical metal-smiths.

Can you tell me a little bit about the "plant pledge" and the reasoning behind it?

When we first started looking at ways to create a green workplace, an obvious option was to introduce plants to help with the air quality and also to create an uplifting environment. Katherine came across this great clip from the TED talks, which inspired us to introduce a plant pledge to our Opening Launch in March.

We had three examples of air cleaning plants and invited people to pledge between $5-$20 towards these plants. We then ordered the plants through CERES and potted them up in pots donated to NC4 or purchased through the tip shop. We are well on our way to greening our space with plants.

Plants purchased with the funds from NC4 plant pledge


Microclene air filter for more specific extraction

I love the sound of your community lunches - how do these contribute to your sustainability focus?

NC4 monthly lunches are an opportunity for the NC4 tenants and board members to invite guests to the studio to share a delicious simple lunch and conversation. The food is all organic and usually purchased at Ceres Saturday market. These lunches often lead to new connections between friends of NC4 and the wider community.

What has been the biggest challenge in addressing sustainability as a collective?

Trying to achieve our goals on a small budget and with limited time is the biggest challenge. We are also working with a large space and an old building; this has presents challenges in regard to insulation and maintaining heat during winter. Our first investment in the building was to insulate the roof with air-cell insulation and install light boxes in the ceiling to give good natural light.

What other projects and opportunities do you have in place to promote sustainability?

As a way of making a more public statement and also creating opportunities for artists working in recycled/reclaimed materials with an environmental message we have a project which involves inviting artists to create and installation on our front window and gate to engage the passing community.

Recent artists involved were Pennie Jagiello and Claire McArdle.

Pennie with her "Speech Bubble" installation in the NC4 front window

Pennie's Speech Bubble piece (above), made from reclaimed trawling net, plastic bags & plastic milk bottles, addressed the issue of ghost nets and raised our awareness about the marine life that is unintentionally caught in these stray nets.

Big Blue Jellyfish (below) was made from plastic bags often mistaken at sea for jellyfish. Pennie also made us aware of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch a giant garbage dump of 44 million kilos of plastic waste floating in the Pacific Ocean.

"Big Blue Jellyfish" by Pennie Jagiello

For her installation, Claire McArdle used recycled "green" bags. Find out more in Claire's NC4 guest blog post.

Claire installing her piece at NC4

Claire's gate adornment

As an individual jeweller who works with precious metals, how are you approaching the desire to make your work more environmentally sustainable?

My jewellery practice has been affected by the research and actions we are taking through NC4. At first the information brought my jewellery to a bit of a standstill, but having begun to work through the issues that have been raised, I am beginning to look at my jewellery differently and finding ways I can reuse materials from previous collections.

I have also set myself the goal to limit myself to work with materials (stones & beads) I have collected over the past 20 years whilst I work toward sourcing my materials via more ethically methods.

Recently Anna Davern (another NC4 Board Member) and I were asked to be involved in an exhibition called Once More With Love. This project involves working with a bag of preloved jewellery and making a piece of contemporary jewellery. The results are great but it was a seriously challenging brief.


Phoebe Miller is a Brisbane-bred, Sydney-fled, Melbourne-embedded gal who enjoys making, spruiking, collecting, exploring, telling her friends where to eat and posting photos of doors on instagram. After several years working in corporate marketing and communications, Phoebe followed the urge to explore her creative side. These days she divides her time between her sustainable fashion accessories label, Simply Phoebe, and freelance PR consulting.