Designer Turns to Cork for Sustainable Products

How do you make everyday home goods more sustainable and better for the environment? You make them out of cork. That’s what London-based design studio, Mind the Cork, decided to do when it looked for a material to use for its eco-friendly line of products.

Cork is a 100 percent natural material that is renewable, recyclable and biodegradable. Made from the bark of the cork oak tree, it’s harvested without harming or cutting down the trees, which can live for hundreds of years. Cork oak forests are home to a wide variety of wildlife including rare and endangered species such as the Iberian lynx. And the forests also contribute to the economy through the cork industry, making them one of the few examples of fully sustainable forestry.

Mind the Cork produces a range of home goods made from cork, including a variety of planters in different sizes and styles that can also be used as desk accessories or bathroom organizers. It also makes cork bowls and containers. The company was founded by Jenny Espirito Santo who launched the brand as a passion project with a focus on sustainable design and equity. “As the business continues to grow beyond a one-woman band, my goal is to build a brand that has fairness, honesty and positivity at its core,” Santo told In Habitat.

Santo works with craftspeople and small factories in the U.K. and Portugal when designing her home goods. The process begins with the cork oak forests that only grow in the Mediterranean basin, with the largest forest located in Portugal. It requires a great amount of skill to harvest the cork trees without damaging them, making it one of the highest paid agriculture jobs in the world.

Once the tree is harvested, the bark regrows removing CO2 out of the atmosphere in the process. The bark retains CO2 in its cells where it remains even after it’s processed and made into cork products such as wine closures, flooring and other products. A cork tree can only be harvested once it’s 25 years old and then it takes around nine years for the bark to regenerate to the point that it can be harvested again.

To respect the process, Mind the Cork only produces its collections in small batches and attempts to minimize waste by reusing materials whenever it can. The company also uses recycled cardboard and paper packaging with the goal of making all of its shipping 100 percent plastic-free.

For Santo, innovation and eco-friendly design are at the heart of Mind the Cork’s ethos. “Sustainable design has to be planet and people-friendly, which means being as inclusive and accessible as possible, in addition to being considerate to our natural environment.”

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