Heath Ceramics: Making a Sustainable Future

Our virtual exhibit for San Francisco Design Week, “Bay Area Made: Making a Sustainable Future” features 39 of our member companies sharing the sustainable practices they are implementing in their products and business operations. Heath Ceramics makes ceramic dinnerware, tile and jewelry, and sewn goods. In the excerpt below from the exhibit, they share their commitment to creating quality, design-driven products to last generations while reducing their environmental impact. To view the full exhibit on the San Francisco Design Week website, click on the link at the bottom of the page.

Heath began as a small-scale pottery in 1948, with Edith & Brian Heath. Today, Heath is an American company anchored in exceptional products for the way you eat, live, and connect. Everything we offer is well made, beautifully designed, and offers better experiences in and around our own homes.
Based in California, we have four showrooms, two factories, a robust registry, and online business. We manufacture ceramic dinnerware in our Sausalito factory and ceramic tile in our San Francisco factory.

“Heath makes and sells products to last generations. From the quality of materials and craftsmanship to the design commitment we uphold.”

Heath, first and foremost, is a manufacturer led by design. Meaning, what we make, we design, and sell. This has us responsible for every step in the process—from product to business. Additionally, we practice what we call Slow Business, meaning, we’re committed to the health of the company, community, and our souls, through good, fair, and sustainable business practices. This model feeds us daily, and has potential to be here 200 years from now.


Materials & Ingredients

The majority of our main clay body is locally sourced, and designed to conserve energy in it’s firing, this innovative material was designed in 1948. Today we have designed an additional Recycled Clay Body that is made from collecting scrap from unfired clay and glaze overspray in our SF tile factory. This is important for our sustainability goals, and the result is a product with great and beautiful variation. Currently our Recycled Clay Body is used to produce some of our tile, and we are working on expanding the range of products we make with this clay body.

Packaging & Delivery

Heath’s local factories and retail model means we have never required any packaging for our dinnerware product. Even when we do ship, we use recyclable paper based packing material. We are one of only a few companies who proudly pack all of their products using ExpandOS, nifty 100% post-industrial waste packing material that’s 100% reusable and recyclable, in place of styrofoam peanuts or other petroleum based packaging materials. Styrofoam packing peanuts entering the business are diverted from landfill and funneled into our out-of-house reuse program.

Quality & Value

Heath makes and sells products to last generations. From the quality of materials and craftsmanship to the design commitment we uphold. In dinnerware we design and make dinnerware where customers can replace pieces if they break, and build and expand the same set over time over a lifetime. Our core dinnerware lines stay for at least a decade before they are refreshed. In tile we make products of the highest quality, and promote classic design rather than trends.

Waste Reduction

Here are some specific examples of ideas that we’ve implemented:

Unfired clay: all scrap clay is recycled back into our process to make new clay.

Grog waste: Unusable fired ceramics are crushed into a fine material that is used in manufacturing cement, keeping it out of landfill and preventing virgin material from being used.

Worn out plaster molds are diverted from landfill into Sausalito’s composting program.

“For the past four years, Heath has focused on becoming a zero waste company, a long-term journey that has already seen us redirect tons of waste away from landfill, and into recycling and reuse.”

We divert cutoffs and overruns of perfectly imperfect Heath tile, from landfill by offering Mixed Tile Boxes to local customers for their craft use. We have boxes filled with varying shapes and sizes, mixed 1sts + 2nds, grouped by color family, each containing 4–8 sq ft, available in Sausalito, for $5 per box.

100% of cotton fabric scraps from Heath Sews are recycled into insulation batting. Leather scraps and dye samples are also made into Leather Scrap Keychains.

The nitrile gloves our production staff uses are diverted from landfill through the Kimberly Clark recycling program. Nitrile material is given a second life by being manufactured into plastic furniture and other items. Annually, our nitrile glove recycling program keeps 1800 lbs of gloves out of landfill (that’s close to one ton!).

Local Supply Chains

As one of the few ceramics manufacturers left in the US we’ve watched many of our local supply chains disappear over the past 20 years, though one bright spot is that the majority of our clay and it’s initial processing has remained with the same source and vendor for at least 60 years, the clay bed and the vendor are located in Lincoln, California.

Energy Efficiency

Heath’s proprietary clay body is the first and still remains the only low-fire stoneware — an innovation created in 1947 that still leads the industry. Our ceramic clay bodies require one firing as opposed to the more typical two firings, and are fired at a lower temperature than is customarily used to reach the same levels of durability. By rebuilding our kilns in 2009, we increased our kiln capacity allowing us to fire more tile per kiln, while at the same time reducing gas consumption in each firing. Our new kilns in our San Francisco factory, are even more energy efficient.

Waste Diversion & Recycling

Our seconds and overstock tile and dinnerware are an excellent example of products being diverted from the waste stream. All are sold through our Sausalito showroom and make their way into happy homes, instead of being discarded into landfill.

Our greywater system recycles all the water used in our factory’s production for reuse in glaze booths and other cleanup operations. We reuse or compost our scrap unfired clay, so there’s reused content in every product we make.

Goals & Aspirations

For the past four years, Heath has focused on becoming a zero waste company, a long-term journey that has already seen us redirect tons of waste away from landfill, and into recycling and reuse. This will be an ongoing endeavor, but the ball is rolling, and we’re proud and excited of what we have accomplished so far.

We continue to find ways to reduce environmental impact in our entire organization. Our ultimate goal is to become a closed-gap company, always coming up with new creative ways to reuse and recycle our waste. Our goals of sustaining local manufacturing; creating high quality, well designed products; maintaining a fair and responsible workplace for our employees; and reducing our environmental impact helps us set our financial goals and business model, not the other way around.

Zero Waste Education: Through in-house face to face education and posted information on our intranet, we host zero waste employee education sessions and hands-on training to enable our employees to better understand our various waste streams, make the best choice when disposing of items for reuse, recycling, composting and landfill, and supporting everyone’s responsibility in our working towards our zero waste goals of minimizing what we send to the landfill.

We also coordinate monthly employee tours of Recology (SF waste hauler and recycling facility) to better understand the full waste cycle and how our practices affect the big picture. We’ve had over 150 employees attend tours so far.

Certifications & Memberships

In February 2018 we reached a major milestone: completion of the California Green Business Certification, Innovator Level, for the Heath SF factory and showroom building, and in February 2019 completed the same certification, at the Innovator Level, for the Heath SF shipping and warehouse facility. It’s recognition of the environmental efforts we’ve put into place since the build-out of our SF space in 2012. We’re joining a community of businesses who share similar values around reducing our carbon footprint, including support from the SF Department of the Environment.

View the Full SF Design Week Exhibit

View the Heath Ceramics profile

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