Monday, June 21, 2010

Guest Blog: Museum Loans and Climate Change by Simon Lambert

Climate change reduction is top priority for everyone. Many museums worldwide are taking significant steps to reduce waste and utilities use. The museum loans industry is also investigating how it can make a positive contribution. The International Exhibitions Organisation (IEO) is leading discussions on how museums can reduce their carbon footprint by relaxing the acceptable relative humidity and temperature ranges. The International Convention of Exhibition and Fine Art Transporters (ICEFAT) has adopted guidelines to encourage its members to ‘green’ their operations. However, all this comes with its share of contradictions.

While museums aim to lessen their impact on the environment, they also face growing demands to increase their loan activities. Meanwhile, exhibition budgets everywhere are being slashed. The UK Museums Association’s 2009 report on Sustainability and Museums showed the growing interest of the museum sector in the “triple-bottom-line” approach, which considers the social, environmental and economic impacts of decisions and actions. But how do museums balance the environmental impact with the social and economic benefits from lending collections?

Through a close and fruitful collaboration with the National Museum Wales, UK, a new carbon footprinting tool for museum loans was developed in 2009. It allows museums to quantify the impact of their use of wrapping materials, packing cases, transport and couriering and offset this against the number of loans made. The Museum’s Art Department kindly granted full access to its loan documentation, enabling the calculation of its 2006 loans carbon footprint along with several evidence-based recommendations to reduce it.

This pilot project defined a performance indicator for sustainable loans (SLpi), allowing museums to rate the triple-bottom-line alignment of their loan activities themselves. With this indicator, it is possible to determine how well a museum is using its carbon footprint to increase access to its collection through loans. For the time being, the loan carbon footprinting tool focuses on outward loans of single institutions, but it could be used for entire travelling exhibitions (several institutions and venues).

The results of this study and the user-friendly calculation tools will be made available in 2011 but any museums wishing to trial the method should contact the author at

Simon recently received his MSc Care of Collections from Cardiff University, UK. He also has a BA in art history and Italian literature (Canada) and a Laurea in paintings conservation (Italy). He currently works as a consultant for the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property in Rome (ICCROM).