Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Article Review: Sustainability in Conservation Practice

in the Journal of the Institute of Conservation   

by Megan de Silva and Jane Henderson

For those of you in conservation practice, undoubtedly you’ve seen this valuable article in The Journal of the Institute of Conservation; for the rest of us, the authors Megan de Silva and Jane Henderson, both in the Conservation Section of the Department of Archaeology and Conservation at Cardiff University in the UK, have prepared a valuable review of recommended sustainability practices active in the UK, recommendations specifically in the conservation sphere, and an example of benchmarking practices to encourage adoption of sustainability practices.

The first third of the article provides a valuable overview of sustainability work to date in the UK - one that will encourage US museums to get a hustle on; the balance of the article includes practical ideas for getting that hustle on.

The eight tables illustrating benchmark levels are excellent resources.
 The list of basic, good, best levels of performance echoes the AASLH StEPs program approach of “basic, good, better”. I hope that by the end of 2012 these benchmarks can be more aggressive, but this is a good starting format.

As you can see in the categories below, the focus is not limited to conservation, but has wide applicability, plus valuable recommendations for conservation practice.

  • Compliance with regulations, targets and best practices
  • Waste management
  • Sustainable procurement
  • Energy management and use of other natural resources
  • Pollution management
  • Staff involvement
  • Visitor involvement and communication
  • Review success of sustainability efforts
Two thoughts –
The authors point out the signs of legislated sustainability practices in the UK and I see it developing in the US, too, so anticipate the legislation with your own best practices.

They provide examples of the profession rising to the challenge, noting that “the National Museums’ Directors Conference in the UK have published advice urging museums to replace blanket environmental standards”, and that “the European Confederation of Conservator–Restorer’s Organisation’s (ECCO) Professional Guidelines dictate that conservators should not use materials or techniques which harm cultural heritage, the environment or people.” This is happening here too, of course, with a number of groups making recommendations and providing toolkits and resources:
  • American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC)
  • American Association of Museums (AAM) Professional Interest Committee on Environmental Sustainability (PIC-Green) 
  • Museums Committee of American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Executives (ASHRAE) 
  • Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Scientific Advisory Group on Environmental Sustainability 
  • and a working group of AAM and United States Green Building Council (USGBC)  
There are a lot of good minds on this important topic, but remember Green is a Team Sport. As deSilva and Henderson point out, we cannot simply change practices as directed, but each of us must contribute to the research to help us all adapt to sustainability’s requirements.

We all must contribute to the solution.

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