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In 2011, Simon Lambert received the ICCROM (International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property) Student Conservator of the Year award for his development of methodology that estimates the environmental impact of museum loans. His work is published in Museum Management and Curatorship (Vol. 26, No. 3, August 2011, 1–27) and can be read here. [1]

Lambert offers a precise explanation of how carbon footprinting can be used as a new assessment tool by museums. He describes the Greenhouse Gas Protocol Corporate Standard (GPCS) and carefully explains how museums can define their emissions sources, such as including emissions produced by supporting third parties. This sets a precedent for reporting and assessment of other activities, and allows for comparisons in representing the true cost of sending collections on the road. The complex nature of weighing decisions based on one aspect (total greenhouse gas impact) is codified. Considerations of risk, cost, and educational value for each loan can be weighed for this factor.

Carbon footprint calculation methodology is broken down into eight steps:

1. Define the objective

2. Express who manages greenhouse gas emissions (GHG)

3. Map operations

4. Define exclusions and assumptions

5. Select GHG conversion factors

6. Calculate the footprint

7. Evaluate environmental performance

8. Report findings

Understanding how each step impacts the resultant environmental “bottom line,” particularly when comparing year-to-year, loan-to-loan, and institution-to-institution is important in clarifying the overall situation. For example, Step 2 illustrates how lenders (outgoing loans) control the loan process—via ownership, policies, procedures, and conditions, and therefore manage the carbon emissions generated by the loan. Step 4, defines exclusions and assumptions, classifying the components that are measurable, including time, wrapping materials, packing cases, transport, and couriers. Establishing quantities in a consistent fashion allows for comparisons when they are overlaid with various operations that are described in Step 3 according to loan destinations, such as the UK, Continental Europe, and International Overseas.

Results of the pilot study carried out at the Amgueddfa Cymru (National Museum Wales) are telling. Not surprisingly, transport accounts for over 95% of GHG production, nearly half of that for couriers. Four objects were loaned for every ton of carbon produced. Note that the metric calculation accounts for the fact that this museum has reused packing cases for 20 years, so plywood and construction materials were not considered. Lambert also offers comparisons; in the year examined (2006), the overall carbon footprint of outward loans (53 tons) is equivalent to 20 trans-Atlantic business-class flights, the personal annual footprint of six UK residents, or one hour of operations of the UK postal service.

The article concludes with excellent suggestions about how to reduce carbon emissions generated by lending operations, such as reusing packing materials, and leasing cases or crates. Asking our shipping companies to offer reusable crates is a new concept in the US, and until they are widely available, museums must struggle to store and reuse crates whenever possible. Another obvious reduction in carbon emissions can be realized using strategies to minimize fuel use by filling trucks (encouraging shuttle-type transport) and combining multiple couriers from various institutions into single loan courier trips (encouraging several institutions to trust a single one for oversight during transport). Reducing transport and travel, particularly by air, is key to reducing carbon emissions. (from review by Patricia Silence in September 2011 AIC news) [2]