Institutional or Facility-Wide Considerations

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This wiki was created and is maintained by the Committee on Sustainability in Conservation Practice. It is intended to provide information for AIC members and other interested parties. Any treatment should be carried out by a qualified conservator. Find a Conservator

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This entry is in the process of being corrected

As conservators, we are charged with ensuring that our cultural heritage lasts as long as possible into the future. By using less of the planet's resources now, we improve our chances of succeeding. In this section, we plan to follow the latest research that impacts our recommendations for display, storage and travel of objects under our care to ensure that our protocols are sound and reasonable.


3.1 Efficiency Standards and Best Practices
3.2 Energy Consumption
3.3 Environmental Controls
3.4 Exhibitions / Loans
3.5 Lighting
3.6 Case Studies
3.7 Further Reading About Facility-Wide Considerations

3.1 Efficiency Standards and Best Practices

This offers sources for more information about building materials and appliances so conservators can make informed decisions in collaboration with architects and engineers about building and maintaining their lab space.

Building Materials, Construction, and Use

Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) [1]

BREEAM was established in 1990 as a a voluntary measurement rating for green buildings by the Building Research Establishment (BRE). to measure the sustainability of new non-domestic buildings in the UK. It has been updated regularly in line with UK building regulations

Green Globes [2]

The Green Globes system is used in Canada and the USA. In the USA, Green Globes is owned and operated by the Green Building Initiative (GBI) in Portland, Oregon.

Leading in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) [3]

LEED is an internationally recognized green building certification system, providing third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies intended to improve performance in metrics such as energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.

United States Green Building Council (USGBC) [4]

U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) USGBC is a non-profit trade organization that promotes sustainability in how buildings are designed, built, and operated. It developed the Leading in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating systems and Greenbuild, a green building conference and expo that promotes the green building industry.



American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, an international technical society for all individuals and organizations interested in heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, and refrigeration (HVAC&R)

The Green Standard 189.1-2009 [6]

Developed by ASHRAE in conjunction with USGBC and IES (Illuminating Engineering Society of North America), A Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings, provides a ‘total building sustainability package’ for those who strive for green buildings. An excellent reference when working with engineers and architects.

Energy Star [7]

A government-backed program helping businesses and individuals protect the environment through energy efficiency.


3.2 Energy Consumption

This entry is a Draft

An energy audit is an inspection, survey and analysis of energy flows for energy conservation in a building, process or system to reduce the amount of energy input into the system without negatively affecting the output(s).

Carbon Footprint definition: a) the sum of greenhouse gas emissions created by an individual’s, an organization’s, or a set population’s activities and purchases over the course of a given time. b) the sum of greenhouse gas emissions caused by the manufacture, shipping, and lifespan of a particular object or group of objects. Some of the largest contributors to the conservation profession’s carbon footprint are travel of collection objects and people, the energy emissions from the buildings we work in, the acquisition and use of supplies, and solvent emissions.

There are many ‘carbon footprint calculators’ available to calculate the carbon footprint of a business or organization. The free, online ones are very basic. More in-depth calculating can be done by purchasing software or hiring a consultant.

Your carbon footprint is just one measure of your impact on the environment. It doesn’t take into account water use and pollution, or destruction of wildlife habitat. So while it is good to try to bring this measurement down, we should be aware of all of the ways we impact the environment.


3.3 Environmental Controls

Climate control has since the birth of preventive conservation been an essential part of the responsibilities of a preventive conservator. The maintenance of correct environmental conditions can prevent the need for expensive conservation intervention and is a more cost-effective way to manage a collection (Brimblecombe 2005). Conservators have sought to suggest ideal conditions for materials storage and exhibit. Although, there has been constant debate as to the need and details of such recommendations, as well as the best way to design a system to meet these recommendations (Levin and Maekawa 2007, Kerscher 1992, Bullock 2009, Rawlins 1942).

It has been accepted that light and high temperatures will speed up degradation processes, and high humidity (above 65% RH) will encourage mold growth. Art collections appear to be less sensitive to temperature levels than humidity levels, and “safe levels” are material dependent (Ayers, et al 1988). High risks begin outside of the range of 25-75% RH (Michalski 1993) and for general collections a more conservative estimate is recommended from 30-60% RH (Erhardt, et al 2007).

Collections are typically controlled by having a set point for temperature (usually 70°F) and humidity (usually 50% RH) the set point will then allow some deviation but it will create a safe environment for most collection materials(Erhardt, et al 2007, Anderson and Kestner. 2003). Alternative approaches to environmental control have been suggested using a cost-benefit analysis of RH levels, depending on what is possible from the building envelope and HVAC system and for the collections(Kerscher 1992). Appropriate decisions can be based on the knowledge that every 5°C drop in temperature cuts deterioration rates in half, and low RH is preferable for some collections (Michalski 1993). Environmental control can also be managed by considering the type of deterioration the collection is susceptible to and how the stewards of the collection will try to avoid that damage by controlling the environment (Brimblecombe 2005).

Additional Reading and Bibliography


Brimblecombe, P. 2005. Effects of the Cultural Environment. In Cultural heritage conservation and environmental impact assessment by non-destructive testing and microanalysis. eds van Grieken, René and Janssens, Koen H.A. London: A.A. Balkema

Kerschner, R. 1992. A practical approach to environmental requirements for collections in historic buildings. Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 31 (1): 65-76

Levin, J., and S. Maekawa. 2007. Passive design, mechanical systems, and doing nothing: a discussion about environmental management. The Getty Conservation Newsletter 22(1). Available online at [8]

Bullock, L. 2009. Environmental controls in National Trust properties. Journal of Architectural Conservation. 15 (1): 83-98.

Ayers, et al. 1988. Energy Conservation and Climate Control in Museums. Los Angeles: Ayers Ezer Lau Consulting Engineers.

Michalski, S. 1993. Relative humidity in museums, galleries, and archives: Specification and control. In Bugs, Mold and Rot II: A workshop on control of humidity for health, artifacts, and buildings. Proceedings, eds. W. B. Rose, and A. TenWolde. Washington, D.C.: The National Institute of Building Sciences. 51-62.

Erhardt, D., C. S. Tumosa and M. F. Mecklenburg. 2007. Applying science to the question of museum climate. In Museum Microclimates, eds. T. Padfield and K. Borchersen. Denmark: National Museum of Denmark.

Anderson, C. E., and C. Kestner. 2003. Environmental monitoring and revised environmental standards at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. In Environmental monitoring of our cultural heritage: sustainable conservation solutions. Milton Keyes, U.K.: Environmental Building Solutions, Ltd.

Rawlins, F.I.G. 1942. The control of temperature and humidity in relation to works of art. Museums Journal 41: 279-283.

3.4 Exhibitions / Loans


Several months ago, 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. [9]

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) [10]


3.5 Lighting

This entry is a Draft

Choices for lighting include MR-16 halogens, Compact Fluorescent Lights, and recently LEDs.

MR-16 halogen lights, like traditional incandescent lights, create light through heating a tungsten filament. Although they last longer than incandescent lights, about 90% of the energy they emit is through heat, making them not as energy efficient as fluorescent lights or LEDs. Although MR-16 lights are in common use and one of the better illuminants provided by our suppliers they may not always be the "museum standard" for illuminating art.

Most recently discussions have centered on rapidly evolving LED light technology. There are many factors to consider for museum LED applications, including the potential for LED light sources to damage light-sensitive artifacts, metrics for comparing LEDs along with other light sources currently used, initial installation costs, and life cycle costs. We are grateful to Steve Weintraub for providing information (*to GTF / found on the Website?) on this light source. He also notes there are still reasons to be wary of the technology at this point as more research continues. Jim Druzik, Getty Senior Scientist, in a recent CoOL post, said "We urge any organization currently using or interested in using LEDs to do some basic analysis of each LED product under consideration....In the near future, the Research and Technical Studies group of the American Institute of Conservation will take up just how they may facilitate and provide such a shared environment.” With careful research and planning, however, LEDs can be a safe and attractive lighting option for museum displays. Some museums have already implemented LED lighting for some exhibits, such as the Shelburne Museum's collection of dolls, doll houses, miniature interiors, and samplers.

CFLs, compact fluorescent bulbs are also more energy efficient than the typical tungsten. They are being tested and are used in the museum environment. Disposal of these bulbs can be a problem due to the mercury content. A typical fluorescent bulb contains approx 20 mg of mercury, low- mercury bulbs contain 4 mg or less. Approximately 620 million fluorescent bulbs are discarded yearly. Only about 20% of the discarded bulbs are recycled nationally. Discarded fluorescent bulbs release approximately 2 to 4 tons/year of mercury in the US. Although mercury disposal is a great potential environmental and health hazard, the potential damage from CFL disposal is less than the hazardous amounts of mercury generated by the coal-burning plants required to generate electricity to run the much less efficient tungsten (or other specific) lights- so less electricity, less mercury.


3.6 Case Studies

AIC [11]

WAAC [12]


The Shelburne Museum [13]

The Smithsonian

Toledo Museum

Similar Industries [14]

3.7 Further Reading About Facility-Wide Considerations

Brophy, Sarah S. and Elizabeth Wylie. The Green Museum: A Primer on Environmental Practice, Lanham, M.D: AltaMira Press, 2008. (A practical guide to assist museum staff in incorporating “green” into both new buildings and into day to day operations. Numerous case studies illustrate steps. Information on conducting energy audits.)

Keniry, Julian. Ecodemia: Campus Environmental Stewardship at the Turn of the 21st Century. Washington, DC: National Wildlife Federation, 1995. (While this book focuses on environmental initiatives on college campuses, some of the suggestions might translate to a museum or other institutional setting.)

Kibert, C. J. (2005). Sustainable construction: Green building design and delivery. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. (Describes the best practices in sustainable construction using the LEED rating system and other tools.)

Institute of Medicine of the National Academies Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice. Climate Change, the Indoor Environment, and Health. The National Academies Press 2011. (Also available as web publication, PDF form: [15]) Report compiled at the request of the EPA that finds that climate change and some energy-saving 'green' building initiatives may adversely affect indoor air quality.


From Gray Areas to Green Areas: Developing Sustainable Practices in Preservation Environments [16] A two-day symposium to examine sustainable practices in cultural heritage preservation environments, hosted by the Kilgarlin Center for Preservation of the Cultural Record at the University of Texas, Austin.

California Association of Museums [17] Though obviously geared toward California, the Green Museum Initiatives is a great website with good information including practical tips to help improve museum sustainability and green practices.

Green Museums Wiki [18]

Sustainability Page of Museums Association UK [19]

Conservation Physics by Tim Padfield [20] Articles such as 'Humidity buffer capacity of selected building materials' and 'Fundamental microclimate concepts.'