Sustainability Case Studies
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Portland Art Museum, OR
More Sustainable Water Sources
Water purification systems use a lot of energy and materials that can be wasteful. Towards finding sustainable practices in your lab, look at your source of purified water. This is especially helpful if you are at the start of setting up a conservation lab. However, you can still carry out an audit of your water use and sources. Take a careful assessment of your water needs and determine the volume of purified water your lab actually uses, or will use for a given amount of time. Realistically, think about whether you use the water in small amounts regularly over that period of time, or in large amounts, but in sporadic bursts. Estimating your water usage will help you determine the type of purification to employ in your lab. You can use this helpful AIC News article, to assess various methods and their environmental impacts. Each method has its own benefits and drawbacks.
Here are a few tips to help you think through the decision making process based on what was done at the Portland Art Museum in 2016-2020 when designing a conservation lab at the Museum proper. The three primary types of purified water considered for use were distilled, deionized, and reverse osmosis. While distilled is probably the most sustainable to create as it requires the least energy, waste, and by products, it may not be the best choice for your particular situation. In the short term water use was minimal, approximately 1L per month. However, in the future water use would likely increase; but realistically to not more than 20 L per month. With this in mind, we assessed the costs and sustainability of standard purification systems that could be added into the lab close to the source and provide on demand purified water such as deionizing columns and Buehler filtration systems. However, the cost, requirement for replacement filters, and upkeep was way out of scale for the need, not to mention the amount of waste that would be created. Other options were investigated from purchasing gallon jugs of distilled water as needed and using a countertop distiller. Finally after discussions with the Head of Facilities about our water needs, we discovered that the building has reverse osmosis water piped throughout for the HVAC system. In addition, there were numerous spigots at which we could funnel off however much water we needed. A 2.5 gallon water container with a spigot was obtained for storage in the lab under the sink and easy access. This solution has also been successful at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau.
The American Institute for Conservation
AIC has developed an online directory to supplement the print version; the print edition of the Directory has also been reduced in length somewhat to save paper and keep printing/mailing costs down JAIC is accessible via an online archive; additionally, issues of JAIC are archived electronically via JSTOR
AIC has replaced the print version of AIC News with an online only newsletter, starting with the March 2013 issue. Links to the e-newsletter are emailed to AIC members.
- The tote bags provided to attendees at the 2010 Annual Meeting in Milwaukee were reusable bags constructed from recycled materials
- The meeting program was printed on FSC-certified paper (Forestry Stewardship Council)
- Signage materials have been reduced over the last two Annual Meetings by using a combination of electronic monitors for room identification and multi-use signs.
- Future meetings will likely involve increased use of electronic resources. Current efforts include increased blogging from the meeting as a way to involve colleagues who are unable to attend. Current boundaries to increased electronic features (such as live broadcasts, or tapings) are bureaucratic, financial (high costs), technical (internet connectivity) and legal (obtaining copy rights).
AIC has modified its website to decrease the amount of paper used by its members. For example, members can now renew their memberships online as well as register for events and meetings. Secondly, AIC changed from a print version of their "Find a Conservator" referral service, to an online version.
Baltimore Museum of Art
The Baltimore Museum of Art: Sustainable practices at The Baltimore Museum of Art The Baltimore Museum of Art has an active Green Team that holds yearly initiatives to keep the rest of the museum staff inspired to think about sustainability. They have events such as office supply swaps, fabric drives, latex/paint drives, frame give-aways for non-collection frames, and a metal madness day to prevent unwanted metal from being thrown in the trash.
Recycling is made easy with organized, labelled bins, and guidelines (photo no longer available) are posted for staff to read. These guidelines are specific to Baltimore, but are a good starting point for guidelines that can be created for your business or institution. Thanks to conservation technician Lauren Ross for sharing these with us. Lauren also sends the following tips:
- Talk with your local Plexiglas distributor to see if they work with a recycler. It may be possible to turn in unwanted Plexiglas, acrylic, and vitrines to them. The glass distributor sees some financial benefit to earning credits with the recycler,so they are more willing to work with us. At the moment, this is the most practical solution to avoiding waste. We were able to remove an entire truckload this year clearing out significant space from a vault and other storage areas.
- If you use Coroplast, it can be recycled! At the BMA, our recycling effort through the City of Baltimore runs on a single-stream basis. We are able to dump the coroplast directly.
- Take unwanted hardware to a metals recycler. Talk with your Facilities Department to see if they can use a metals recycler whenever demolition occurs of pipes, conduits, etc. Maintain oversight when construction occurs so that materials are recycled in an appropriate fashion.
Mary Gridley of Cranmer Art Group
Reusing packaging material and reducing waste
While a painting may arrive at the studio in anything from an old blanket to a customized crate, after examination or treatment, we make sure it is sent out from the studio properly protected: glassine or silicon release paper, backboard, face-board and plastic. This meant that a lot of wrapping material was thrown away, being considered sub-standard in some way. While we didn't want to make our clients feel they were being poorly treated by re-using old bits and pieces, we also felt guilty about the waste we were generating. So we had a stamp made (images below) which we now use to alert clients that we are recycling materials, and that is why their beloved artwork may come home with slightly soiled or patched together wrapping. No complaints yet!
The Indianapolis Museum of Art
Claire Hoevel, Senior Conservator of Paper at the IMA, reported the following story to us:
"The Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) maintains a 152- acre campus that includes a national historic landmark (Oldfields: the estate of industrialist J.K. Lilly Jr.), extensive dedicated gardens, and 100 Acres, a new art and nature park that features site-specific commissioned sculptures, a lake, and forest trails. The IMA’s expansive natural setting led the trustees and staff to prioritize environmental research alongside initiatives for research in art history, conservation, information science and visitor studies in the museum’s 2011 - 2015 strategic plan.
The IMA grounds and horticultural departments have infused their functions with sustainability goals that safeguard the environment while maintaining and even improving the visitor experience. Creating the 100 Acres sculpture park in what was previously a gravel quarry lake landscape required building foundations for a diverse group of sculptures, but tree replanting ensued at a 3:1 ratio with cleared material. This rehabilitative effort involved replacing invasive plants that had compromised the park property with Indiana native species in order to increase diversity and return the ecosystem to a healthier state.
A significant achievement in the horticulture plan for the museum was the creation of a rain garden to capture contaminated water runoff from one of the IMA’s asphalted parking lots (built circa 1970). The water runoff, which contains substances such as road salt, anti-freeze, and oil, was previously caught by a drain and directed down an incline to an unused area of the museum grounds. From there, the water could seep into the water table or flow further downhill toward the city’s central canal, which borders the IMA property and supplies drinking water for much of downtown Indianapolis. The rain garden effort capped this drainpipe and directed the runoff water into a bio-swale at the east side of the parking lot. This sloping area was planted with species that would hold the soil and successfully capture the contaminated water; the soil microbes then break down harmful pollutants to the extent that the contamination is no longer significant. The IMA rain garden was made possible through a cooperative education project funded by the Marion County Soil and Water Conservation Commission with additional support from the IMA.
Another initiative involves a new way of thinking about the care of an existing landscape feature at the IMA. The museum grounds encompass the Oldfields estate, whose gardens (designed by the Olmsted Brothers in 1920) were recently restored to their original scope and character. Reflecting the IMA’s emphasis on sustainable practices, a fruit tree orchard opposite the Lilly mansion is now maintained in an herbicide- and pesticide-free manner, using strategies such as pheromone insect lures and kaolin clay sprays for the trees.
For those who manage museum grounds and properties, the imperative to be better caretakers of the environment while maintaining historic accuracy and ensuring high aesthetic value often demands more labor-intensive protocols. The IMA believes that this effort is worthwhile, joining cultural institutions worldwide in the growing awareness that sustainability is not a luxury, but a necessity."
She asked us to mention lead horticulturist Chad Franer, who executed the rain garden project. The following photos show the garden before and after the renovation. Both images were taken by IMA photographer Tad Fruits and are courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
University of Pittsburgh
Amy Baker Williams from the University of Pittsburgh wrote to share this reuse story with us:
"We use Talas 100% cotton blotter (.03") for many applications conserving the maps. Blotter paper that is soiled from surface dirt, or yellow after washing, blotting, and drying is torn into small pieces and placed in a blue bin here in the lab. About every 4 months, A Propel School  teacher picks up the scraps and uses them to make 'seed paper' bookmarks, sheets of paper, and scrapbooks with her 3rd grade class. Everyone is thrilled about this collaboration. The students' work was recently exhibited at the Pittsburgh Children's Museum, and had a booth at this year's Preservation Fair held at Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
It's an amazing program that our scraps can help educate some young kids about paper and papermaking! The teacher has expressed interest in creating a website to share with other teachers on how to do the activity and potential sources for paper pulp. I love that the blotter is being used to teach kids about papermaking and sewing a book structure. They kids did all the sewing on the books themselves.
The students made our department some books to say "thank you." Absolutely melted my heart!"
Amy originally posted a “blotter for papermaking” ad on Pittsburgh FreeCycle and the teacher, Alice, replied to the ad.
New York Public Library
At the conservation lab of the New York Public Library, we save printer paper with printing on one side that is no longer needed and turn them into scratch pads instead of buying scratch pads from an office supplier.
After we have saved up a stack,