Sustainable Practices 2011 Survey Results

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This page is based on an article published in AICNews: Brussat, Melanie, Mary Coughlin, and Robin O’Hern. 2012. “Sustainable Conservation Practice: Survey Results.” AICNews 37(3): 9-11.

Survey Results

The AIC Committee on Sustainable Conservation Practice (CSCP) put out a survey to its members in Fall 2011, which inquired how, or if, conservators are going green and working sustainably by changing their work habits and adapting their workplaces to reduce energy consumption. The survey was a follow up to the 2008 AIC Green Task Force “Green Conservation Practices” survey sent to AIC members and select members of the American Association of Museums (AAM). The 2011 survey included questions asked in the 2008 survey to gauge how practices have changed as well as additional questions to help CSCP learn about new areas of interest. In total, 107 people of the approximately 3,500 AIC membership (about 3%) responded to the survey. Although this is a low rate of response compared to the 2008 survey (about 15%), we hope that it represents nothing more than survey fatigue. The many new publications, conferences, and online courses on sustainability in conservation are clear indications that many conservators are interested in the topic. The 2011 survey supports this observation as 81% of respondents indicated that they try to reduce their carbon footprint and waste when designing conservation treatments.

To gather more detailed information on how conservators are moving towards sustainable practices, we divided the 2011 survey into eight categories, which include the headings below. We offer a brief summary of key points here, as well as topics that the CSCP has identified for future research. Complete results of the survey can be found at the bottom of this page.

Figure 1: Percent of respondents whose institutions set new temperature and relative humidity standards to save costs

HVAC

Although only one-third of the survey participants answered the series of questions related to environmental parameters, just as many requested more information on these topics. Changes in parameters for temperature and relative humidity were cited as solutions to save energy and money (Figure 1). For example, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation saved on energy costs by using HVAC shutdowns in some of their buildings. A discussion of their experience will be included in the upcoming tips session at the CSCP annual meeting luncheon.

Figure 2: Sustainable facility changes

Slightly more facilities changed environmental parameters than utilized an alternative energy source (Figure 2). However many more reported modifying lighting systems for energy savings. Although less than 10% of our respondents have worked in a facility that changed parameters for temperature and relative humidity, the research supporting these initiatives and the resultant cost savings will undoubtedly make it a growing trend in the future.

Alternative Energies

Five respondents affirmed that they were using alternative energy methods or going off-grid to obtain energy for their workplace. Examples included using solar panels, geothermal, wind power and water/hydroelectric power. Of these, two were using multiple sources of alternative energies. This is an area where we expect to see changes in the next few years.

Lighting

Figure 3: Light source survey results

A strong majority of respondents have recently modified their lighting systems to reduce energy, but most did not know if the changes actually reduced costs. Natural light and standard fluorescent, followed by incandescent lights were cited as the most favored lighting types. Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and compact fluorescent lights were used by about half of the respondents (Figure 3). As an illustration of the rapidity with which LEDs have been incorporated into workplaces and museums it is interesting to note that in the 2008 survey LED’s were not even listed as a response option. Considering the recent implementation of the Energy Independence and Security Act that is phasing out incandescent light bulbs as well as continual improvements in the cost and color quality of other types of lighting, no doubt lighting will continue to be an area of rapid change in our field.

Given the importance of lighting choices for the conservation of artifacts and the environment, it is not surprising that lighting options for energy reduction was indicated as a topic that respondents want to learn more about from CSCP. In an immediate response to this request, CSCP will continue to update the Lighting section of our wiki with more information on energy efficient lighting, advances in technology, and concerns about different types of light on sensitive objects.

Recycling and Waste

Regarding recycling habits in workplaces, conservators recycle paper the most, followed by glass, plastics, aluminum, ink cartridges, and electronics. Only 13% recycle other materials such as batteries, cardboard, and chemicals. Recycling is clearly important to a sustainable conservation practice; however among survey respondents recycling was the topic of lowest interest. (For more information on levels of interest to different sustainability topics, see figure 4.) This may be because recycling has become a common practice in our daily lives, but based on the low percentage of people who recycle materials like batteries and chemicals, it is clear that these habits can be better incorporated into our conservation work practices. Ideas for broadening recycling efforts in conservation can be found on AIC’s Green Resources “Recycling Tips” webpage. [1]

Water

Evolving habits in water use become clear when comparing the percentage of people who intentionally reduced their water use in the 2008 AIC Green Task Force survey (32%) compared to this survey (53%). Interestingly, although most still use filtered or purified water over tap water (74%), a nearly equal percentage claimed that they avoid purchasing bottled water and selectively run purification systems for treatments. It could be that conservators are uncomfortable with the notion of using tap water for treatments or tend to reach for purified water, if available. However, there are many examples of treatments that are acceptable to perform with typical tap water in the United States, such as cleaning most ceramics, rinsing silver, and inpainting on fill material. The water section of our wiki lists additional ideas for tap water uses as well as a chart summarizing the different water filtration systems and their impact on the environment. One survey respondent wrote about a new water filtration system that uses an electrical charge rather than mixed bed resin beads to deionize water. The carbon filter cartridges are the only solid waste, as compared to the resin beds used by more traditional deionizing columns. This case study will be presented as part of the Tip Session at the CSCP luncheon in Albuquerque.

Environmentally-Sensitive Vendors

Thirty percent of respondents stated that they patronize vendors with environmentally-sensitive business or production practices. This highlights an area where improvement is possible, especially as manufacturers and sellers move towards making and marketing more sustainable products. We are currently researching environmentally friendly businesses related to conservation, and a growing list can be found on the Green Suppliers page of AIC’s conservation wiki.

Recommended practices

Many survey participants shared examples of sustainable practices that others might consider. These include: an energy audit of lighting, institution-wide giveaways for items such as paint and fabric that are no longer needed, and the use of cloth instead of paper towels. Additional ideas and a case study involving the reconstruction of a laboratory after Hurricane Katrina in keeping with energy reduction goals can be found in the Case Studies section of the CSCP wiki. The topics of rehousing collections in a sustainably-minded manner and retrofitting exhibition cases to meet conservation standards will be presented at the CSCP annual meeting luncheon.

Future Topics

Figure 4: Sustainability topics of interest to respondents

Finally, the survey asked participants to choose their top three choices for sustainability-related topics that they would like to hear more about from CSCP (Figure 4). Those who answered were most concerned with incorporating sustainability into their lab practices, such as ventilation and disposal of solvents, choosing best packing and shipping practices, and light options that reduce energy consumption. Also high on the list were options for reducing the environmental impact of conservation treatments and the impact of climate change on heritage. Identifying sustainability topics that interest the conservation community was a primary goal of the CSCP survey and we aim to use this information as a blueprint for our committee’s activities in the near future. Our current projects include:

  • Examples of sustainable practices as provided by survey participants
  • A list of conservation treatments that are acceptable to perform with tap water as well as treatments that require purified water
  • A list of conservation vendors and related businesses that are sensitive to environmental concerns
  • Research on advances in lighting technology and how it affects the field of conservation
  • Research on ventilation and disposal of solvents from a sustainability perspective
  • Research on “green” solvents
  • Research on best packing and shipping practices

We plan to publish results on our wiki, as well as in other venues. We encourage conservators with ideas on these topics and others to contact us at sustainability [at] conservation-us __ org [2]. In addition, our lunch session at this year’s annual meeting will provide an overview of sustainability topics as presented by environmental engineers and green chemists, and will also include a variety of tips from conservators. Incorporating sustainable practices is challenging though valuable and essential as once-common natural resources become depleted and the cost of energy rises. CSCP encourages all conservators to evaluate what they can do to take an active role in helping the conservation profession achieve the standards for 21st century best practices.

—Melaine Brussat, Mary Coughlin, & Robin O’Hern


For a complete summary of the survey results, please see the attached file:

File:Sustainability Survey-Overall Summary.pdf