Issue Seven (December 2022)

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December 2022

The Multifaceted Nature of "Sustainability"

Like so many members of the AIC Sustainability Committee, I have been engaging with the topic of sustainability since I was a child. Despite that long history, it wasn’t until recently that I began to consider “sustainability” as a multi-faceted concept. In middle school, the sustainability club collected each classroom’s paper recycling. In high school, the club focused on the health of the farmlands and waterways that surrounded us in rural Maryland. Even though the school had clubs focusing on issues of social sustainability, the connections and collaborations were never made.

At the end of my undergraduate career and into my first term as AIC Sustainability Committee student member, my concept of sustainability still focused primarily on the environment. Indeed, the AIC Sustainability Committee was originally called the Green Task Force. However, in recent years the intersectional nature of sustainability has been more widely embraced, and my concept of sustainability has broadened to embrace the range of sustainability’s definitions: Environmental, economic, and social. Although the latter two have been largely overlooked, the three have always been and continue to be inextricably linked. Just one definition of each is provided below, but there are many!

Environmental Sustainability: Practices that create and maintain the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony to support present and future generations (EPA).

Economic Sustainability: Practices that support long-term economic growth without negatively impacting social, environmental, and cultural aspects of the community (University of Mary Washington).

Social Sustainability: Practices that enable a community to develop processes and structures which not only meet the needs of its current members but also support the ability of future generations to maintain a healthy community (Business Dictionary).

The Sustainability Committee’s shift in focus to sustainability’s multiple areas aligns with movements happening in other conservation sustainability groups as well as other parts of AIC. The ICON Environmental Sustainability Network recently dropped “Environmental” from their name to highlight the significance of all three areas. Within AIC’s ongoing Held in Trust project, the economic, social, and environmental sustainability of the field are all being analyzed. Such reflections are necessary in a field that has relied heavily on unpaid or poorly compensated labor; has excluded the voices and heritage of certain communities; and has historically upheld inefficient museum climate and couriering standards and relied on toxic chemicals. I allude to these unsustainable characteristics not to blame or cause embarrassment, but to highlight that we have incredible room for growth and to applaud the work of so many who are working for a more sustainable field in all definitions. From initiatives focused on increasing diversity and access in the field, to the ongoing battles for fairer pay and workers’ rights; from detailed examination of the materials we use to proposing alternatives, conservators have done and continue to do excellent sustainability work.

In 2023, the AIC Sustainability Committee hopes this work will continue and that we can share our memberships’ ideas, challenges, and successes on its Sustainability Forum. We can only achieve a sustainable future—in all its forms—if we work together.

P.S. Want to be economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable this holiday season? Check out the Sustainability Committee’s Holiday Gift Guide below. You can also use your gift to start a conversation about sustainability with your friends and family (BONUS!).

- Annabelle Camp, on behalf of the Sustainability Committee

Resources from the Field (And Beyond)

Ki Culture and the Gallery Climate Coalition held a 2-day conference on December 1-2, called International Climate Control Conference which was completely free and is fully available on YouTube, and is available for viewing here: Day 1 and Day 2. There was discussion of sustainability in all its facets.

The Sustainability Committee invites all members to join the newly formed Sustainability Forum on the AIC community. It's an easy and effective way to stay informed on sustainability events throughout the field, learn about valuable resources, and share questions and ideas! To join, simply browse “All Communities” in the online community and request to join the “Sustainability Forum.”

Sharm el-Sheikh Climate Change Conference (COP 27) happened from November 6-18, 2022, and there were some exciting new developments regarding how financial resources will be allocated to less resourced nations who are experiencing the most devastating impacts of climate change. This is truly an example of the intersection of the three definitions of sustainability. To learn more, check out the episode Who Pays the Bill for Climate Change? on The Daily podcast. The Climate Heritage Network also launched Culture@Cop which highlights the critical role the cultural heritage sectors have to play in combating climate change.

Sustainability Committee’s Holiday Gift Guide

Here are some ways the members of the Sustainability Committee are making their gift giving more sustainable (in all its definitions)!

  • Give your family and friends experiences rather than stuff! A class, a massage, a meal at a nice restaurant, a new exercise activity, or tickets to a concert, play, or comedy show are gifts with a low carbon footprint that boosts the local economy. There are lots of musicians and comics on tour again after time off during the pandemic and they could use your ticket sales! Think about supporting a woman- and/or Black-owned business in your community that offers classes that your friends and family may enjoy.
  • Memberships and subscriptions are another meaningful (and sustainable) gift that keeps on giving. What a good way to support your local arts and culture organizations or your favorite newspaper, radio station, or podcast! Climate Newsletters that you can subscribe to include: “Heated,” “Distilled,” “Volts.” There is also a lot of community to be found around sustainable living. If you have someone crafty on your list, consider getting them a membership to a Maker’s Space.
  • Support local artists by attending art fairs in your area and purchasing their work. Unique works of art are often more affordable than you might think (economically sustainable for you) and are a very meaningful gift.
  • Donations in a loved one’s name is another meaningful and sustainable way to gift. Donations are not only environmentally sustainable but can go to supporting organizations that work to create social sustainability or advocate for politically impactful causes. Remember, one of the best things we can do to combat climate change is to vote, so anything that starts a conversation about political activism is a great gift.
  • If you do want to purchase items, shopping secondhand can be an environmentally and economically sustainable way to gift. You’d be surprised at what treasures can be found on sites like Poshmark, The Real Real, ThredUp, or A Thrifty Notion. Some of these sites offer gift cards so you can let someone know about a sustainable shopping website while giving them a gift. Secondhand bookstores are also great to support and often have gift cards as well.
  • Another great way to spread the word about sustainable living and support your local economy is by supporting a zero-waste shop (also known as refilleries). Zero waste shops are popping up all over the country in cities and towns large and small. New York City, Boston, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles, the Bay area, Phoenix, Indianapolis, Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, Minneapolis, Des Moines, St. Louis, and Salt Lake City, to name a few, all have refilleries. Litterless provides state-by-state guides of where to shop zero waste. Most places offer gift cards and sell some very nice things in addition to the basics.
  • If you are keen on recycling unusual materials, TerraCycle has a blog with all sorts of zero waste boxes for people with different interests.
  • The SC is excited for two new sustainability reads for cultural heritage professionals: The Arts and Humanities on Environmental and Climate Change by Sarah Sutton and Low Cost/No Cost Tips for Sustainability in Cultural Heritage: Reduce Your Impact on the Planet by Lorraine Finch, available as an ebook! Either of these would make a great gift for any conservator or cultural heritage professional who is concerned about the climate.
  • If you do want to purchase gifts, beware of greenwashing. Everything that is produced has a carbon footprint, and “sustainable” items such as reusable coffee mugs, water bottles, or metal lunch boxes are no exception. Make sure your gift recipients will find these items useful. If you use a reusable item repeatedly, the environmental impact is reduced; if you just put them in a closet or throw them out after just a few uses, no good is accomplished. Edible gifts are a sustainable way to fill a stocking and remember to shop local and support businesses owned by women and people of color when you are making purchases.

Gift Wrapping

For tips on sustainable gift wrapping see this article on using Furoshiki wrap for a gift around a gift. Bees wrap could be a pretty and reusable gift wrap, too!

Happy Holidays and cheers to a sustainable 2023 from the AIC Sustainability Committee!