Life Cycle Assessment Project

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a modeling tool used to quantify the environmental impact of a product or action at a comprehensive, systems level. Information gained from the LCA, including identification of energy and resource intensive steps, allows for educated choices that will make the industry studied more economically and environmentally sustainable. For example, consumers only see a product as it is being consumed, such as the short time a plastic utensil is used, without considering where it comes from or where it goes. But in order to design a more efficient product, all of the production, use, and disposal phases must be examined and understood.

The SC has been working with Northeastern University environmental engineer, Dr. Mathew Eckelman and his students to study the environmental and economic impact of museum loans and exhibition practices. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston was used as a prototype for the students to gather data under the direction of Pamela Hatchfield, chief objects conservator. Four LCAs were studied; examination of LED lamps, the impact of a museum loan, and the impact of use of the HVAC for one gallery, the impact of Silanes as a consolidant vs Acryloid B-72.

The LCA recommendations and methods of implementation will be made available to the art/heritage preservation community through publications, workshops, and student outreach. The project was presented as a poster at the 42nd AIC Annual Meeting [1].

2013 AIC Annual Conference Lunch Session[edit | edit source]

The following was originally published in the May 2013 issue of AIC News.

2013 Lunch Session Presents A Work in Progress: Three life Cycle Assessments of Museum loans and exhibitions

On May 30, 2013, the Committee for Sustainable Conservation Practices (CSCP) will host its second annual lunch session at this year’s AIC meeting in Indianapolis. The session, “Linking the Environment and Heritage Preservation: Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of Loans, Relative Humidity Parameters, and Lights,” will include a progress report on three LCA projects that environmental engineers at Northeastern University have carried out in collaboration with the CSCP.

In recent years, AIC has engaged in a series of national and international meetings and conversations with conservators, museum directors, and collections care managers concerning the environmental impact of loans and exhibitions. The 2010 AIC/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) international meeting Rethinking the Museum Climate focused on environmental control and energy use. At the AIC/MFA 2012 meeting Climate Control Standards: Fact or Fallacy in Albuquerque, the discussion continued, with more targeted questions concerning the relationship between environmental control standards and energy savings and costs. Through these meetings, the AIC community has begun to re-evaluate environmental guidelines in an effort to make loans and exhibitions more sustainable in all ways. Discussions have mostly concentrated on energy savings that can be attained by reducing demands on HVAC systems and by changing lighting sources to compact fluorescents, halogen bulbs, and LEDs. Although energy savings have been explored more fully than material usage, crucial issues concerning the waste produced from packing art, shipping art, and fabricating exhibition cases, and the work and energy required to put together and carry out loans and exhibitions have yet to be considered fully.

Progressing climate change and hard-felt recent climate disasters drive home the importance of continuing work to improve sustainability. We must pursue the goal to reduce carbon footprints and stop needlessly generating overwhelming amounts of waste. With a hotter climate in our future and depletions in virgin resources, energy costs will skyrocket and waste disposal will increasingly become more challenging. Fine art and heritage conservators must step up and recognize the important role we can take in implementing necessary changes, not only to manage the high costs required to carry out our work, but also—and more importantly—to preserve our heritage.

Before significant, effective changes can be made, a quantitative understanding of the environmental impact from the energy we use and the waste we produce is essential. Since the 1990s, industries throughout the world have used a tool called Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to quantitatively evaluate materials and energy use from cradle to grave. The CSCP has teamed with Northeastern University Environmental Engineer Dr. Mathew Eckelman and his students to carry out several assessments at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (MFA), so we can begin to address some of the most pressing issues related to loans and exhibitions, the energy they use, and the materials they require.

These assessments are the first steps in a multiphase project led by the CSCP LCA working group. At the AIC luncheon session, we will present a progress report and then break into separate groups focusing on each LCA aspect, with discussions on how conservators can implement the LCA findings. The results of these discussions will be used in the second phase of the LCA project, in which we will partner with Collections Care Network (CCN), art handlers, and packers to establish a blueprint and guidelines for the AIC community to follow as part of sustainable best practices in conservation.

What is an LCA?[edit | edit source]

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) evaluates the environmental impact of a system over its entire life cycle by compiling an inventory of relevant energy uses, materials inputs, and environmental releases.The inventory aims at capturing all aspects of a life cycle from cradle to grave, including extraction and treatment of raw materials, educational tools, product manufacturing, transportation and distribution, product use, and end of life disposal. After the inventory is assembled, a computer program is used to quantify the potential environmental impacts associated with the identified inputs and releases, allowing for informed choices about materials and energy use, and ultimately economic planning. LCA must be coordinated within a broader sustainability management approach in order to deliver the desired results. References:,,

AIC CSCP/Northeastern University LCA Projects[edit | edit source]

Dr. Eckelman and his 12 students focused on three issues that CSCP identified, based on both our past surveys and the AIC/MFA meetings.


Does maintaining a wider, but controlled, RH range result in energy savings, therefore a lower carbon footprint and less carbon output?

Methodology: The study examines and compares the energy use and environmental impact from maintaining HVAC systems at a variety of relative humidity ranges.


A series of loans and exhibitions at the MFA are examined to determine the activities that create the most waste and produce the highest carbon footprint. The following issues are evaluated from cradle to grave. Issues considered (not limited to the following list):

  • vitrine construction
  • mounting materials (mats, plexi)
  • labels
  • information panels
  • lettering, paint
  • frames
  • crate construction
  • packing
  • shipping
  • visitor travel


What type of lighting requires the least amount of energy to run and is the most sustainable? “Sustainable” includes the following: the carbon output, ozone depletion, and toxicity of the light source from cradle to grave (including toxicity of the light bulb as waste).

Methodology: This study conducts an LCA of the different light sources, comparing complete new LED housing and bulbs with reusing existing housing and halogen bulbs. The LCA provides an assessment of energy and cost savings based on different lighting systems.