Sustainable Collections Care 16/10/13

Environmental impact is a big watchword these days, but I will admit I hadn’t thought of it in relation to collections care.  All this dehumidifying and lighting and heating that we have to do to make collections accessible and safe has an environmental impact.  It also has a financial impact too thanks to the rising energy costs.

This (free) training day at Bede’s World was provided by the Conservation Advisory Network and covered:

  • Sustainability at the Bowes Museum (Jon Old)
  • Saving money and the environment, solar panels and LED lighting in a Grade I listed building (Dennis Jones, Durham Heritage Centre)
  • PAS guidelines and how they can be effectively used to reduce energy usage (Dawn Bradshaw, TWAM)
  • Museum and Gallery lighting with LED technology (Dave Warburton, Concord)
  • The National Trust’s approach to Environmental Sustainability and Collections Care (John Wynn Griffiths)
  • Biomass Heating (Edward Milbank, Pennine Biomass)
  • Going for Gold – how to become a gold rated ‘green’ museum (Helen Marrit, Killhope)

LED lighting was a big topic and kept coming up through most presentations.  Our lighting is largely big fluorescent tubes (which we hate and would love to replace) and a few (energy saving) ordinary bulbs.  In the long term, yes, I would love LED lighting and movement sensors.  In the mean time, we are trying to train staff and volunteers to switch off lights and we’re experimenting with turning less lights on in the main library.  I used to just switch them all on regardless every morning, now I do half and see if the day is bright enough to manage without.  Like many environmental measures, it requires a bit of thought and a little bit more time.

“Green Teams” were also mentioned a few times which is the idea of having a group of staff who are really committed to being environmentally friendly.  Killhope try and recruit new members of staff straight into the Green Team so they have ecological working practices taught from the start of their career at the museum.  At the Institute, it is largely me and Simon, but he has definitely brought greener practice with him.  We now recycle (although this entails taking your washed out yoghurt pots home again as the City Council doesn’t provide business recycling bins) and we also are more aware of switching off machines and screens completely.

It was heartening to hear that the new specifications for environmental conditions are more relaxed.  The new PAS 198:2012 has made guidelines more achievable thanks to doing a lot of work into whether broadening the parameters would damage collections.  There is also a switch to considering items separately rather than as collections.  There’s new emphasis on thinking about what the building can achieve on its own – do you need the machines year round?  I found this an interesting thought.  I automatically run dehumidifiers 24/7, 365 days (or as near as I can get it) but do I actually need to?  With seasonal variations, probably not.  I should pay more attention to the meters and the RH levels before I switch them on.  I know that our stores will never get too dry (lower limit still 30%) so I tend to run them “just in case” when I could save energy, and the environment, without them.

We all smiled when Dawn mentioned the safe working limit for employees was 16 degrees.  I think it’s a given part of the job that we all end up working in cold environments.  Many of us have old (therefore cold) buildings plus a deliberate aim to keep stores cold (7-14 deg in winter) so we all end up cold too!  Several galleries suggested 18 degrees as their aim for the public spaces (given that visitors will probably be wearing coats and moving around).  Later in the winter, perhaps I will do a post specifically on tips to keep warm!  We were certainly sharing ideas on our table!

Biomass heating wasn’t such a hot topic for me, it did look like a great option if you’re currently on oil or electric heating, but if you can get mainline gas, that’s still cheaper.  I did love their solution of installing web-cams into fuel stores so they can check how much you have left without you having to go and look!  Really using the advantages of technology to make life easier.

Finally, Helen from Killhope gave lots of examples of how they have become a greener museum.  One I hadn’t considered was purchasing sustainable office and housekeeping supplies.  I don’t think much thought is currently going into that here, and perhaps we could shift to some more environmentally friendly options.  There’s LUSH soap in the staff kitchen already – there’s a start!

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