Monday, June 28, 2010

Museums, galleries and their carbon footprints

The emissions trading scheme may have been shelved in Australia for the near term (though watch this space after the ascendancy of Julia Gillard to the PM’s position) but museums and galleries, just as businesses, need to treat a low carbon and energy efficient economy as inevitable.

And what Copenhagen did achieve, although it appeared to be a failure as a climate change summit, was a global agreement to limit temperature rises to 2 degrees. To meet this target is going to require transformational changes to the world economy, and therefore inevitably to the way museums and galleries operate. The GLAM sector is going to be in a much stronger position if it can take control of its preparedness for this rather than wait for the inevitable government dictate.

And whilst this is partly about the reactionary component, i.e. checking the resilience of museums to the effects of warmer temperatures, heavier rainfall and less predictable weather patterns, and the related risks, it is also about being proactive in reducing each organisation’s carbon footprint.

I find colleagues’ eyes begin to glaze over at this stage, as it all appears too hard. So what can we learn from the rest of the world in this regard? I checked out the UK where they are substantially ahead of Australian thinking on this issue. Museums are looking to establish their carbon footprint and then to do something about reducing it, both to save money and also to be eligible for grants that are available for those that are proactive in this area.

Carbon footprints treat an organisation’s carbon emissions in three parts:
  1. Direct emissions from the organisation which, for museums relate to their own boilers and fuel used by museum vehicles
  2. Indirect emissions from electricity or gas purchased by the museum
  3. Indirect emissions from sources outside the museum’s control, such as staff and visitors getting to the museum, waste disposal and suppliers emissions
The first stage is to establish what these are, and the benchmark for this is the Victoria and Albert Museum, which claims to be the first museum to have calculated their footprint in 2007/08. They found that not unexpectedly 82% of their emissions arise from utilities.  However it is interesting to see the breakdown of this, namely 29% of this being for lighting compared to 63% for heating, cooling and control of relative humidity - interesting in that we tend to forget how much energy lights use and then of course how much they contribute to warming up air and thus requiring more energy for cooling. The balance of the carbon footprint at the V&A is consumed by IT (11%), touring exhibitions (5%) and staff travel (2%).

Having established a carbon footprint (and bear in mind that it helps to have sub metering so the breakdown between lights, HVAC and IT use can be identified), then the next stage is to do something about it. This should be about reducing energy use, not about using renewable energy sources or carbon offsetting.

Again check out how the V&A has achieved a 20% reduction in their carbon footprint between 2005 and 2009. They have done this through using low energy lighting on time clocks, low energy environmental controls and a combined heat and power system, known in the business as CHP.

Perhaps the most impressive part of this is how they are implementing ongoing savings as they progressively refurbish the Museum. New gallery projects now optimise the use of daylight, minimise solar gain, use intelligent ventilation and heating strategies and avoid humidification and cooling. It is a model all museums and galleries can benefit from actively considering.

Julian Bickersteth
International Conservation Services

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