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AIC 2010 Notes: “Challenges of Sustainable Conservation”

“Challenges of Sustainable Conservation in the 21st Century”

Patricia Silence, Conservator of Museum Exhibits and Historic Interiors, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and Chair, AIC Green Task Force

Wed., May 12, 2010, 9:30-9:50am

Patricia Silence focused her talk on the challenges facing conservators when considering “greening” their practices, and focusing on ideas that can help mitigate the environmental impact that conservation treatment can pose. Silence identified some of the challenges to going green as expense, work habits, time and lack of control or authority to implement change.

She asked us all to consider ideas on how we might make more sustainable decisions such as using less dangerous solvents, creating less trash and recycling more, etc. We need to consider environmental health and safety issues, life cycle assessment, and cumulative energy demand when making decisions. Some of the ideas proposed by her as well as the audience follow.

Making environmentally friendlier decisions when choosing and working with solvents follows a decision-tree. First, use the least-polluting materials that you can and reuse any waste that you can. What you cannot re-use should be recycled if possible. If it cannot be recycled it should be disposed of in an environmentally sound manner. The National Archives Solvent Solver is a good publication to help with that.

When choosing a water purification system consider the feed water vs. usable product ratio. Distilled and reverse osmosis systems may have high feed water waste, and reusable deionized water filters require significant water for cleaning. Reducing water use also extends to treatments. You can use less by blotter washing or using suction devices to clean small areas rather than washing whole objects.

Silence urged everyone to think about our treatments and identify ways we can reduce waste.  Tips included using reusable sponges that can be cleaned as opposed to thrown away, using wooden skewers and cotton to make swabs rather than using disposable Q-tips. If you generate a lot of paper scraps, consider recycling them or give them to a local school art program, re-use store or list them on Craigslist or the Free Cycle Network. Read “From Cradle to Grave: Waste Management for Conservators” written by Michael White, Judith J. Bischoff, Chris Stavroudis, and Lisa Goldberg of The Health and Safety Committee and published by AIC News (November 2001; 26:6, insert). Being aware of how much waste you generate and the local and national rules for disposal is important.

There has been a lot of discussion about environmental control at this meeting. While the issue of rH and temperature set points is up for discussion, Silence urged balancing humidity and temperature with collection needs and seasonal conditions. HVAC units should be replaced only when their usable life is over. When considering new systems, consider economical as well as environmental issues.

Lighting issues are not just about how the affect materials but how they affect our environmental footprint. Consider the use of natural light, tungsten halogen, compact fluorescent, metal halide and LED lights. Use motion sensors and timers, or just turn off lights when they are not in use.

More Information will be posted on the AIC Green Resources Page and the AIC wiki can be used for posting tips on how you have reduced, reused or recycled in your conservation practice. You can also email the Green Task Force for more information at <green ::at:: conservation-us.org>.

One Response

  1. […] Patty Silence, conservator at Colonial Williamsburg, and Steven Weintraub, founder of Art Preservation Services, spoke about preventive conservation in the form of environmental standards for museums that house collections. I linked both of them to descriptions of the talks they gave at AIC 2010 because I’m sure a lot of the content was the same. To summarize, environmental guidelines are really flexible, and specific to every collection. But because they’re not only driven by preservation, but also a human comfort factor and cost, conservators must create a minimum standard of best practice (i.e. RH of 50-60%). […]

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