Monday, December 19, 2011

Environmental Guidelines

I recently blogged on the issue of AICCM’s environmental guidelines for museums and galleries, and the awards AICCM picked up for them at the Museums Australia conference in Perth last month, both in the Sustainability sector and also the overall award.

We are a bit embarrassed that they are not yet available for public dissemination, but the reality is that until the new standard is released in the UK, as a net borrower of artworks and objects, Australian museums and galleries must wait. We now understand that PAS 198 (the precursor to the new British Standard) is likely to be launched early next year. However there’s nothing easy in this space!

The driver for change has been that current recommended environmental standards for display and storage conditions in museums and galleries rely on significant amounts of energy to keep them constant. Internationally the museum sector is facing a number of challenges, namely: rising energy costs; reduced budgets; and community pressure to be more environmentally sustainable.

These challenges raise two broad questions:
  • what are the opportunities/issues around reducing energy use in collection climate control?
  • what are the resulting potential impacts on collections (sometimes referred to as the 'preservation equation')?
The current generation of museum professionals have grown up working to the internationally recognised and until recently unassailable standards of 20°C +/- 2°C temperature and 50% +/- 5 % relative humidity. It is these that we are looking to relax.

However the National Gallery in London came out last week with its own view on the issue saying that in fact they are looking to tighten the parameters rather than loosen them to 21°C +/- 1°C in winter and 23°C +/- 1°C in summer and 50% +/- 5 % RH. See their well reasoned argument and indeed a broader background to the issue here.

My strong view is that, although the National Gallery’s old masters may need these very tight parameters, very few other collections do, and that the broad push to get the general standard relaxed must continue.

It’s interesting to see in the same week as the National Gallery’s announcement that the data centre sector is also grappling with the same issues. Data centres use vast amounts of electricity to keep their banks of computers cool.

Apparently these data centres run at 18-21°C to avoid hot spots that might cause the computers to malfunction. Now it has been shown that there is unlikely to be any problem letting computers operate in an environment up to 37°C. Even by relaxing the climate level by 9°C an astonishing $2.16 billion in energy costs would be saved by the sector in the US alone.

Now that is serious money saved and of course serious carbon dioxide emissions too.

Julian Bickersteth
Managing Director