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10 

AIC NEWS

, May 2012

SUSTAINABLE CONSERVATION PRACTICE



Alternative Energies 

Five respondents affirmed that they were using alternative 

energy methods or going off-grid to obtain energy for their 

workplace. Examples included using solar panels, geothermal, 

wind power, and water/hydroelectric power. Of these, two were 

using multiple sources of alternative energies. This is an area 

where we expect to see changes in the next few years.

Lighting 

A strong majority of respondents have recently modified their 

lighting systems to reduce energy, but most did not know if the 

changes actually reduced costs.

Natural light and standard fluorescent, followed by incan-

descent lights were cited as the most favored lighting types. 

Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and compact fluorescent lights 

were used by about half of the respondents (figure 3). As an 

illustration of the rapidity with which LEDs have been incor-

porated into workplaces and museums it is interesting to note 

that in the 2008 survey LED’s were not even listed as a response 

option. Considering the recent implementation of the Energy 

Independence and Security Act that is phasing out incandescent 

light bulbs as well as continual improvements in the cost and 

color quality of other types of lighting, no doubt lighting will 

continue to be an area of rapid change in our field.

Given the importance of lighting choices for the conserva-

tion of artifacts and the environment, it is not surprising that 

lighting options for energy reduction was indicated as a topic 

that respondents want to learn more about from CSCP. In an 

immediate response to this request, CSCP will continue to 

update the lighting section of our wiki with more informa-

tion on energy efficient lighting, advances in technology, and 

concerns about different types of light on sensitive objects.



Recycling  and Waste

 

Regarding recycling habits in workplaces, conservators recycle 

paper the most, followed by glass, plastics, aluminum, ink 

cartridges, and electronics. Only 13% recycle other materials such 

as batteries, cardboard, and chemicals.

Recycling is clearly important to a sustainable conserva-

tion practice; however among survey respondents recycling was 

the topic of lowest interest. (For more information on levels of 

interest to different sustainability topics, see figure 4.) This may 

be because recycling has become a common practice in our daily 

lives, but based on the low percentage of people who recycle 

materials like batteries and chemicals, it is clear that these habits 

can be better incorporated into our conservation work practices. 

Ideas for broadening recycling efforts in conservation can be 

found on AIC’s Green Resources “Recycling Tips” webpage on 

www.conservation-us.org.



Water 

Evolving habits in water use become clear when comparing the 

percentage of people who intentionally reduced their water use 

in the 2008 AIC Green Task Force survey (32%) compared to 

this survey (53%). Interestingly, although most still use filtered or 

purified water over tap water (74%), a nearly equal percentage 

claimed that they avoid purchasing bottled water and selectively 

run purification systems for treatments.

It could be that conservators are uncomfortable with the 

notion of using tap water for treatments or tend to reach for puri-

fied water, if available. However, there are many examples of treat-

ments that are acceptable to perform with typical tap water in the 

United States, such as cleaning most ceramics, rinsing silver, and 

inpainting on fill material. The water section of our wiki, under 

“Studio and Lab Practices,” lists additional ideas for tap water 

uses as well as a chart summarizing the different water filtration 

systems and their impact on the environment.

One survey respondent wrote about a new water filtration 

system that uses an electrical charge rather than mixed bed resin 

beads to deionize water. The carbon filter cartridges are the only 

solid waste, as compared to the resin beds used by more traditional 

deionizing columns. This case study will be presented as part of 

the Tip Session at the CSCP luncheon in Albuquerque.



11

AIC NEWS

, May 2012

SUSTAINABLE CONSERVATION PRACTICE



Environmentally-Sensitive Vendors

Thirty percent of respondents stated that they patronize vendors 

with environmentally-sensitive business or production practices. 

This highlights an area where improvement is possible, especially 

as manufacturers and sellers move toward making and marketing 

more sustainable products. We are currently researching envi-

ronmentally friendly businesses related to conservation, and a 

growing list can be found on the “Green Suppliers” page of AIC’s 

conservation wiki.

Recommended Practices 

Many survey participants shared examples of sustainable practices 

that others might consider. These include: an energy audit of 

lighting, institution-wide giveaways for items such as paint and 

fabric that are no longer needed, and the use of cloth instead 

of paper towels. Additional ideas and a case study involving the 

reconstruction of a laboratory after Hurricane Katrina in keeping 

with energy reduction goals can be found in the ‘Case Studies’ 

section of the CSCP wiki. The topics of rehousing collections in 

a sustainably-minded manner and retrofitting exhibition cases to 

meet conservation standards will be presented at the CSCP annual 

meeting luncheon.



Future Topics

Finally, the survey asked participants to choose their top three 

choices for sustainability-related topics that they would like to 

hear more about from CSCP (figure 4). Those who answered 

were most concerned with incorporating sustainability into their 

lab practices, such as ventilation and disposal of solvents, choosing 

best packing and shipping practices, and light options that reduce 

energy consumption. Also high on the list were options for 

reducing the environmental impact of conservation treatments 

and the impact of climate change on heritage.

Identifying sustainability topics that interest the conservation 

community was a primary goal of the CSCP survey and we aim 

to use this information as a blueprint for our committee’s activi-

ties in the near future. Our current projects include:

•  Examples of sustainable practices as provided by survey

participants 

•  A list of conservation treatments that are acceptable to

perform with tap water as well as treatments that require 

purified water

•  A list of conservation vendors and related businesses that

are sensitive to environmental concerns

•  Research on advances in lighting technology and how it

affects the field of conservation

•  Research on ventilation and disposal of solvents from a

sustainability perspective

•  Research on “green” solvents

•  Research on best packing and shipping practices

We plan to publish results on our wiki, as well as in other 

venues. We encourage conservators with ideas on these topics 

and others to contact us at sustainability [at] conservation-us  __ 

org. In addition, our lunch session at this year’s annual meeting 

will provide an overview of sustainability topics as presented by 

environmental engineers and green chemists, and will also include 

a variety of tips from conservators.

Incorporating sustainable practices is challenging though 

valuable and essential as once-common natural resources become 

depleted and the cost of energy rises. CSCP encourages all 

conservators to evaluate what they can do to take an active role in 

helping the conservation profession achieve the standards for 21st 

century best practices.



—Melaine Brussat, mbrussat [at] Hotmail __ com  

Mary Coughlin, coughlin [at] gwu __ edu  

Robin O’Hern, robin [at] theoherns __ com 




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