43rd Annual Meeting – Sustainability Session, May 15, “Conscientious Conservation: The Application of Green Chemistry Principles to Sustainable Conservation Practice”, Jan Dariusz Cutajar

Jan Dariusz Cutajar, graduate student at UCL, began by commenting that inspiration from last year’s AIC conference had caused him to investigate this topic. Cutajar states that in some instances the terms, ‘sustainable’ and ‘conservation’ are used interchangeably, but he argues that each term needs to be carefully defined: ‘sustainable’ as reusable, not causing harm to the environment, people or culture. Sustainability has environmental, social and economic faces – it is a cultural construct.
Cutajar believes that currently sustainability initiatives are not well integrated into conservation programs.
The existing Green Chemistry principles, outlined by the mnemonic “Productively” he has replaced with a mnemonic of his own devising: “To Conserve”, which stands for:
T – Temperature and pressure considerations
O – Only use what you need
C – Conscientious waste prevention
O – Optimizing Health and Safety
N – Negligible toxicity is best
S – Safer, alternative methods
E – Environmentally non-persistent, biodegradable chemicals
R – Renewable materials and energy sources
V – Verify solvent sustainability
E – Examination and monitoring
These principles must work in combination with the eco scale: factors of time, price, safety and fate of materials.
Cutajar surveyed a range of university and institutional conservation laboratories and private practitioners about their sustainable lab practices with regard to chemical usage. He discovered that there is a general awareness in the profession of the impact of chemicals but differences in available time, money and other resources resulted in different approaches. He found that university laboratories had the most sustainable practices, with institutional conservation departments being hampered by time pressures such as digitization and exhibition programs, and private practitioners being restricted by both time and cost considerations. He feels that stronger communication of sustainability principles and a cohesive change in attitude and habits within the sector will further improve sustainable conservation practice.