Updated NPS Museum Handbook Collections Environment Chapter Available

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The National Park Service Museum Management Program is pleased to announce that the updated NPS Museum Handbook Museum Collections Environment chapter is now available.
The chapter, developed for over 385 National Park museums located throughout the USA, provides guidance on how to achieve an optimal environment for different types of collections located in a broad range of climate zones and housed in various building types, including furnished historic structures.
It includes:

  • Sections on “Collections Environment Basics” and “Building Basics for Collections”
  • Easy-to-follow sequential steps with recommendations on how to manage and control the museum environment.
  • Recommended temperature and relative humidity set points. These set points are expanded slightly from the earlier NPS recommended ranges to accommodate the range of climate zones in which park collections are housed, and that can also allow for greater energy efficiency.
  • Updated light standards.

Checking Datalogger
Other recommendations include :

  • Moderating climate fluctuations by containerizing collections in well-constructed and sealed metal cabinets
  • Rotating objects on exhibit to minimize light exposure
  • Guidance on flash photography and copying
  • Guidance on minimizing air pollution in spaces housing collections

Sustainability Committee: Call for Professional Member

AIC Sustainability Committee Seeks New Professional Member
Term: October 2016 – May 2018
The Sustainability Committee seeks a new professional member to join our dynamic, interdisciplinary team. The position is open to interim year members, Associates, PAs, and Fellows from any conservation specialty.
Committee goals:

  • Provide resources for AIC members and other caretakers of cultural heritage regarding environmentally sustainable approaches to preventive care and other aspects of conservation practice. Resources may be provided via electronic media, workshops, publications and presentations.
  • Define research topics and suggest working groups as needed to explore sustainable conservation practices and new technologies.

Membership Parameters:

  • The committee is comprised of 8 voting members.
  • Members serve for two years, with an additional two-year term option.
  • One member is a conservation graduate student.
  • One member serves as chair for two years.
  • During the second year of the chair’s term, another member serves as chair designate, assisting with and learning the chair’s responsibilities.
  • As needed, corresponding (non-voting) members and non-AIC experts will be invited to guide research on special topics.


  • Monthly telephone conference calls with the committee members.
  • Research, write and edit the AIC Wiki Sustainability pages.
  • Participate in researching and writing group presentations, publications, blog posts, and social media posts.
  • Contribute to development and planning for the Sustainability Session at the AIC Annual Meeting.
  • Initiate and support committee projects to increase awareness of sustainable practices in the conservation community.
  • Collaborate with related committees, networks, and working groups.

To Apply:
Please submit a statement of purpose (1 page maximum length) and resume by September 21, 2016 to Melissa Tedone, Committee Chair, at mtedon@winterthur.org.

44th Annual Meeting – Photographic Materials Session, May 16, “Understanding Temperature and Moisture Equilibration: A Path towards Sustainable Strategies for Museum, Library and Archives Collections,” by Jean-Louis Bigourdan

Preventive conservation is becoming an increasingly important part of our work as conservators, but it often seems that many important questions about environmental control have yet to be answered. Questions such as to what degree are fluctuations of temperature and RH humidity damaging to collections, and are they more or less damaging than strictly maintained but not ideal conditions?
Jean-Louis Bigourdan addressed some of these uncertainties in his talk on temperature and moisture equilibration in storage spaces containing significant quantities of hygroscopic materials. He focused on reconciling the need for climate-controlled storage with the quest for sustainability and the pressure of budgetary limitations. His introduction was reassuring: the current thinking on storage climate is that relatively stable low temperatures are desirable (“cool storage”), but there is little benefit to maintaining a perfectly stable climate (i.e. without fluctuations). Rather, a certain degree of cycling is acceptable, so long as the shifts are not extreme.
Following from this fact, Jean-Louis presented the concept of “dynamic management” of HVAC systems. Dynamic management entails shutting down the HVAC for short periods, such as overnight, and adjusting climate set points seasonally. This would save on energy, and thus reduce the environmental impact and cost of operating such systems. Of course, we as conservators are immediately concerned with the effect on collections materials during such shutdowns: How extreme are the fluctuations in temperature and RH resulting from periodic shutdowns of the HVAC?
This is the questions Jean-Louis attempted to answer through two phases of testing. He was particularly focused on the possibility that collections containing large quantities of cellulosic and/or hygroscopic materials might buffer against large or sudden shifts in temperature and RH. Jean-Louis undertook two phases of testing to understand the extent of the self-buffering capabilities of such materials. The first round of testing was conducted in the laboratory, and the second in library and archive collections storage rooms.
In his laboratory tests he exposed different types of materials to large fluctuations in temperature and RH. The materials included things like closed books, matted photographs and drawings in stacks, and stacks of unmatted photographs. He also tested the effects on these materials when they were placed inside cellulosic microenvironments, such as archive storage boxes, measuring the temperature and RH at the surface of objects, and at their cores. His results indicated that the RH at the core of books or stacks of cellulosic material does not change as rapidly as the exterior environment. Temperature equilibration occurred over a period of hours, and moisture equilibration occurred over the course of weeks or even months. Microenvironments increased the time to equilibration, mostly by controlling diffusion of air.
Another useful result of this laboratory experimentation was that it demonstrated that the moisture content of paper-based and film collections was more affected by environmental temperature than by environmental RH. In other words, at the same exterior RH, the moisture content of the collections object was lower at higher exterior temperatures. The laboratory testing therefore suggested that storage spaces with significant quantitates of hygroscopic materials will be buffered against large changes in RH and temperature due to moisture exchange with the collections materials.
Jean-Louis found that field testing in collections storage spaces returned many of the same results as his laboratory tests. 6-8 hour shutdowns of HVAC systems had little impact on environmental RH, and many of the systems they examined were already following seasonal climate cycles without causing dramatic shifts in the temperature or RH of storage environments. He encouraged conservators to take their collections materials into account when evaluating the buffering capacity of their storage environments.
I was very encouraged by these findings, although I have some remaining questions about the potential effects on collections materials. How much moisture is being exchanged with collections items in such a scenario? Is it enough to cause dimensional change in hygroscopic materials, especially on exterior surfaces, and will that contribute to more rapid deterioration in the long term? Regardless, I was happy to be prompted to remember that collections materials are an active part of the storage environment, not an unreactive occupant of it.
The talk wrapped up with Jean-Louis raising a few areas of further research. He hypothesized that changes in storage climate which are achieved through a series of small but sharp changes would result in slower moisture equilibration between environment and collections than would a change made on a continuous gradient. He also raised the possibility of predicting the internal moisture fluctuations of collections materials using their known hygroscopic half-lives. Both of these areas of research could be extremely helpful to conservators attempting any dynamic management of their climate control systems.
A particularly thoughtful question by an audience member provided the opportunity for more climate control wisdom. A Boston-area conservator of library and archive collections wondered whether it made sense to use dew point as the set point on HVAC systems in the winter to save money on heating costs, but during the summer to use RH as the set point to insure against mold growth. Jean-Louis felt this would be an unnecessarily complicated method of control, but offered a general rule for the storage of hygroscopic collections. He suggested thinking of lower temperatures as the primary goal, and of RH as important to maintain within a broader range. Lower temperature slow degradation reactions inherent to such materials, and so generally lower is better. However, RH need only be high enough so as not to embrittle material, but low enough to prevent mold growth. Essentially he suggested that if your RH and temperature are too high, you are better off reducing temperature slightly, which will slow degradation reactions, and as a side-effect your collections may absorb a small amount of moisture, thereby lowering the RH in the building environment.
Jean-Louis’s talk left me intrigued and excited about the possibility of taking advantage of hygroscopic collections materials to provide a more stable and sustainable storage environment.

44th Annual Meeting – Sustainability, May 16, "Sustainable Energy Reductions without Relaxed Environmental Criteria for a Hypothetical Museum in Montreal" by William Lull

Annoyingly, my computer thought it would be a great time to crap out, but luckily I come equipped with multiple electronic devices. So, as to not let my computer get the best of me, I snapped pictures of a number of his slides, so I would catch the gist of his talk. It also helps that Bill came to Yale to give a much more extensive version of this talk to collections and facilities staff.
Good news? The talk in its entirety is available as a paper on Bill’s web site: http://publications.garrisonlull.com
Bill set up a hypothetical building scenario (10,000 sf) using Montreal as its home. Montreal uses hydro power (so cool and GREEN) for its utilities so carbon footprint isn’t a concern here, so he doesn’t talk about emission reduction in this scenario.
Institutions want to save money, so naturally, their first thought is to cut back on HVAC settings. Same with energy savings: if we change our parameters, we’ll save money AND energy! But at what risk to our collections?
The scenarios that were hypothesized were the following:

  • Change lighting energy use – reduce by 1 w/sf
  • Change the T/RH to the relaxed AAMD (Association of Art Museum Directors) standards
  • Change the energy loads and other proposed criteria without changing the environment set points

The scenarios were tried in a collections storage space and a gallery space in the proposed building.
Now, granted, the AAMD “standards” were proposed so that we’d be more lenient in our loaning practices, and not about energy savings or anything like that. Plus, I am not sure what “science” was used to determine these guidelines, since as far as I know, no conservators or conservation scientists were part of the conversation. But that’s a bone I can pick on a different blog post. 🙂 Anyway, Bill was just using it as an example of relaxed conditions.
One important element to examine are the alternative loads and how they might affect these numbers. Reducing these loads on a system will save energy and money:

  • Internal Loads
    • e.g. humans, lights, computers
    • turn off lights, change lamps, turn off computers not in use
  • Envelope Loads
    • e.g. radiant heat from the sun, glass, insulation, vapor barrier (or lack thereof)
    • seal up cracks, add insulation, vapor barrier
  • Outside Air Loads
    • how much outside air is being let in?
    • check and see how much outside air is being let in
    • you need some due to ASHRAE and OSHA standards

Visual demonstrating the different types of energy loads on a collections space
Visual demonstrating the different types of energy loads on a collections space

Another visualization of loads that drive energy use
Another visualization of loads that drive energy use

My favorite – and simplest – solution is to change the amount of air being pushed through your HVAC system. If you don’t have constant volume supply/ return fans, slow the fans down! You’ll maintain the environment you want, and save money and energy! Just make sure air is still being distributed evenly so your conditions stay constant. And BTW, supply and return fans are NOT the same as VAV fans. Those are smaller fans that are used the condition one room at a time based on how you set the thermostat in a single room.
Reducing air flow by reducing supply and return fan speeds = energy and money savings!
Reducing air flow by reducing supply and return fan speeds = energy and money savings!

Math and Physics for reduced air flow :)
Math and Physics for reduced air flow 🙂

Other recommendations have been to shut down equipment during unoccupied times and then turn the equipment back on. Bill doesn’t recommend this for a variety of reasons:

  • Wear and tear on equipment (e.g. motor belts)
  • The conditions are less than ideal, especially in the summer (I’ve experienced this issue)

Why not just shut the equipment off?
Why not just shut the equipment off?

Conditions are not maintained as well if you just shut the equipment off overnight
Conditions are not maintained as well if you just shut the equipment off overnight

Savings in the hypothetical gallery space
Savings in the hypothetical building’s gallery space

Bottom line? There are other ways to be smart with energy savings and STILL maintain the environmental conditions you want in your collections and exhibit spaces. So, don’t assume you need to relax your environmental standards to be a greener museum. Examine your overall building and systems with your facilities folks and see what you can find that might save you money in the long run without compromising your collections.
Super smart and super practical. This HVAC nerd gives this talk two thumbs up!

44th Annual Meeting – Sustainability, May 16, "Sustainable Preservation on a Small Island: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Passive and Mechanized Environments" by Jeremy Linden et al.

This talk’s subject matter was as advertised: a preservation environment project on a remote island off the coast of Maine: Monhegan, Maine.
Never heard of Monhegan? Join the club. The island is protected by legislation – it is considered a conservation zone, since the island is fragile and so are its resources. On this tiny island is the Monhegan Museum. They were looking to improve the environment in the museum while also being sustainable: the environment was the only issue that the museum had not addressed in the CAP Report that was completed for the museum a number of years ago. So the museum got a PAG grant, bought some PEM2 dataloggers to get environmental data, and then brought in the Image Permanence Institute (IPI) to help improve their environment.
By the way, if you ask Ron Harvey, the CAP grant is the gateway drug to grants! 🙂
The island sounds like a lovely place… in the summer. Its remote location creates challenges, especially in the winter. The water lines are above ground, so water freezes in the winter. No wonder the population on the island plummets in the winter: 800 in the summer to *50* in the winter. it doesn’t help that the only way on and off the island is by boat: the mail comes by boat, the artwork travels by boat… you get the idea.
Overall, the building had some HVAC elements, but it wasn’t consistent, mostly due to the additions of buildings gifted to the museum, like the Assistant Lightkeeper’s house, which was gifted to the museum in 1998, and turned into a collections vault. The vault has HVAC and the office has heat, but the gallery spaces were unheated, mostly because they only have exhibitions during the warmer months.
First order of business: monitor the environment and get data. Some alarming conditions popped up:

  • Rising damp was discovered in the building due to how water flowed, so luckily that was simple water mitigation: move the water away from building instead of letting it drain into the basement
  • Working with climate control in a passive manner: using things like foam doors to reduce moisture migration, for example
  • Extremes of environment in this space

So, what’s an island with significant collections to do?
Luckily, this is not IPI’s first rodeo in challenging environments. So what were some of the things they chose to do based on the limited services and accessibility?

  • Period appropriate repairs to bring the keeper’s house closer to its original intended performance while remaining a passive building. Not every building needs an air handler, so let’s try to bring the building back to how it was supposed to behave in its original construction.
  • What about energy reduction and efficiency?
    • Testing strategies (seasonal set points, controlled shutdowns) to allow the mechanized vaults to operate passively for portions of the year while improving preservation
    • Improving energy generation on the island and recovering waste heat as a new source of energy
    • Good construction to original building helps a lot
    • Passive operations during parts of the year
    • Ranges and guidelines safe for collections
    • One of the HUGE challenges was electricity. The wiring needed repairs, but the museum was able to work with the power company and help from them to recover wasted heat for collections during the winter
  • Re-purposing appropriate structures to improve collections storage/ exhibit
    • Ice House
      • Extended the collection storage to include both the upper and lower floors to accommodate the need for appropriate storage for the expanding art collections
    • Gallery
      • CHECK THIS OUT: Solar thermal dehumidification to manage high summer RH! SO COOL (if you pardon the pun)
      • Addition of vapor and thermal barrier in the exposed dirt crawlspace to reduce vapor transfer into the building

To keep in mind: strategies and solutions that are appropriate to place – specifics may not be broadly applicable but the process certainly is! I thought it was an excellent example of collaboration while being considerate of an historic building – lots of places aren’t. This project demonstrated excellent teamwork and the awesomely amazing things an interdisciplinary team can do!
Some questions that came up after the talk:
How did you deal with the rising damp? The answer was downspouts and a French drain; also a plus that water loves to run downhill away from building, so the fact that the museum was set up high was to their advantage
What IS Solar-thermal Dehumidification anyway?: essentially they are running the desiccant system with the SUN only during the summer! The desiccant system is a Munters unit by the way. The vapor barrier is plastic sheeting over the top of the dirt layer in the crawlspaces to prevent rising damp.

43rd Annual Meeting, May 15, 2015, “The How and Why of Reusing Earth Magnets”, with Gwen Spicer

As we approach another conference in which Gwen Spicer will share her vast knowledge in the workshop sessions Ferrous Attractions, the Science Behind the Magic (spots available as of this writing), we call attention to her 2015 session in which she explained attention that can be paid as to the sustainability of their use. This content has also been submitted to The Book and Paper Group Annual 34, but for those who are not BPG subscribers, is available on her website: The How and Why of Reusing Earth Magnets.
First she addressed what exactly are the “rare earths” from which these strong magnets are made. Chiefly, they appear among the lanthanide series of elements from the lower part of the periodic table – elements 57 through 71 and a few more. They are called rare because although they are naturally found intermingled, early on in industrial mining history, they were hard to separate due to their chemical similarities. (More information including a timeline of refining and increased production may be found on Spicer’s website and blog.)
Addressing the primary theme of the conference, Spicer asked “is it sustainable or not to use these elements, and if so, why?” Today, advanced industrial processes have made these rare earth elements easier and cheaper to separate, leading to their relative ubiquity, to a point that they are now are considered disposable. You may be surprised to learn that they make up components in so-called green technologies, such as hybrid cars and wind turbines. Because they make rapid electrical transmission in miniaturized components possible, they are one of the things that make inexpensive portable electronics possible, such as small appliances, earphone/buds, and mobile phones. While recycling/e-cycling the more expensive products such as phones is becoming more common and a cash value is placed on turn-in programs, those smaller items represent a non-recoverable portion of an ultimately finite resource.
To refine these rare earth elements, because they appear “rarely”, mining companies actually have to go through a very large amount of product to recover a small amount of valuable stock, resulting in industrial waste. As with any mining process, there are sad truths of waste management, such as polluted tailing ponds, release of atmospheric dusts, and junk metals discarded, all of which are potential contributors toward environmental pollution.
While there was production in the US, a highly visible mine incident in Mountain Pass, CA, led to closure based on EPA citations. Not surprisingly, much of the world’s production (95%) comes from China, where environmental standards are considerably more lax. To make the most profit, some countries will also offshore the labor intensive refining and processing of ore to poorer countries, leading to other uglier truths, such as the protection of the worker and environment coming down to an economic compromise, or conflict. Population studies in some countries show higher incidence of higher cancer rates and shorter life span for workers in these industries.
Spicer reported that economic and political tensions has caused Japan to invest in production of more efficient technologies and reexamining of older technologies, so as to use less material overall. As the trend shifts from the cheapening of the source material to what may eventually become more costly due to the consumer waste and reduced availability. (For further reading, Spicer goes into more detail on geo-economic and political tensions in the BPG article linked above.)
On a more positive note, Spicer turned back to what the conservator interested in using earth magnets can do; first she advises becoming a wiser and more informed consumer and user. (Just reading this article is a start!) Proper care and handling of earth magnets, chiefly the Niobium-Ferric-Bromide type, can reduce one’s overall impact by conserving the intensive material resources needed to make them. There is an excellent table of information in the article; as example, tips drawn from this session discussion include:
⁃ Earth magnets have sensitivities: protect them from extremes of heat, mechanical shock, moisture.
⁃ Use appropriate techniques to adhere or countersink them into substrates. For instance, use of hot melt glue can deactivate a magnet.
⁃ To ensure longevity during storage and use, separators are key, such as foam padding, or sinking them into other materials such as corrugated boards or foam.
⁃ Use smaller containers such as the ones they are shipped in, or pill separators, to keep them from banging into each other or ferromagnetic surfaces. Recycle other small containers, such as contact lens cases, to increase separation in small cubic space.
⁃ Keep like materials together and unlike apart – niobium apart from ferromagnetic surfaces to avoid demagnetization.
⁃ See further references in Spicer’s bibliography.
Lastly, as a watchword, Spicer leaves us with the mantra “let us be aware of best environmental practices just as we do in other areas of treatment…”
In the Q&A period, the following discussions arose:
Q: About suppliers: do any companies have more sustainable practices than others?
A: There are kind of two categories – some companies are affiliated with the mining sources, converting earths to magnets; and then there are those that just sell them. For instance, the Mountain Pass mine has started up again in US, under new restrictions, using previously gathered raw material to produce new product
Q: Are there any insights into how to dispose of or recycle earth magnets?
A: There are at least 12,000 e-cycling programs across the U.S., definitely contact them! Recycling can also a present a conflict for resources as trash picking and separation is an economic way of life for some. But for broken ones, sharp or deactivated, recycling companies are a good option to divert the unusable portion versus the municipal waste stream. Harvard University Libraries suggests contacting Terracycle of NJ, to take away waste stream that is disallowed from municipal collections.
Q: At a recent symposium, the personal safety issue came up. What are current safety recommendations for bulk storage of magnets or use for persons with pacemakers or other electronic medical devices?
A: From discussions Spicer has had, generally a magnet force field limited to three inches from the pacemaker (or other medical appliance), can be a distance of concern – this could take even place where dangling earbuds with embedded magnets are present (see the tiny print warning label on packaging of these). It is important to note that the force of the magnet is a factor of its size and any shielding around it or the object it may be attracted towards. Generally an artifact in exhibition which is mounted with magnets is very far from that distance, but it could be true for workers in a lab, or someone carrying an object enclosure with an embedded magnet.
Use of signage on enclosures or mounts indicate presence of covered magnets is a good common sense warning. As magnets are brittle, and can fly across a table at each other at great speed and shatter, safety goggles are highly recommended at all times. Hand protection may also be necessary for the worker, as pinching, splinters or nail breakage, can all be issues when separating magnets, or prying them out for reuse. If you maintain a private practice with a studio in your home, or have occasional younger visitors to your lab, be aware that swallowing by children or animals is an issue! See the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission warning that was issued for more information on magnet dangers for small children. (This author is currently working on a Job Hazard Analysis for work with magnets with the assistance of an industrial hygiene group; potentially this may become available through AIC Health & Safety group as well.)

AIC 2016 Call for Papers: Sustainability

AIC’s Sustainability Committee Session at the joint AIC and CAC-ACCR Annual Meeting
Montreal, Quebec
May 13-17, 2016
The Sustainability Committee of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) invites submissions for its session at the 44th AIC Annual Meeting, held jointly with the 42nd Annual Canadian Association for Conservation (CAC-ACCR) Conference, in Montreal, Canada from May 13-17, 2016.
The theme for the meeting is “Preparing for Disasters and Confronting the Unexpected in Conservation”.
Abstracts on the general topic of sustainability in conservation practice are welcome, as well as submissions related to the meeting’s theme of disaster preparedness, recovery, and unexpected challenges faced when approaching the conservation of cultural property from a sustainable perspective. The theme of the annual meeting is particularly relevant when considering the relationship between sustainable practices and climate change- induced environmental challenges. Submissions that inspire lively discussion are encouraged.
The deadline for submission of abstracts is Monday, September 14, 2015
Please submit abstracts online at: https://aic.secure-platform.com/a/
Please see the full submission guidelines at: http://www.conservation-us.org/annual-meeting/submit-an-abstract#.VbjIi_lViko

43rd Annual Meeting – Sustainability session – May 15, 2015 – "Achieving Competing Goals: Energy Efficient Cold Storage" by Shengyin Xu et al

This presentation provides a case study from the Minnesota Historical Society for a cold storage unit that is inefficient and could perhaps provide better conditions within its given parameters. One problem with specialty storage is the high cost of running specialized environmental systems. So, what can one do for optimal conditions for cold storage yet still save on energy cost?
In 2012, an NEH Sustainability Planning Grant was secure to investigate the possibilities available for improving their cold storage. It is hoped that the collaborative design process could achieve better preservation condition in the long term and use energy savings more efficiently and potentially see actual savings.
Currently, their cold storage unit ran at 62F and 40%RH and was a very small space: 2% of their overall storage space. Its current conditions provided a Preservation Index (PI) of approximately 100. It utilized 7% of the Historical Society’s annual energy use, but wasn’t providing the conditions it needed for good cold storage of audiovisual collections.
The Historical Society went through a variety of condition and compared PI numbers to see what various conditions could provide in terms of collection storage longevity. Beyond that, they also investigated capital costs associated with retrofitting the unit to provide those conditions. Lastly, they examined the costs associated with running the unit for the long term. They balanced all three of these factors in order to come to a solution that would be beneficial on all three levels: collections environment, capital costs, and sustainability.
I will admit that I had a hard time following the flow of this presentation, especially toward the end when gears were shifted from environmental conditions of cold storage to air quality examination. One of the frustrating points of the presentation were these air quality tables that were too small to be legible on the screen.Visual charts would have been helpful to demonstrate the different air quality levels that were present and what they were trying to achieve. I also didn’t fully understand what this part of the presentation had to do with the rest of the talk.

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.

43rd Annual Meeting – Sustainability Session, May 15, "An Investigation and Implementation of the Use of Sustainable and Reusable Materials to Replace Traditional Wood Crates" by kevin Gallup

Kevin Gallup  showing crate design.  Traveler, lid and exterior crate in foreground.
Kevin Gallup showing crate design. Traveler, lid and exterior crate in foreground.

This talk was of interest to me because I am a former member of the Sustainability Committee, and reusable crates were something that we received several inquiries about. As museums and other lending institutions look at ways to increase their sustainability, one thing they consider is finding an alternative to the typical wooden crate used to ship objects. The problems with wooden crates are: a) they are made to fit a specific sized object, and are difficult to retrofit for something else; b) extra room is necessary to store them until needed again; c) wood is attractive to a variety of pests; d) wood adsorbs and emits odors; and e) locally- and sustainably-sourced wood can be difficult and expensive to aquire. There are some European companies that rent resuable plastic crates, such as Turtlebox, but they are not yet available in the United States.
Yale University turned to Kevin Gallup when their Sustainability Strategic Plan compelled them to find a solution for this problem. They wanted a system of modular parts made of sustainable materials that could be taken apart, stored, and reused as necessary. As Mr. Gallup explains in his abstract: “There were many factors to take into account to obtain an acceptable system. Availability and price of materials, construction techniques, compatibility of materials, and the unique archival material requirements [of] the museum industry…are some of the features of the crating system that had to work together to produce a crate design. The fabrication and creation of the parts withing the design would need to be obtainable either by utilizing their own facility…or by having the parts…made locally. The system would need to be easily put together utilizing as many common parts as possible.”
After 10 years of trial and error, Mr. Gallup is satisfied with his current design. The crate is made with an aluminum frame and Dibond sides. Dibond is a composite sandwich of two thin sheets of aluminum with a white polyester coating bonded to a polyethylene core. There is an outer box with a smaller inner traveler or tray of the same materials to contain the object(s). Various foams or Sorbothane can be used to surround the traveler. Sorbothane feet are attached to the bottom to mitigate the effects of vibration.
He is currently working about a business model to make this available to other institutions. Parts can be cut out in various sizes with a CNC machine, but the system still requires a high skill level to assemble. If you are interested in learning more about  these crates, Mr. Gallup suggests that you contact him in about 6 months, and he will be able to provide more information.
Audience members check out the crate materials: aluminum frame, Dibond, and Sorbothane
Audience members check out the crate materials: aluminum frame, Dibond, and Sorbothane