Green Watch: June 2009

Helen Wilkinson, Issue 109/6, p9, June 2009
A long way to go
Speaking at an international conference on greening conservation at the British Museum in April, director Neil MacGregor argued that environmental sustainability has become "absolutely fundamental" to what museums do.

He is right that everyone knows they have to take the environment seriously. But the rest of the conference demonstrated how far we have to go in working out what that actually means in practice.

Nancy Bell, from the National Archives, reported on the work of a research group looking at environmental guidelines, which aims to address some of the big questions such as: how long should we be trying to preserve things for and how can we define deterioration? A public event planned by her group later this year could shed light on what our audiences think the answers to those questions should be.

A lot of the conference focused on detail: greener solvents for cleaning, ways of saving water when washing textiles and so on. Some of this detail can seem tedious. My personal enthusiasm for a greener museum sector was certainly dampened by one slide too many illustrating the methods used for paper recycling at one European museum.

But the detail really matters. Museum consultant Brian Hayton talked about the need to understand our building management systems better. He said that he knew of museums where a heating system managed by one department fought a daily battle with an air-conditioning system managed by another. I wish I could believe he was exaggerating for effect.

Helen Wilkinson is the Museums Association's projects officer