Green watch: May 2009

Maurice Davies, Issue 109/5, p7, May 2009
The three Rs
How green are temporary exhibitions? Many museum people's immediate response to that question is that exhibitions are not that good for the environment.

But the truth is that we don't know. No one has studied the environmental impacts of moving museum collections round the country or visitors travelling to see them. We assume it uses more energy to put objects on display than to leave them in store, but we don't know. Compared with theatre or the music industry, museums know little about their environmental impact.

However, it is clear that exhibition practices can be wasteful. Participants in the Museums Journal roundtable on temporary exhibitions thought less strict environmental controls would improve the situation - "a slightly faster rate of decay in the objects we own and a slower rate of decay of the world in general", said Nick Dodd, from Museums Sheffield (see June Museums Journal).

The spring issue of Museum Practice shows that there are many ways of greening exhibitions. The environmentalists' mantra "reduce, reuse, recycle" helps.

Reduce what the exhibition needs, from the number of couriers to the amount of set building. Cut the physical size of a touring exhibition, so it fits on a smaller truck.

Reuse crates (why build a new one for every picture?) - and reuse exhibitions. Touring several venues gets better value from the environmental (and financial) resources needed to produce an exhibition.

And being green means designing the exhibition so that once it's over, things can be recycled, rather than going to landfill.

Maurice Davies is the deputy director of the Museums Association