Build Back Better: Design Museum Saves Carbon, Cash, And Confidence

"Virtual Courier has great potential. With museums and galleries being increasingly conscious of their environmental impact and proactively working to become more sustainable, the appetite for courier trips may begin to diminish."
Cleo Stringer
Exhibitions Project Manager, the Design Museum.

Charlotte Perriand: The Modern Life. Courtesy of the Design Museum/Felix Speller with thanks to WOKE Management

Virtual Couriering with confidence

“Whilst Virtual Courier was born from the pandemic, we also felt like it has great potential once international travel opens up again, to save organisations money and become more sustainable. We hoped that by opting to use Virtual Courier whilst travel restrictions were still in place, we would have a good ‘proof of concept’ to give lenders confidence when the world has opened up again” – Cleo Stringer, Exhibitions Project Manager at the Design Museum.

The Design Museum decided to put Virtual Courier through its paces with the major exhibition ‘Charlotte Perriand: The Modern Life’, which featured almost 300 objects from multiple lenders in France, Germany, and Switzerland, with multiple shippers involved.  

“Already being organisational users of Articheck for our condition reporting, I knew the Articheck team was reliable and we felt confident in their care.” As well as using Virtual Courier as a tool to boost confidence with lenders and to reduce risk at every stage, the Design Museum also hired Plowden & Smith to act as a bookend courier and update the condition reports once the objects were received on site.

Cutting cash and carbon costs

Though the original goal was to provide security and offer lenders reassurance, using Virtual Courier also affords museums considerable savings. We estimate that by using Virtual Courier, the Design Museum saved around $11,000 – $16,600 (in comparison to five couriers overseeing shipments from multiple lenders). If this show toured to another two venues, the savings would be $33,000 – $50,000. Additionally, we estimate a saving of around 26 days of courier staff time.

In 24OreCultura’s Frida Kahlo case study, emissions from couriers made up 75% of the exhibition’s total carbon footprint – demonstrating a need to make significant carbon savings across the sector.

Based on presentations made at the Art/Switch sustainability conference*, and the Gallery Climate Coalition’s carbon calculator survey of their members, it seems that by adopting green climate control protocols and switching to Virtual Courier most of the time (including for Sea Freight with art fairs where possible), most arts organisations could reach their Paris Agreement 2030 goals.

If we take the Design Museum’s estimated cost saving and extrapolate it out to the whole industry of 80,000 exhibition venues worldwide**, assuming an average 2 exhibitions per venue, we get a cost saving potential of $2.6 Billion a year. Even with institutions continuing to use physical couriers for their most prestigious pieces, the saving is huge and, in a climate of slashed budgets and thwarted ticket income, could represent a lifeline for at-risk institutions.

* 24OreCultura’s Frida Kahlo study and ‘Wider Temperature/RH Set Points & Ranges: How Much Energy Can Actually Be Saved
**AAM Museum Report, Tefaf Art Market Report

“Insurers ultimately must surely support a shift to new more sustainable practices, proactively and continually working to reduce risks associated with such changes, so they don’t disincentivise behaviour that will benefit the industry significantly in the long term (by minimising the huge potential damage done to all types of property in the event of significant climate change)”
Major Insurance Provider

Responding to the climate emergency must undoubtedly be a priority for museums. If we don’t eliminate the temperature increase, the temperature increase will eliminate us – and our collections. We must start taking the long term view into risk analysis in order to protect our culture. 

International cooperation

The Design Museum used Virtual Courier for the transportation of a large number of loans from France, Switzerland and Germany. Lead shipper Crozier (formerly Martinspeed) oversaw the entire operation and liaised with other shipping partners in Europe – Chenue in France and Kraft ELS in Germany and Switzerland.  

Cleo and her team started by adding basic condition reports for the objects that would soon be arriving. Using Articheck’s smart CSV importer, they uploaded the records in bulk – a real time saver with hundreds of objects to get through.

Damage annotations and detail image in condition report.

After adding the condition reports, the Design Museum then shared the group with the lenders and shipping partners. They were also able to completely customize access to the group according to their needs, deciding for example who can view objects or update reports. Cleo thought it was reassuring to know that in addition to access restrictions, the system has multiple security protocols to protect lender data, including 2-factor authentication.

With such a diverse group of partners, all involved at different legs of the respective journeys, effective communication was crucial. The Articheck team ensured that all the required materials, such as the furniture template, were available in the languages needed for the project: French, Italian, and German. 

Short training videos helped everyone understand how it works, and a transit check plan was created during a video introduction call between Articheck CEO Annika and each partner to communicate which transit checks should be completed by whom.

Collaborative documentation

Soon the shipping teams began collecting shipments from lending institutions across Europe. Using Virtual Courier’s Transit Check feature, the agents recorded each key stage of each shipment. Their checks included GPS-tagged photos, comments, and videos, and helped create a chain of condition that demonstrates agreed best practices were employed to reduce risk of damage and pinpoint liability.

Every time a new Transit Check is created, an instant email notification is sent to inform group members of the update. This meant the Design Museum staff in the UK were automatically kept informed of the shipments’ progress across Europe every step of the way. Cleo was instantly able to see the agents’ Transit Checks, which include the timestamp, name, signature, and comments of the documenting user.

Viewing Transit Check footage from the Virtual Courier group.

This multimedia documentation is not only useful in facilitating communication in the short term, it also serves as a permanent record that can be referred to again in future. For example, next time an object is loaned, the video installation and packing instructions, along with any special transit requirements, can be reviewed and understood.

As the objects arrived at the Design Museum, it was Cleo and her team’s turn. “We had three deliveries containing objects from multiple institutional and private lenders, predominantly early 20th century furniture originals and fine art pieces. It was reassuring to know that Virtual Courier could provide an extra layer of security in the event that any issues were to have occurred.”

“It was really helpful to have the Articheck app on my mobile. It meant that even when deliveries turned up a little earlier than expected, I had everything I needed to ensure the relevant checks and sign off procedures could be followed. It was easy and saved the hassle of having to print and prepare additional paperwork.”
Cleo Stringer
Exhibitions Project Manager, the Design Museum.

The Virtual Courier Dashboard brings everything together in one place and access is completely customizable.

Conservator specialists from Plowden & Smith then examined the furniture and art objects and updated the condition reports.

Everything you need, all in one place

The Design Museum, Crozier, Kraft and Chenue also used the platform to share important documents effectively and securely. As shipping invoices, bills of lading, and packing lists were received, the team uploaded them as group documents, securely filing and sharing them with the other group members instantly.  

And what about any partners who shouldn’t have access to sensitive and confidential information? Group document access can easily be restricted anytime, giving the Design Museum complete control over exactly where its information is shared. 

Adopting Virtual Courier allows organizations to move on from relying on a mishmash of email, SMS, unrecorded phone calls, Whatsapp messages, and video conferencing software. Not only does it bring everything together in one place, Virtual Courier also avoids concerns associated with some of these unspecialized tools, including data being intercepted, sold or stolen. 

This kind of cyber security breach is most commonly associated with email while Zoom shares data from free accounts. Zoom also prioritizes audio quality over video quality and requires a wifi connection. 

Designed by couriers and shippers who understand the requirements of the industry, Virtual Courier facilitates collaboration and has superior video quality. Users can even record video offline and instantly share with partners once a wifi connection is available.

High quality images and video stills in Virtual Courier Transit Checks

Transforming transit of high value goods

“When travel is allowed again Virtual Courier certainly has the potential to save organisations money. We have successfully trialled installing objects via video call with lenders, and feel that Virtual Courier could be the key to lenders feeling confident enough to send works unaccompanied for future exhibitions” – Cleo Stringer, Exhibitions Project Manager, the Design Museum.


The Design Museum is devoted to contemporary design in every form, from architecture and fashion to graphics, product and industrial design. Charlotte Perriand: The Modern Life runs until 5 September 2021.

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