How Innovation Is Driving Sustainability In Conservation

How sustainable are your conservation efforts? Do you know about the latest innovations in the field?

This week we were joined by Leen Gysen, Managing Partner at IPARC (International Platform for Art Research and Conservation), who shared her insights on how conservators can strike a balance between caring for artworks and caring for the environment and the people who live in it.

Innovations in Treatment & Conservation

Unlike traditional conservation techniques which could sometimes contaminate or deteriorate artworks, the latest conservation methods are non-aggressive and non-damaging. A strictly minimal intervention approach sets the boundaries of the treatment while the improved safety and scientific education of the industry as a whole has driven innovation in the field and, ultimately, led to entirely new approaches that are both effective and sustainable.

What sustainable treatment methods are available?

  • Insect treatments: less use of poisons which kill the insect but can also harm conservators, curators, art handlers, shippers, and anyone else handling the artwork.
  • Freezing: rather than using toxic chemicals on precious objects, low temperatures can be utilized to deal with issues such as mold.
  • ICM (Integrated Contamination Management): encompasses mechanical cleaning options like temperature regulation and controlled humidity to target pests, mold, and insect infestations.

Conservation Analysis Technology

No-contact analysis has really taken off in the last decade with many innovations coming from outside the art world. Technologies used for medical imaging, for example, are becoming more common in conservation labs and X-Ray, UV, and multispectral imaging tools have proven invaluable in answering questions about the authentication and dating of artworks.

What are the predictions for the future?

  • Less interventions on artworks. More raw data and the tools to analyse that data mean institutions can take actions more easily, continually maintaining their collections rather simply reacting to bigger issues later on.
  • More investments in storage. It’s cost effective to invest in display management that prevents damage, rather than restoration.
  • Combination approach. Some traditional techniques, such as Cross-section analysis, are incredibly valuable so it’s likely we’ll see a combination of established and innovative methods in the future.

Sustainable Organizational and Institutional Structures

One of the UN Sustainable Development Goals is decent work – the idea that thriving work environments are more sustainable. In a market filled with freelancers, fractured teams, and conventional hierarchies, IPARC has deliberatively adopted a cooperative business model in which common decision making, shared know-how, and training and coaching opportunities are emphasized. The goal is to provide a multi-discipline environment where knowledge can be transferred between generations, thereby future proofing not just the business but also conservation techniques and expertise – particularly important at a time when conservation efforts are being cut back and outsourced.

Top Tips for Sustainable Organizations (Besides Restructuring!)

  • Plan for sustainability. Install decision making that is driven by the most sustainable option and give ownership of different aspects of your plan to staff.
  • Avoid biocides. Investigate alternative and innovative treatment methods.
  • Think beyond conservation techniques. Could your building be more energy efficient? What’s your recycling plan? How sustainable are your office supplies?
  • Look into doing a CO2 analysis of your organization. Receiving a detailed report about your conservation methods (or IT processes, for example) will likely open your eyes to environmental costs you hadn’t previously considered.
  • Individual efforts. Foster an environment where staff members take responsibility too. Cycling to work, carpooling, and even using a different search engine all make a difference.