The carbon footprint of museum loans: a pilot study at Amgueddfa
National Museum Wales
Simon Lambert* and Jane Henderson
Department of Archaeology and Conservation, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK
(Received 29 July 2010; ﬁnal version received 22 November 2010)
By using carbon footprints, museum staff can manage the impact of their loan
programs on climate change. To measure the environmental impact of loan
activities, a new carbon footprinting methodology has been developed. The
methodology includes an Environmental Impact of Loans performance indicator,
encouraging museums to set and achieve efficiency targets for loan activities. The
methodology was developed using data from the Art Department of Amgueddfa
Cymru National Museum Wales. Based on this experience, evidence-based
recommendations have been formulated to help museums reduce their impact on
Keywords: sustainability; climate change; carbon footprint; collections mobility;
collections management; museum loans; museum registration; museum manage-
ment; museums and social responsibility
Global awareness of climate change is on the rise and a growing number of sectors
are being engaged including museums. The museum sector in the United Kingdom
(UK) has begun to expect improvements in the environmental friendliness of the
exhibitions industry (Mellor 2008; National Museum Directors’ Conference 2009),
and its professionals are asking for tools to measure sustainability (Museums
Association 2009, 8). In the years to come, this demand is likely to extend worldwide
as museums recognize their responsibility to limit the collateral effects of their
activities on the environment.
The ‘carbon footprint’ is a simple metric that shows how an activity contributes
to climate change. It takes into account carbon dioxide (CO
) and other greenhouse
gases (GHGs) such as methane and nitrous oxide. A museum’s complete carbon
footprint should reveal how all its operations affect climate change. It is reasonably
easy for museums to measure on-site activities, such as gas and electricity use, by
using online tools or specialized auditing agencies. However, this represents only part
of their impact. Little information exists to help museums measure off-site, complex
operations such as loans.
The aim of this article is to suggest a new carbon footprinting methodology
designed specifically for museum loan activities. It also includes a performance
indicator for the environmental impact of loans (EIL) to encourage museums to
balance their environmental responsibility with the growing demand for increased
*Corresponding author. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Museum Management and Curatorship
Vol. 26, No. 3, August 2011, 127
ISSN 0964-7775 print/ISSN 1872-9185 online
# 2011 Taylor & Francis
access and collections mobility. To design the methodology, initial data were
collected at the Art Department of Amgueddfa Cymru National Museum Wales.
Carbon footprinting and museums
The European Union is committed to reducing its production of carbon emissions
by at least 20% of 1990 levels by 2020 (European Union 2009). In the UK, this
commitment has extended to sectors that are not large energy consumers (Depart-
ment of Energy and Climate Change 2010). Although museums may not be the
largest carbon producers, setting a positive example can have a ripple effect among
the general public (Brophy and Wylie 2008; Museums Association 2008). Museums
can also mitigate climate change directly by managing and containing their own
carbon footprint. Carbon footprinting is not yet a requirement in the museum sector,
but the sooner carbon accounting is integrated into decision-making processes, the
more prepared museums will be to justify the value of their activities, while
demonstrating environmental leadership and corporate responsibility.
The unit of measurement
A carbon footprint indicates the expected effect of an activity on global warming,
spread out over a 100-year period. To make it easier to add up the effect of different
GHGs, they are assigned relative values, enabling comparisons with carbon dioxide
the most important (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] 1996). For
this reason, carbon footprints are expressed in metric tons of carbon dioxide
The Greenhouse Gas Protocol Corporate Standard (World Resources Institute [WRI]
2004) is the primary international reference for company-level GHG accounting and
reporting, and is accompanied by several peer-reviewed calculation tools.
widespread acceptance, the Protocol was used to design the museum loan carbon
footprinting methodology, along with the British Standard Institute’s Publicly
available specification for the assessment of the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions
of goods and services (British Standards Institute 2008).
To ensure the relevance of a carbon footprint, it is important to define the elements it
includes and those that are left out. To help organizations identify and implement
emission reductions, the Greenhouse Gas Protocol recommends using the ‘control
approach’ (WRI 2004, 21). This helps narrow down the footprint to the operations
that can be controlled or managed by the organization. The other approach, ‘the
equity approach’, focuses on profit and ownership. The control approach will be used
in the loan carbon footprinting methodology.
2 S. Lambert and J. Henderson
Emission sources are generally classified according to their origin (Figure 1). For
official mandatory reporting, it is always necessary to count emissions produced by
an organization’s own activities (sources 1 and 2), but it is optional to count those
produced by third parties that support its activities (source 3) (WRI 2004). In the
case of museum loans (nonmandatory reporting), even source 3 emissions should
be counted to ensure that the carbon footprint remains representative of this activity,
as several third parties are involved.
GHG conversion factors
In most instances, it would be impractical to measure the carbon emissions resulting
from loan activities directly at the source. A simpler way of doing this is by using
‘GHG conversion factors’. These numbers enable ‘activity data’ (amount of energy
used, distance traveled or quantity of materials produced) to be converted into
quantities of carbon dioxide (WRI 2004, 42).
It is important to remember that carbon footprinting is not an exact science.
Even if great care is taken to collect the most accurate activity data, GHG
conversions themselves contain many uncertainties. As indicators of climate change,
carbon footprints are useful management tools, but they should not be confused with
exact quantities of carbon emissions released into the atmosphere.
Carbon footprinting methodology for loans
An eight-step carbon footprinting methodology for museum loans, which focuses
on reducing carbon emissions without downsizing activities, is presented below
(Figure 2). It is then applied in the following section on a case study. This case
study includes the loan of two-dimensional works (paintings and paper) and some
Figure 1. Emission sources. Source: WRI (2006), copyright of the New Zealand Business
Council for Sustainable Development. Reproduced with permission.
Museum Management and Curatorship 3
three-dimensional works grouped under ‘applied art’ (ceramics, sculpture, etc.), but it
could be applied to other types of collections.
To better understand how the carbon footprint is distributed, it is useful to divide
loans into four loan components: wrapping materials, packing cases, transport and
couriers. These reflect different areas of responsibility in the loan process, which is
consistent with the control approach.
Step 1: define the objective
The statement of the carbon footprint assessment’s objective should clarify its
context and boundaries. It should express the base year (the year to which all future
assessments will be compared) and indicate how the results will be used and by
Step 2: express who manages GHG emissions
A complete museum loan includes an outward journey from the lending institution,
all intermediate journeys between exhibition venues and the final inward journey
back to the museum. A single loan can comprise one or several objects. Lending
institutions exert managerial control over their own objects through policies, legal
title, procedures and conditions of loan. When arranging inward loans, they no
longer have this control. Although borrowers initiate loans, lenders approve them
and specify operational requirements. In keeping with the control approach, lending
institutions manage carbon emissions arising only from outward loans (and not
Step 3: map operations
To simplify data collection, it is useful to divide loans into destination categories (i.e.
national, regional, international, etc.), as many museums establish different
Figure 2. Eight steps of the loan carbon footprinting methodology.
4 S. Lambert and J. Henderson
conditions of loan or travel specifications based on distance. As a guide, it may be
helpful to make practice explicit by mapping a typical loan operation, one step at a
time, for each destination category.
Step 4: define exclusions and assumptions
To ensure that all future carbon footprints following the initial one can be compared
with each other, defining what is included in the calculations is a crucial step. If
measuring certain elements is impossible or impractical, estimation approaches can
be used as long as these are clearly explained (WRI 2004, 31). Transparency is
key this will ensure that results are reproducible. For instance, whenever loan
documentation is incomplete, the museum can use the data from a similar, well-
documented loan as long as this is openly disclosed.
Temporal boundaries are also required when calculating loan footprints, as
objects may remain on loan for several years. For consistency, the authors suggest
counting all loans that left the museum in a given year as part of that year’s carbon
footprint. Accordingly, intermediate and inward journeys are counted in that year’s
footprint, even if they occurred later.
Calculations of the environmental impact of wrapping materials depend on
quantities used and on whether they are reused. Since it may be impractical to
measure the quantities of wrapping materials used for every object, a simple
estimation equation based on the size of the objects can be developed (see Step 4:
Wrapping Materials on page 11).
Calculations for the environmental impact of packing cases depend on what they are
constructed from, their life expectancy and how they are initially delivered to the
lending institution. It would require disproportionate effort to count materials used
in the construction of each individual case; so it is advisable to standardize a few case
types and determine which materials are replaced and how frequently. Then, an
estimation equation can be developed based on the size of the objects and of cases,
and the frequency of replacement of certain elements (see Step 4: Packing Cases on
Since calculations for the environmental impact of transport require distances, it is
important to select a simple and consistent method to collect these data. To avoid
the time-consuming task of gathering exact distances traveled from transporters,
these can be calculated with online calculators (see Online Distance Calculators on
page 22) using all known locations on loan itineraries.
In addition to distance, calculations for airfreight emissions require the weight of
the cargo. However, packing cases are not always weighed individually by airport
personnel and may be grouped with the cases of other institutions. If this is the case,
Museum Management and Curatorship 5
couriers supervising these operations can ask airport personnel to weigh cases
individually. Otherwise, the case weight estimation approach described in the
Transport section (page 12) can be used.
Whenever trucks are boarded onto trains or ships, calculations for rail and sea
freight require the weight of the entire truck (including cargo). Since exact truck
weights may not be available, museums can establish an average truck weight by
examining the most frequent types of vehicle used and obtaining their gross vehicle
weights (GVWs) from transport agents. This value can be used every time loans
travel by rail or sea.
Research in the food industry has shown that climate control during the transit of
freight trucks certainly increases environmental impact (Tassou, De-Lille, and Ge
2009). For the transport of museum loans, this impact would likely be lower since the
temperatures are not as low. Nonetheless, the international exhibition industry is
now encouraging museums to consider relaxing climate specifications for loans to
lower carbon footprints (National Museum Directors’ Conference 2009). Although
it was not possible to include the impact of climate control in transit here, museums
can do this by establishing a ‘climate control factor’ to be multiplied by the distance
traveled. This can be done by making a few test journeys with climate control ‘on’
and ‘off’ and noting the differences in fuel consumption possibly at different times
of the year.
Calculations for the environmental impact of couriers are most influenced by how
staff travel, where they stay and what they eat. When accompanying airfreight,
museum couriers generally travel in Business Class. When accompanying road
freight, couriers can either travel inside the vehicle or in a car following the vehicle.
Nonaccompanying couriers generally travel in Economy Class.
Where staff travel with the loans by road, their journey can be ignored because,
contrary to air travel, an empty seat would not significantly reduce carrying
efficiency of the vehicle. Distances for passenger travel can be estimated using the
same online tools as for freight transport, but additional passenger car journeys must
be counted between
warehouses and hotels;
exhibition venues and hotels, railway stations or airports;
the courier’s home and the lending institution.
For simplicity, these distances can be standardized by fixing a typical distance per
journey (see Step 4: Couriers on page 12). To calculate accommodation and food
consumption, many museums stipulate the amount of hotel nights and per diem
allowances to be provided for their couriers in their conditions of loan.
Step 5: select GHG conversion factors
Ideally, museums should use GHG conversion factors that are specific to their
country. As carbon accounting has not developed at the same pace everywhere, it is
6 S. Lambert and J. Henderson
likely that country-specific conversion factors do not exist. Until they are available,
the ones suggested in this study can be used.
Conversion factors for wrapping and packing case materials used here include
emissions in the product’s life up until only it leaves the factory gate ‘cradle to gate’
(Hammond and Jones 2008). When available, conversion factors that consider the
entire life cycle of a product’s life (‘cradle to grave’) would be preferred.
To select conversion factors for freight and passenger transport, museums must
consider the characteristics of the vehicles used, including fuel type, weight and load.
It is advisable to limit the number of vehicle categories considered to avoid
complicating the data collection process for example, one ‘average’ freight truck
and one passenger vehicle. All available conversion factors worldwide have been
integrated into the regularly updated Greenhouse Gas Protocol tool for mobile
combustion (WRI 2008). At the time of writing, country-specific transport
conversion factors are available only for USA and UK; all other countries must
use those provided by the IPCC.
The conversion factor for hotel accommodation was calculated by multiplying
the average electricity consumed per night in European hotels (SQW Consulting
2007), by the UK grid rolling conversion factor (Department for Environment, Food
and Rural Affairs [DEFRA] 2009). The conversion factor for food consumption was
sourced from the Web site of Carbon Fund, a US-based, nonprofit organization. For
simplicity, a selection of GHG conversion factors is presented in Appendix 1 and has
been included in the standalone calculation spreadsheet (Appendix 4).
Step 6: calculate the footprint
Museums must find a practical balance between the desired level of precision and the
resources needed to record data, keeping in mind that carbon footprints are
inherently not very accurate. A first pilot assessment can be used to determine what
information can be collected feasibly. To help in the reconstruction of itineraries, it
can be useful to map the various elements on paper (destination categories, modes of
transport, distances, hotel nights and food days). For clarity, the example shown
(Figure 3) was created using a computer, but those used for the actual assessment
Step 7: evaluate environmental performance
Performance indicator for environmental impact
Although indicators have been used for 20 years by UK museums to report
performance to central government, they are sometimes criticized for inducing
management-by-numbers and encouraging quick fixes to improve scores (Keene
2002, 38, 185). Regardless, performance indicators are widely used in the public
sector and offer interesting possibilities for measuring environmental impact. Given
the current trend in the museum sector for improved environmental friendliness and
collections access, there is value in a new performance indicator to monitor these
To ensure loan programs achieve their desired social outcomes, the carbon
emissions arising from these activities should contribute to increasing public access
Museum Management and Curatorship 7
to a museum’s collection. Although the authors are not aware of specific data
correlating loan numbers to increased access and public benefits, it has been asserted
that increasing the mobility of museum collections encourages the dissemination of
knowledge, international cooperation and cultural dialog (National Board of
Antiquities, Finland 2006, 1). To account for the inherent social value of loans
and encourage museums to balance environmental costs with access requirements,
this methodology includes a performance indicator for the EIL. As an efficiency
ratio, the EIL shows how many objects a museum is able to send out on loan for
every ton of carbon dioxide it emits (objects/tCO
e). Because the most efficient loans
will contain more objects, the EIL is based on the number of objects rather than the
number of loans.
EIL¼ no: of objects carbon footprint
It should be noted that the inverse (tCO
e/objects) is a productivity ratio that shows
the carbon emissions embodied in each object. Using this metric may lead to
reducing the footprint by reducing activities, which would go against current
priorities. To reflect the diversity inherent in loan operations, the EIL should be
separated by destination category (national, regional, international, etc.), indicating
as many qualifiers as are relevant to the museum’s operations. If destinations were
grouped together, the EIL would be biased toward short-distance, national loans. By
measuring the environmental performance of loan programs, museums can develop
time-bound targets for improved access and lowered environmental impact.
Figure 3. Example of a loan process map for three borrowing venues Paris, London and
Barcelona (Lambert 2009).
8 S. Lambert and J. Henderson
Improving environmental performance
In theory, to achieve environmental performance targets for loans, museums have
(1) Reduce the carbon footprint maintaining the same level of access (no. of
(2) Increase access (no. of objects) maintaining the same carbon footprint;
(3) Offset carbon emissions.
Option 3, carbon offsetting, is the ‘neutralizing’ of carbon emissions by participating
in activities that have an equal but opposite impact, e.g. planting trees. Offsetting has
been severely criticized by Smith (2007) as inducing a ‘business-as-usual’ attitude and
negative effects on consumption patterns. Museums should focus on improving the
efficiency of their activities (options 1 and 2) before they consider offsetting.
Financial savings would also accompany the first two options, as cost is closely
linked to the carbon footprint (i.e. fuel consumption and use of materials).
Step 8: report findings
All stakeholders, i.e. parties likely to affect or be affected by the results, should feel
engaged by the carbon footprint assessment process. This can be achieved through a
carefully planned communication strategy. The carbon footprint report should be
evidence-based and concise, but should provide detailed data tables, glossary and
references as appendices. The report will be most meaningful if it clearly shows the
relative impact of each loan component, and how changes in practices affect the
footprint over time.
Art Department of Amgueddfa Cymru
National Museum Wales: pilot study
Data from a real loans program were used as a pilot study to design the loan
footprint methodology. Amgueddfa Cymru National Museum Wales has eight
different sites throughout Wales, but this study focused on the loans of one
department (Art) at one of these sites (National Museum Cardiff). In 2006, the
chosen base year, the Art Department approved 29 outward loans for a total of 216
objects (Figures 46). This year was selected based on the completeness of the loan
Carbon footprint methodology applied to Amgueddfa Cymru
Step 1: define the objective
For this study, the objectives were to
calculate the Art Department’s 2006 loan carbon footprint and evaluate its
identify the relative impact of each loan component;
Museum Management and Curatorship 9
determine how current loan practices are contributing to reducing or
increasing its footprint;
formulate recommendations for reducing the loan carbon footprint.
These objectives were achieved by applying the eight-step loan carbon footprinting
methodology (detailed below) and the EIL performance indicator, which shows the
carbon efficiency of loan activities.
Step 2: express who manages GHG emissions
Based on the rationale discussed previously in Step 2: Express who manages GHG
emissions section (page 4), it was established that the Art Department manages the
GHG emissions arising from outward loans. Although road transport and couriers
are frequently shared between institutions, all road transport emissions were assigned
to the Art Department because of the type of GHG conversion factors that were
used (Lambert 2009).
Figure 4. Number of objects loaned out annually by the Art Department (Lambert 2009).
Figure 5. Geographical proportion of exhibition venues in 2006 (Lambert 2009).
10 S. Lambert and J. Henderson
Step 3: map operations
Outward loans were divided into three destination categories: UK, Continental
Europe and International Overseas. The Art Department insists that a courier
should accompany all loans traveling by road. However, it often uses couriers of
other institutions on intermediate journeys between venues. Most of the packing
cases come from Kent Services, a company specializing in packing case rentals for
museums and galleries.
Step 4: define exclusions and assumptions
Wrapping materials. Paintings loaned out are usually wrapped in clear polyethylene
sheeting of 100 mm thickness. Works on paper are mounted in standard-sized frames
and travel unwrapped inside slotted cases. Applied art objects usually travel
unwrapped, with supportive wads of acid-free tissue. Since the quantities of tissue
paper and tape used are small, only polyethylene sheeting used for paintings was
considered in the calculations. An equation was used to estimate the quantity of
polyethylene sheeting (Q
) for each painting based on its dimension. This equation
assumed that paintings were wrapped with an amount of sheeting equivalent to three
times the surface of the painting itself (see Appendix 1). Any other method can be
used, as long as it produces a final quantity expressed in kilograms.
Packing cases. The side panels of cases used by the Art Department are made
of plywood and strengthened with softwood battens. The interior is lined with
polyethylene foam and fitted with polyurethane cushioning foam. These cases have a
considerable life span. A group of 37 cases built 20 years ago is still in circulation
today. While polyethylene foam linings practically never need to be replaced, about
35% of polyurethane foam cushioning is replaced every year (K. Amey and J. Roffey,
As carbon footprints refer only to one year’s activities, the impact of packing
cases was small enough to be practically irrelevant over such an extended lifespan. In
fact, the yearly impact of one of these cases (excluding the polyurethane foam) is
about 3.5 kg of carbon dioxide (see Appendix 2). This is equivalent to about a third
of the footprint of a month’s incoming emails (Berners-Lee 2010, 15). Thus, except
Figure 6. Proportions of loaned objects in 2006 (Lambert 2009).
Museum Management and Curatorship 11
for polyurethane foam, case construction materials were omitted from the footprint
calculations. Museums using single-use, purpose-built, packing cases should include
all construction materials in their footprint.
Overall, the quantity of packing materials depends on two variables that can be
retrieved easily from the documentation: the outer dimensions of the case and the
dimension of the object it contains. All packing materials physically lie somewhere
between these two dimensions.
In the Art Department pilot study, the quantity of polyurethane foam (Q
estimated by subtracting the object’s volume from the inner volume of the case
(excluding the thickness of the outer shell and of the inner polyethylene foam lining;
see Appendix 1). Whenever other materials must be accounted for, a similar
approach can be used for each layer of the packing case (outer shell, polyethylene
lining, etc.). Any other method can be used, as long as it produces a final quantity
expressed in kilograms.
Transport. To simplify the selection of GHG conversion factors, all freight trucks
were assumed to have the same characteristics: average GVW and average load,
diesel-fuelled and rigid (nonarticulated). Whenever the weight of trucks was
required, it was assumed to be 5 metric tons (Lambert 2009).
Since packing cases traveling by road are not weighed by the Art Department, an
average density was used. This made it possible to assign an indicative weight value
for any full case using its outer dimensions. The known weight and dimensions of 54
full cases from other years were used to calculate an average density of 0.1273 tons
per cubic meter. Whenever case weights were required and were unknown, this value
was simply multiplied by the case’s volume (m
Ideally, museums should weigh their cases by filling them with different types of
objects. This will help them develop indicative density values for different types of
Couriers. For the pilot study, it was assumed that two journeys of 2 km were made
daily (between hotels and warehouses or exhibition venues), with an additional 5-km
travel to work (Lambert 2009).
Step 5: select GHG conversion factors
To convert quantities of wrapping and packing case materials, and distances traveled,
into quantities of carbon dioxide, conversion factors from various sources were used.
These are listed in Appendix 1, along with conversion factors for other commonly
used materials and vehicles.
Step 6: calculate the footprint
A user-friendly data collection sheet has been prepared to help couriers, collections
managers and/or registrars gather all useful data on a single sheet (Appendix 3).
Afterward, the quantities of wrapping materials and packing cases are calculated
using the equations for Q
(Appendix 1). Then, the standalone carbon
footprint calculation sheet (Appendix 4) is used to compile the activity data and
convert it into quantities of carbon dioxide equivalents. Based on this format,
museums can develop a spreadsheet to automate the calculations and update the
GHG conversion factors.
12 S. Lambert and J. Henderson
In 2006, the Art Department’s outward loan carbon footprint was 53 tons of
carbon dioxide equivalents (Table 1). The transport of objects had the largest impact
on the environment, producing 52% of the total footprint (Figure 7). Couriers are
close behind at 45% of the total footprint. Figures 810 show a breakdown of the
impacts of the various elements within each loan component. It is significant that
transport (freight and passenger) represents 95% of the Art Department’s environ-
mental impact. Therefore, improving the carbon efficiency of transport is essential to
reducing its impact.
By way of comparison, 53 tons of carbon dioxide is equivalent to only about 20
return flights in Business Class between London and New York (DEFRA 2009),
to the personal annual carbon footprint of six UK residents (DEFRA 2008, 7) and
to the hourly operation of the UK postal service (Royal Mail 2008, 2009). Closer to
museums, the transport emissions alone of a traveling exhibition organized by the
Smithsonian Institution (USA) amounted to 38 tons of carbon dioxide (Warden
2007). Thus, 53 tons seems like a large amount of carbon dioxide, but placing it in
context with other activities reveals how society readily accepts activities that are far
Step 7: evaluate environmental performance
The pilot study showed that overall, 4.1 objects were loaned out for every ton of
carbon produced (Table 2). Based on its situation, the Art Department’s EIL
performance was divided into four destination categories: ‘UK only’, ‘Continental
Europe only’, ‘Continental Europe & UK’ and ‘International overseas’. Based on the
results, a hypothetical environmental performance target for loans could be that by
2015, the Art Department would raise its International (Overseas) EIL by 0.4 points
Table 1. Summary table of the Art Department’s carbon footprint for 2006.
Total activity data Total tCO
Polyethylene sheeting 12.4 km 0.021
Polyurethane foam 151 kg 0.453
Case deliveries 1368 km 1.097
Road freight (all) 29,601 km 23.000
Air freight 73,540 km 3.562
Rail freight 500 km 0.080
Sea freight 484 km 0.938
Road-passenger 4071 km 0.917
Air-passenger 117,677 km 19.998
Rail-passenger 12,725 km 0.777
Hotel accommodations 75 nights 2.265
Food 143 days 0.179
Total carbon footprint 52.904
Museum Management and Curatorship 13
and its National EIL (United Kingdom) to 22. To do this, it would have to increase
its loan activities and/or reduce its environmental impact. The section How to Reduce
the Carbon Footprint of a Loans Program (below) offers suggestions on how this can
Step 8: report findings
A comprehensive report including targeted recommendations to reduce the Art
Department’s carbon footprint and improve its EIL rating was submitted to the
Sustainability Forum of Amgueddfa Cymru National Museum Wales. The Art
Department now has an evidence base to integrate carbon footprinting into decision
Figure 7. Breakdown of the Art Department’s total carbon footprint for 2006, by loan
Figure 8. Breakdown of the Art Department’s carbon footprint for 2006 (packing case
14 S. Lambert and J. Henderson
How to reduce the carbon footprint of a loans program
Reuse wrapping and packing materials
The New Museum Registration Methods (Freitag and Smallwood 1998, 137) states that
polyurethane foam ‘must not be re-used’. Although polyurethane foams are chemically
unstable and long-term contact with objects should be avoided, there is no evidence to
suggest that wrapping and packing materials cannot be reused several times for loan
purposes if they still offer proper protection for objects. Because Kent Services reuses all
its foams, the Art Department saved about 840 kg of carbon dioxide in 2006.
Lease packing cases or refit old ones
It is rather alarming that in a group of 85 major museums worldwide, as many as one
fifth do not reuse any of their packing cases (Mellor 2008). By using a case leasing
service instead of commissioning newly built cases and disposing of them, the Art
Department saved 5.161 tons of carbon dioxide from materials, an additional 13 kg
of carbon dioxide equivalents from landfill decomposition (WRI 2005, 34) and 6.6
Figure 9. Distribution of the Art Department’s carbon footprint for 2006 (transport
Figure 10. Distribution of the Art Department’s carbon footprint for 2006 (courier
Museum Management and Curatorship 15
tons of solid waste. Where leasing is not yet viable, museums should keep and refit
their cases as much as possible.
Use sea freight and rail freight, whenever possible
For international loans, using sea freight has clear environmental benefits. On a
hypothetical loan from London to Sydney, carbon emissions could be reduced 37
times if sea freight were used instead of airfreight. The greatest inconvenience,
however, would be the duration of the journey (increase from 21 h to 35 days),
possibly affecting the use of accompanying couriers.
For national loans, using rail instead of road transport can reduce carbon emissions
significantly. Since rail freight is not a door-to-door service, it requires transshipment by
truck this would affect logistics and somewhat lengthen the shipping time. Even so,
emissions can be reduced considerably, with road transport creating 7.5 times the
emissions of rail freight for a typical UK-based journey (Lambert 2009).
The use of rail transport is discouraged due to elevated shock and vibration levels
(Marcon 1991). Nonetheless, frequently cited sources refer to data that were
collected in 1971 (Marcon 1991) and 1987 (Ashley-Smith 1999). Since then, high-
speed rail technology has required rail beds to be leveled and new studies may yield
different results. Interestingly, these same studies show that the shock and vibration
levels encountered in sea transport were generally lower than in air transport.
Saunders (1991) has shown that extreme climatic variations could be encountered in
air transport, as much as in sea transport. Perhaps the time is ripe to generate new
evidence and revalue alternative modes of transport.
Set upper limits for the number of objects in ground-shipped loans
There are at least two thresholds for significant increases in carbon emissions arising
from road freight:
(1) the maximum number of cases that can fit inside a truck;
(2) the maximum number of cases that can be supervised by a courier.
Large loans may require a larger, heavier truck and/or an additional courier, thus
increasing the environmental impact. The maximum number of packing cases that
can fit inside a truck is difficult to quantify because of the variability in case and
truck sizes, and because of the sharing of transport with other institutions.
Nonetheless, museums could set formal limits based on these two thresholds to
Table 2. EIL performance indicators for the Art Department’s outward loans for 2006.
National (UK only) 189 10.026 18.9
Regional (Continental Europe only) 12 4.538 2.6
Regional (Continental Europe and UK) 11 11.255 1.0
International (overseas) 4 25.988 0.2
All destinations 216 52.904 4.1
16 S. Lambert and J. Henderson
lower their environmental impact, minimize costs to the borrower and use their own
staff effectively. For example, they could decide to approve only those loans that do
not require more than one courier.
Share couriers and use them only when justified
Sharing couriers saves passenger carbon emissions, especially on international loans.
In 2006, the Art Department saved nearly 10 tons of carbon dioxide equivalents on
air and rail emissions by not sending a courier to accompany loans on intermediate
journeys (between exhibition venues). Museums already share couriers with other
institutions, and a recent survey shows that 78% of museums would use another
institution’s conservation staff as couriers (Mellor 2008). Museums can develop well-
defined, transparent criteria to assess their courier needs, based on risk or specific
object requirements. The International Exhibitions Organizers (2009) group
produced revised courier guidelines, urging accompanying couriers to be used
sparingly. This group would be ideally positioned to develop an international courier
accreditation scheme to encourage sharing and the building of trust between
institutions using existing courier guidelines.
Avoid hand-carrying objects if an extra seat is required
When objects are hand-carried inside the passenger cabin, they require an extra seat
or an extra row of seats to fasten the case next to the courier. On a return journey
between London and New York, for example, about 3 tons of carbon dioxide
equivalents can be saved per extra seat not purchased if a small case is checked in as
cargo instead of being hand-carried. Unless cupboard storage will be available inside
the cabin, it is recommended that hand carriage of objects be avoided.
Insist that couriers travel with ground-shipped loans
Because of scheduling or staff availability, couriers are sometimes sent to borrowing
venues separately from road shipments. If a courier is deemed necessary at any point
in the loan process (even if only at installation), he or she should always be present
inside the vehicle and not travel by other means of transportation. This will help
reduce passenger transport emissions.
Encourage transport agents to measure fuel efficiency
In 2009, the International Convention of Exhibition and Fine Art Transporters
(2010) adopted environmental guidelines to help its members lower their environ-
mental impact. Many of the transport agents consulted for this study described how
they were reducing their environmental impact by submitting their fleet to regular
check-ups to improve fuel efficiency. To effectively integrate environmental
performance into decision making, museums should put pressure on their agents
to produce sustainability reports.
Museum Management and Curatorship 17
Introduce a sustainable procurement policy
Through their purchasing decisions, museums can influence the practice of their
suppliers. In this instance, museums could encourage transportation companies to
consider alternatives to fossil fuel or factor in the life cycle assessment of packaging
materials (De Silva and Henderson 2011).
Plan exhibitions strategically and geographically
Warden (2007) recommended that exhibitions should be planned according to
geography. In fact, loans often travel great distances back and forth because
itineraries are planned based on openings in the individual borrowers’ exhibition
calendars. Even though lending institutions may not necessarily have a say in the
planning of an exhibition’s itinerary, they could try to persuade borrowers to
consider the environmental (and financial) impact of itinerary planning holistically
when the loan conditions are being negotiated.
Following their first assessment, museums should create their own internal bench-
marks by monitoring yearly carbon reductions or increases, or by demonstrating
how the loan footprint relates to that of other museum functions. It is useful to
remember that any carbon reduction is a step forward to making outreach activities
more environmentally sustainable. It is not necessarily possible, and may actually be
misleading, to define what constitutes an ‘acceptable loan footprint’. Further
research is required into what impact can be expected from ‘average’ loan programs
that ensure a good level of access on a reasonably low footprint.
Museums may already be following many of the above-mentioned recommenda-
tions to save resources. Financially motivated decisions can be accompanied by
environmental benefits. Museum managers can make a positive difference by
integrating concerns for their carbon footprint into everyday decision making, in
loan policies and procedures.
While interest in minimizing environmental impact is increasing in the museum
sector, so does the pressure to improve collections mobility (European Commission
2007; Museums, Libraries and Archives Council 2009). At the same time, the
current economic climate may be threatening the capacity of museums to deliver
these services (Kaufman and Bailey 2009). Instead of reducing total activity to
reduce the carbon footprint, this assessment shows the importance of aiming for
environmental efficiency while still allowing the museum to create socially and
economically attractive activities, such as loans. Carbon footprints address only one
of the three pillars of sustainability (environmental, social and economic). Museums
wishing to assess their overall sustainability should find meaningful ways of
integrating environmental impact into a wider matrix of social and economic
18 S. Lambert and J. Henderson
The methodology described within this paper offers a relatively simple way to
calculate the environmental impact of museum art loans, including a performance
indicator to correlate activities to benefits. However, it does require a commitment to
collect and interpret data, and to act upon these findings. Many museum
professionals already feel that they are being asked to carry out an increasing
multiplicity of tasks with decreasing resources. The authors provide a tool to help
museums better understand how their activities affect climate change and how
to minimize this impact. It is for the profession to gauge its importance and priority.
Is monitoring environmental impact an unwelcome distraction or an essential step in
ensuring the relevance of museum practice in society?
The generous participation of Amgueddfa Cymru National Museum Wales in the
pilot study has made it possible to test the eight-step carbon footprinting
methodology and refine the data collection and calculation sheets to allow any
museum to conduct its own carbon footprint assessment. Based on the methodology
used, the Art Department’s outward loan footprint for 2006 was 53 tons of carbon
dioxide equivalents 95% of which resulted from freight and passenger transport. It
is impressive that its current environment-friendly practices have contributed to
savings of more than 15 tons of carbon dioxide equivalents, and encouraging that the
review of transport practices could save even more.
Museums in general should reexamine couriering practices and policies,
transport operations, exhibitions itinerary planning and the reuse of materials.
This study considered outward loan activities from one lending institution to several
venues. A further extension of this work will be to use the methodology to determine
the total impact of traveling exhibitions, including a component for visitor travel.
According to the UK Museums Association’s fifth draft sustainability principle,
museums must ‘make the best use of energy and other natural resources and
minimize waste, setting targets and monitoring progress towards them’ (Museums
Association 2008, 6). By using this tool, museums worldwide can formulate informed
strategies for loan programs while serving the diversity of established aims for access.
To grow sustainably, museum loan activities in the twenty-first century should aim to
balance environmental, social and economic concerns, and the EIL is offered to
contribute to this vision.
The authors thank the staff of the Art Department of Amgueddfa Cymru National Museum
Wales (AC-NMW), especially Clare Smith, Tim Egan, Lee Jones, Kate Lowry, Bryony
Dawkes, Andrew Renton, Rachel Conroy and Judi Pinkham. The authors also thank Lea T.F.
Warden, Stephen Mellor, Rebecca Hellen, Kate Bellamy, John Roffey, Kathy Amey, Craig
Jones, Tim Sutton, Diane Gwilt, Veronica Bullock and Katriina Simila
for their input and
comments. The authors are indebted to the Editor-in-Chief and reviewers of the journal for
their timely and insightful comments.
1. In this article, ‘carbon’ is used as shorthand for all other GHGs associated with global
Museum Management and Curatorship 19
2. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol is based on guidelines and accounting principles deﬁned by
the IPCC (1996) and is the basis of International Standard 14064 (International Standards
3. For utilities and transport, GHG conversion factors (also called ‘emission coefﬁcients’ or
‘emission factors’) are calculated using energy and fuel efﬁciency statistics, technical
characteristics and use patterns of sources (DEFRA 2009). For manufactured products,
emissions arise from a variety of sources along a complex chain, and therefore, ‘embodied
carbon dioxide coefﬁcients’ are used; these are speciﬁc to each country and industry sector
(Hammond and Jones 2008).
Notes on contributors
Simon Lambert received an MSc in Care of Collections from Cardiff University, Wales, in
2009, with a dissertation on the environmental impact of museum loans. For this work, he was
awarded the 2010 ICON (Institute for Conservation, UK) Student Conservator of the Year
award as well as Cardiff University’s School prize. Simon holds a BA in art history and Italian
literature from McGill University, Canada, and a Laurea in paintings conservation from the
University of Urbino, Italy. He is currently engaged as a project assistant in the Collections
Unit of ICCROM (International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of
Cultural Property) in Rome.
Jane Henderson, FIIC, is an accredited member of ICON, and has been studying and working
in conservation and collections care in Wales since 1984. She has a BSc in Archaeological
Conservation and an MSc in Collections Care. Jane has worked in conservation in both public
and private sectors, including as Conservation Manager for the Council of Museums in Wales.
Jane now teaches on Cardiff University’s BSc in Conservation and MScs in Collections Care
and Conservation Practice. Jane is the stewardship representative on the Welsh Federation of
Museum and Art Galleries, and the Trustee representing Wales for ICON.
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polyethylene ﬁlm made from low-density polyethylene for general use and packaging
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assessment of the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of goods and services. London: BSI.
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22 S. Lambert and J. Henderson
Appendix 1. Summary of equations and coefficients:
Equations to calculate a quantity of polyethylene sheeting (Q
) and a quantity of polyurethane
GHG conversion factor for wrapping and packing case (after Hammond and Jones 2008).
Wrap paintings (PES) 1.7
Fine paper Protect delicate frames, wrap unframed
mounted works on paper, pack ceramics and
Polyurethane Case cushioning and insulation 3
Plywood Plain outer shell 0.81
Softwood, sawn Battens 0.45
Synthetic rubber Waterproof seals 4.02
Stainless steel Hardware 6.15
Side panels 0.59
All measurements entered into the equation (x, y, z, ...) must be expressed in cm.
xy30.010.925 } 1000
Area multiplier: 3
PES thickness: 0.01 cm PES density:
Constant to give result expressed in
xLength of frame (cm)
yHeight of frame (cm)
Example: 70 150 3 0.01 0.925 } 1000 0.29 kg PES
[(a 11)(b 11)(c 11)]
(xyz)0.3527.5 } 1000000
Wall thickness: 11 cm
New PUF used: 35% (0.35)
PUF density: 27.5 kg/m
Constant to give result expressed in
a Length of case (cm)
b Height of case (cm)
c Width of case (cm)
xLength of frame (cm)
yHeight of frame (cm)
ZWidth of frame (cm)
Example: [(100 11)(200 11) (30 11)] (705010) 0.35 27.5 }
1000000 5.90 kg PUF
Museum Management and Curatorship 23
GHG conversion factors used for freight transport and passenger transport.
written in published
factor Unit Source
Road UK Heavy goods vehicle
(rigid) engine size
Heavy duty vehicle
/km WRI 2008
Air All Long-haul
Air All Short-haul
Rail All Diesel 0.0319 kgCO
Sea All Large RoPax Ferry 0.3875 kgCO
written in published
factor Unit Source
UK Passenger: average
USA Passenger: gasoline,
e/km WRI 2008
Other Passenger: gasoline,
/km WRI 2008
Air All Passenger: domestic
Air Europe Passenger: short-haul
Air All Passenger: short-haul
Air All Passenger: long-haul
Air All Long-haul business 0.2399 kgCO
Rail All Passenger: National
factor Unit Source
Hotel All Average European
Food All Average
Emission coefficients used for hotel accommodations and food, with source.
The emission factors published by DEFRA and US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) account for
the impact of N
O and CH
, but those from the IPCC do not.
24 S. Lambert and J. Henderson
Appendix 2. Environmental impact of a ‘typical’ painting case (excluding the polyurethane
Packing case element
Carbon footprint distributed over 20
Polyethylene foam lining 10.66 0.53
Plywood side panels 33.85 1.69
Softwood battens 12.54 0.63
Metal hardware (stainless
Total 69.35 3.47
To calculate the footprint, it was assumed that the painting frame measured 103 11410 cm, and the
case’s outer dimensions were 15813032 cm. This implied the following material quantities:
polyethylene foam: 6.26 kg; plywood: 41.79 kg; softwood: 27.86 kg; stainless steel: 2 kg.
Museum Management and Curatorship 25
Appendix 3. Activity data collection sheet
Use one sheet per loan, focusing on sections 4 and 5.
26 S. Lambert and J. Henderson
Appendix 4. Carbon footprint calculation spreadsheet
Use one sheet per loan.
Museum Management and Curatorship 27