Sustainable Exhibition Making: Recyclable Book Cradles

In this post, our Technician, Robyn Rogers, discusses the recyclable book cradles she has developed as part of the conservation team’s ongoing work to make exhibitions at the University of Edinburgh more sustainable.

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How to Become More Sustainable

The CRC Conservation Team ran two remote internships earlier this year. This blog is from Karoline Sofie Hennum, who was our intern for our Environmental Sustainability in Collections Care project between May – July. Here, Karoline Sofie talks about her internship and shares her top tips on how we collection care practitioners can all work more sustainably.

Ever since my teenage years, I have often found myself involved in political activism, in particular animal welfare and the environment. In 2015 I entered the field of conservation and collection care as I started my BA at the University of Oslo, but it was not until my first year of my MA in conservation at the same university that I truly realised how much of a problem waste produce and energy consumption is in conservation and collections care. As result of this, I swiftly decided that I wanted to become a conservator who always considers sustainability in my own practices.

In May of this year, I started an internship in Environmental Sustainability in Collections Care with the University of Edinburgh’s conservation team. This internship is one of two remote conservation internships offered this semester, so all my work is carried out from my own living room. My supervisor, preventive conservator Katharine Richardson, has taken me and her phone camera on virtual tours around their premises – it does not get much more corona-friendly than that!

The goal of my internship is to integrate environmental sustainability into existing collections care practices amongst those working with the University’s heritage collections. I will be helping the conservation team to take their first step in forming their own sustainability plans, in particular a long-term action plan to tackle issues related to sustainability, such as reducing energy consumption in environmental control. To do this, I am researching and making recommendations on how sustainability can be introduced to their everyday collections care practices. So far, I have started or completed a range of tasks:

  • Assessment of their material waste and energy consumption
  • Appraisal of their materials and equipment, as well as their suppliers, to see what can be recycled or reused, or possibly replaced with more sustainable products
  • Researched environmental sustainability and created a literature review and a resource list for the conservation team to use
  • Reviewed and added sustainability measures to their existing collections handling guidelines, as well as their Disaster Response and Recovery Plan
  • Currently looking into setting up a recycling scheme for their nitrile gloves waste.

For many, it can be difficult to fully get a grasp of how one can become more sustainable when working in collections care and conservation. If there is one thing I have learnt so far in my internship, it is that even the smallest changes can make a big difference in the long run. Therefore, I have put together a list of simple steps anyone caring for cultural heritage collections can take to become more sustainable:

  1. Swap all halogen light bulbs out with LEDs. Consider installing motion sensor lights or light bulbs.
  2. Reduce your own nitrile gloves waste. Ask yourself if you really need to wear them or if having clean hands is applicable. If a used pair has not been contaminated by dust, soil or hazardous chemicals, you should consider reusing them.
  3. Turn off lights and electrical appliances when they are not in use or of any importance to the work you are currently doing.
  4. Reuse materials. Cut-offs or waste material can often be reused or repurposed. The bin should always be your very last option. Your imagination is the only limit – come up with creative solutions. Make sure you share your solutions with other conservators in forums and on social media. Let us help each other!
  5. Set up recycling points around your workplace. If you do not generate enough waste on your own to fill up for example zero waste boxes, team up with another local conservator!
  6. Travel to work or on courier trips by public transport if you can.
  7. Set up a sustainability working group at your workplace. Arrange monthly tea breaks or meetings where you discuss sustainability and share your experiences with one another.
  8. Participate in sustainability discussions and join networks. Examples: Icon’s Environmental Sustainability Network, Sustainable Scotland Network and Fit for the Future.

And remember: Start small and keep yourself inspired. Small changes will eventually lead to bigger ones.