Good Cents in the Museum – a case study

This post comes to you from the EcoMuseumMany people will wonder at first, what the connection is between immigration, museums and the environment.

For the last two and a half years Melbourne’s Immigration Museum has been developing a unique and contemporary exhibition based on what identity actually means to those living in Australia today. The transient nature of ‘identity’ as a concept meant a high degree of creativity was required. The project team worked on this challenge for over two years, and in addition, managed to integrate a high degree of environmentally conscious initiatives. Identity: yours mine ours launched on May 9, 2011 and has an eight to ten year life span.




One of the first commitments the project team made came in 2009, with a collective agreement to seriously consider environmentally sustainable initiatives within the concept and development process. Each important element of an event – be it exhibition, festival, theatre production – needs a champion.Identity had champions for content, multimedia, lighting and so on, but it also had a champion for environmentally preferable initiatives.




Keeping an eye on the overall production, and another on the possibilities of integrating sustainable initiatives into the proposed design, isn’t that difficult.


Re-use (re-using stuff)


The demolition of the exhibition previously occupying the Identity gallery enabled the team to save various materials for use in Identity itself, and for use throughout the rest of Museum Victoria.


Around 18m² of laminated glass was saved and reinstalled into purpose-built Identity cases, a saving of around $8,000. Around 500kg of timber was saved for other uses as well. Graphic panels from the old exhibition were reused for education and decorative purposes in the Immigration Museum’s Education Room and Theatrette. Public programs took possession of older bespoke plinths and cases, and fitted them with wheels for portability, thus extending their original life expectancy many times over. Another site rich in immigration history, Station Pier, is negotiating with the Museum to take the remainder of the exhibition graphic panels in order to augment its premises on the pier.


It is worth noting however, that construction methods and material choices made much of the pre-used timber untenable. ‘Screw don’t glue’ is definitely something the team has a deep understanding of after watching the demolition process and noting the broken and torn elements thrown in the skip. Undaunted, ‘small steps’ was a common maxim throughout, and one which reminded us that every environmental achievement enables future teams to take our lead, and go even further.


De-materialisation (using less stuff)


Knowing that exhibition graphics are one of the most energy, material and maintenance intensive components of exhibition production, keeping a vigilant eye on the emerging design is crucial. WithinIdentity, the unique line-work developed by Gina Batsakis emerged as a major graphic feature. Previous work with a landscape artist/signwriter provided the impetus to explore similar possibilities withinIdentity, and although the team initially felt anxious, our early commitment to facilitate a sustainable outcome determined the contracting of a specialist painter.


The results are surprising – far superior to that which could have been produced mechanically by a printing machine. Early planning and decision-making enabled enough time for the extensive paintwork to take place – a crucial factor in an innovative environment. The final outcome consumed similar financial resources to that required from graphic printing and related materials. More importantly, the 150m² of painted graphic will require very simple, low energy maintenance across its ten year life – involving human dexterity, paint and a paintbrush. What could be more…sustainable!


This environmental achievement was important in terms of boosting the project team’s satisfaction in their commitment, and gave an eye-opening model initiative to other Museum Victoria exhibition project teams. Scienceworks has taken up the scenic painter challenge and greatly benefited from it. Being brave and trialing new concepts has always been crucial, especially in the world of the museum. Have we forgotten this in our world of automation and programmed productivity? The Identity project team discovered an unexpected delight and control in veering away from machine-led production.


Identity is a big exhibition in a small physical space. How does one do justice to such a broad, contentious topic and still keep the exhibition spatially contemplative? By using hundreds of intangible layers of digital information of course. These digital stories are interpreted through touch-screens, the web and multiple projections.


The project team wanted gallery products that combined reasonable financial outlay, with low energy usage and long lived consumables – like globes. Using a range of product information and organisational experience, different products were put through a data-crunching excel calculator. After putting the exhibition’s lighting through the same rigorous process, the completed Identity now consumes the least amount of energy per square metre of any exhibition at Museum Victoria, and has set an organisational benchmark.


The environmental consequences of energy creation arguably impact our lives more significantly than any other human activity, and consume a huge amount of our finances. Reducing our need, and therefore general demand, is definitely something worth giving some time and thought to.


Some of these practices are standard in many smaller organisations throughout the country because of individual budget restrictions. Some are practices that have died out only in the last few years. Even so, it’s liberating to explore and rediscover new frontiers, and if you can save money and time while simultaneously reducing your impact on the environment, it just makes good sense (and cents) to continue pushing those boundaries.


the EcoMuseum, is a project of Carole Hammond, Exhibition Manager and museum professional: combining the complex ideologies of aesthetics, culture, objects, entertainment…and environment.

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Can we change the environmental conditions in museums and galleries?

This post comes to you from the EcoMuseum

This question cut to the point for 75 cultural colleagues from across Victoria and NSW who attended a freeMuseum Victoria, Arts Victoria and Sustainability Victoria seminar on the 18th of May to discover the challenges and current international position.

Julian Bickersteth, Director of International Conservation Services in Sydney, laid the groundwork for current recommendations for object storage and display conditions. An expert panel comprised of leaders from the building and environmental sectors also joined Julian. They were Professor Kate Auty (Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability), Bernard Da Cruz (Director WSP Lincolne Scott) and Pippa Connolly (Principle at Arup).

The seminar was convened amongst concern about the reality of climate change, and rising energy and product costs. Such costs are driving museums, galleries (and much of contemporary business) to reduce their carbon footprint. Unsurprisingly the maintenance of specific temperature, relative humidity (RH) and light levels is in doubt. The temp and RH international guidelines represent the major energy and money consumption in the museum, library and gallery organisations. Facing the prospect of an uncertain future, a number of international groups are driving research into the possibilities for the relaxation of the parameters museums and galleries are required to fall within.

The UK to date has been taking the lead with the NMDC (National Museum Director Conference) setting up EGOR (Environment Guidelines: Opportunities and Risks). Heading up the Australian taskforce is the AICCM (Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material). Each of these groups is involved in investigating possibilities and risks in order to promote change which will benefit the environment and organisational budgets.

EGOR (coordinated by The National Archives UK), is investigating if current environmental standards align with the conservation of the three main priorities affecting museums and galleries;

  1. Movable cultural material (collections)
  2. Cultural heritage (buildings)
  3. Communities (visitors and staff)

EGOR is investigating the implications with researchers from the disciplines of arts and humanities, conservation, science and engineering, as well as practitioner communities.

One question that keeps arising is the one of acceptable loss? Is it realistic to expect objects receive optimum temperature and RH attention considering the enormous cost energy use extracts from the environment and society? Or should we develop a different understanding around the protection of movable cultural heritage? It is conceivable that changing attitudes for reuse, renewable resources and human adaptation to climate change will alter access, presentation and interpretation of cultural heritage in the future. It may also affect how we value cultural heritage.

The following graphic from Barbara Reeve (Australian War Memorial) demonstrates safe RH humidity ranges for a range of materials and reveals that the RH range followed by museums and galleries are not required – except in isolated cases.

The following graphic from Barbara Reeve (Australian War Memorial) demonstrates safe RH humidity ranges for a range of materials and reveals that the RH range followed by museums and galleries are not required – except in isolated cases.

However the conservation needs of movable cultural heritage need to be considered in conjunction with the limitations and potential provided by the buildings they are housed in. Many of these buildings are listed cultural heritage in their own right.

Upfront capital costs to adapt buildings to achieve preservation environments are an unhappy reality that prevents many from considering this path, and yet new museums and galleries are still being designed and constructed to heavily rely on electricity. In fact many examples would be unable to support human occupants without electricity, let alone preserve precious and rare artifacts. One example from regional Victoria during the seminar cited how their efforts to bring their heritage building into the 21st century and object preservation guidelines saw their quarterly electricity bill skyrocket to 15% of their total annual budget.

So what are the alternatives EGOR and others are exploring? International interest has only recently turned toward new technologies – and more from the need to escape rising energy costs than a sense of moral responsibility toward the environment. New building designs will need to take this into account and seek advice which will allow them to make allowances and infrastructure for emerging technologies that can be retrofitted. Melbourne Museum followed this advice ten years ago when infrastructure was placed on the roof allowing for solar technology to be fitted. Solar technology is now approaching a state where this particular retrofit may be looking like a possibility.

The small museum from regional Victoria took action that can act as a guide to us all. The first step was possibly the greatest – that remedial action was not necessarily connected to anything requiring electricity. Recognising the problem was related to sustainability and environment led them to seek advice from Sustainability Victoria. After exploring a number of options the museum expanded environmental control parameters to 18C and 60% RH from current parameters (25c and 55%RH) and achieved a 33% reduction in costs.  They are also now trialling running their HVAC in 4 hour bursts. The outcomes from their research and testing will be eagerly followed by everyone who attended the seminar.

The UK, through the authority of the NMDC developed guidelines that were accepted by the European Bizot Group of major museums at their May 2009 meeting. The four primary points were led by an aim to minimise energy use;

1.     Environmental standards to become intelligent and better tailored to needs. No longer use blanket conditions for entire buildings

2.     Care of collections should not assume air conditioning

3.     Natural and sustainable environmental controls to be explored and exploited

4.     New or renovated museum buildings should aim to reduce carbon footprint as their primary objective

NMDC guiding principles for reducing museums’ carbon footprint (2009)

ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) is an organisation that advances the sciences of heating, ventilating, air-conditioning and refrigerating within the limitations of humanity and sustainability. Their 2003 specifications for museums, libraries and archival conditions recommends different ‘classes’ of control.

Class of Control Short Fluctuations plus Space Gradients Seasonal Adjustments in System Setpoint Collection Risks and Benefits
AAAPrecision control, no seasonal changes +/- 5%RH;+/- 2oC RH no change;Up 5oC / Down 5oC No risk of mechanical damage to most artifacts and paintings (so long as conditions are maintained).
AAPrecision control,

some gradients or seasonal changes but not both

+/- 5%RH;+/- 2oC Up 10% RH /Down 10% RH;

Up 5oC / Down 10oC

Small risk of mechanical damage to high-vulnerability artifacts; no mechanical risk to most artifacts, paintings, photographs, and books (so long as conditions are maintained).
APrecision control,

some gradients or seasonal changes but not both

+/- 10%RH;+/- 2oC RH no change;Up 5oC / Down 10oC Small risk of mechanical damage to high-vulnerability artifacts; no mechanical risk to most artifacts, paintings, photographs, and books (so long as conditions are maintained).
BPrecision control,

some gradients plus winter temperature setback

+/- 10%RH;+/- 2oC Up 10% RH /Down 10% RH;

Up 10oC, but not above 30 oC; Down as required to maintain RH control

Moderate risk of mechanical damage to high-vulnerability artifacts; tiny mechanical risk to most paintings, some artifacts, photographs, and books. No risk to most artifacts and books.

There are a number of new standards and guidelines incorporating environmental sustainability on this matter.
Europe CEN/TC 346

UK BSI:                *Code of Practice on Environmental guidelines PAS 198 (document will become publicly available in July 2011)

*New PD 5454 replacing BS 5454

EGOR:           *Consensus on 50% RH +/- 15%

It is important to note that the PAS 198 was developed rapidly to fulfill an immediate need and is not narrowly prescriptive. Decisions will still involve individual organisations’ preservation aims, use and display, transport, loans and the budget available for energy.


There is still uncertainty whether these initiatives will actually save any money or energy. This information will no doubt present itself in time as more organisations are influenced or compelled to rethink where they most need their energy. It will be interesting to note where, geographically, the greatest savings occur, since external climate will be a factor in these results.

Major international cultural organisations who are active in this debate include the National Gallery of Denmark who has claimed it is on the way to being carbon neutral, and the Smithsonian who are recommending 37-53% RH ‘tight’ parameter, and a 30-62% RH ‘allowable’ parameter.

Discussions during the seminar forum reiterated the following perspectives;

  • Larger, more resourced institutions should be leading the debate with a view to contributing to Australasian standards;
  • Benefits of this leadership needs to be disseminated effectively to small and regional cultural organizations;
  • Building design needs to include museum professionals and account for environmentally sustainable design (ESD);
  • The advantage of long term savings from ESD capital outlays are proven, and support needed for smaller institutions to undertake ESD;
  • ESD is often dropped from the planning process for cost, schedule and other constraints. ESD is seen as a ‘feel good bonus’, and not a critical inclusion;
  • There is a need for a collegiate network to continue this debate and take it further.

There are currently no guidelines or standards from an Australasian perspective. The AICCM taskforce is currently gathering information from research, literature and projects with the view to developing guidelines for Australian conditions. The May 18 seminar served to bring those in the Victorian cultural community together to learn and share. It was clear there is a great deal of concern surrounding the future, and the ability to keep up with the rising costs of energy. However it was also clear that financial issues were not the only driver of the community, and that a genuine desire to preserve the natural environment was also a high priority. The Strategic Audit into the Victorian Government’s environmental progress (Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability) and the Greening the Arts Portfolio (Arts Victoria) are two instances of the current prioritization of the environment.

Examples from attendees (State Library of Victoria, Gippsland Maritime Museum, Museum Victoria provided information that individual organisations were involved in research and trials on this subject, but the information was largely limited internally since there is no localised forum for them to collaborate with or feed into. With this in mind the Sustainability Victoria Arts Roundtable will look to recommending and supporting a working party. Part of the working party’s mandate will be to disseminate information and case studies, and also to work with organisations to participate and provide advice to cultural organisations wishing to explore new environmental conditions, technologies and methodologies.

Seminar attendees will be kept informed of further developments.

Useful websites: (climate portal)

the EcoMuseum, is a project of Carole Hammond, Exhibition Manager and museum professional: combining the complex ideologies of aesthetics, culture, objects, entertainment…and environment.

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The Eco Museum; reimagining exhibition production

This post comes to you from the EcoMuseum

In mid 2008, the interpretation of visual culture was the core function of 1,184 Australian museum and gallery organisations. The results of $36 million dollars spent on delivering exhibitions in the 2007/08 year was enjoyed by millions of visitors from across the world, and generated nearly one billion dollars. Yet, despite this being an enormously productive and dynamic industry, there has been little research undertaken in the area of environmental sustainability for organisations who engage in the care and display of precious and rare objects. Cultural organisations, like many others, are addressing their impacts upon the environment, but the question has to be asked: how does this social revolution take place?

Read the remainder of my paper presented at the 2010 Museums Australia Conference in Melbourne here.

the EcoMuseum, is a project of Carole Hammond, Exhibition Manager and museum professional: combining the complex ideologies of aesthetics, culture, objects, entertainment…and environment.

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Life Cycle Assessment

This post comes to you from the EcoMuseum

Recently the eco-museum had the opportunity to attend a 2 day LCA course at RMIT University to learn about some of the complexities involved in the process of assessing the life cycle of materials and products.
One thing is unquestionable – you need expertise and experience to conduct LCAs, and most museum professionals would baulk at the mere suggestion they do this. Whilst it was important to find out that there are hundreds of thousands of choices and scenarios involved in finding out the true impact of a product or material, the true value of the RMIT course came with the revelation of how LCA can be applied to the development and design of exhibitions and large scale public events.
Currently I’m in the process of developing a simple exhibition eco-design tool which can give an accurate indication of materials and product impact before developed design and construction takes place. To this end I’m currently liaising with RMIT in how best individual product and material LCAs can be incorporated into the tool for quick comparisons when designers and project teams are commencing the process of moving from concept to design development.
Stay tuned for more updates soon.

the EcoMuseum, is a project of Carole Hammond, Exhibition Manager and museum professional: combining the complex ideologies of aesthetics, culture, objects, entertainment…and environment.

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Welcome The EcoMuseum to the CSPA Knowledge Network

The CSPA wants to welcome the EcoMuseum, a project of Carole Hammond, Exhibition Manager and museum professional: combining the complex ideologies of aesthetics, culture, objects, entertainment…and environment.

You’ll be able to find and link back to her writing here as part of the CSPA knowledge network. Her first post is already up here:

You can also find a record, as it builds, at this category archive page:

Stay tuned for more!

Identity exhibition eco-installation begins

This post comes to you from the EcoMuseum

An exhibition, Identity: yours mine ours will launch in March 2011 at Museum Victoria‘s Immigration Museum, and is re-imagining the benchmarks of environmental sustainability in the cultural sector.

After over 2 years of development, in November 2010 construction work finally began on our Identity exhibition, with the removal of the old occupier of the space – Station Pier: gateway to a new life. Station Pier had been in place since 2004 and had enjoyed immense popularity with visitors, especially those who arrived by ship in Melbourne at Station Pier.

One of the challenges to eco-exhibitions is to design and build for what is essentially a temporary interior building fixture. Inevitably this leads to excessive waste come the end of the exhibition. Station Pier was designed without the insights of the burgeoning eco-exhibition industry, so the challenge to the team was to dismantle the exhibition and create the least waste possible in doing so.

Pre-planning is key to this process, and the integration of processes into your normal project planning. The Identity designers Andrew and Gina embraced the philosophy of an eco-exhibition, and so it was agreed to use laminated glass from the bespoke Station Pier cases, in Identity. Currently, whilst the infrastructure for the new exhibition is being built, the glass is being stored safely until we need it. Once that happens, our glaziers will cut to size and re-fit into Identity.

The builders who won the contract quoted on the notion of our eco-principles, with requirements for reuse and recycling written into the Request for Quotation. Necessities such as de-nailing reusable timber and cutting salvageable pieces were allowed for, so no nasty financial consequences could pop up unexpectedly. Appropriate RFQ’s are a big part of the eco pre-planning process, and after creating a template it’s easy to accurately ask your contractors for the right thing and avoid any confusion as to what you need them to do.

Unfortunately, apart from the glass and some structural softwood timber, not much was able to be reused in terms of Station Pier’s built environment. Too much had been glued not screwed all those years ago. Most of the timber had to be destroyed just in liberating it from its structural supports.

However, one thing usually never able to be recycled or reused are exhibition graphics. Station Pier documents a rich history of migration around an iconic port in Melbourne – which still exists. Talks with the management at Station Pier indicate they are keen be the vehicle for the long-term reuse of the Station Pier graphic panels – of which there is at least 50kg. Hopefully the museum’s graphics will enjoy a long life providing information for Melbourne’s tourists.

Stay tuned for the build of Identity: yours mine ours. Meanwhile you can find out more about the exhibition development here.

the EcoMuseum, is a project of Carole Hammond, Exhibition Manager and museum professional: combining the complex ideologies of aesthetics, culture, objects, entertainment…and environment.

Go to the EcoMuseum