by Lilia Tisdall, Textile Conservation Display Specialist and ‘Green Champion’
‘Can I recycle this?’ is a question you hear ever more frequently reverberating through the conservation studios and departmental offices of the Victoria and Albert Museum. The question often falls in the inboxes of the Museum’s newly recruited ‘Green Champions’ – a voluntary team of enthusiastic staff from across all departments whose aim is to “support, promote and advocate for environmental thinking and action across the V&A” (Figure 1). The museum sector sits in a funny place with regards to issues of sustainability; it is devoted to prolonging the life of objects, yet the production of exhibitions is incredibly resource heavy.
Since 2017 the V&A has been working with Julie’s Bicycle to produce an updated sustainability policy for the Museum. In fact, the Museum has been working behind the scenes for several years on back-of-house initiatives to implement green efficiencies in our energy consumption, carbon emissions and waste management. This includes things like LED lighting, self-irrigating planters in the garden, a ‘green roof’ and rainwater harvesting on the new Exhibition Road Quarter. We are also able to boast that none of our waste goes to landfill, due to our contract with Cory Riverside Waste who convert all our waste into energy at their impressive facility in Belvedere, Kent.
With the recruitment of the Green Champions in 2018, as well as a dedicated Sustainability Co-ordinator (temporary role until March 2019), the work is now accelerating to look more widely across the museum at how we can improve our environmental impact on a departmental and individual level. Some key milestones have already been achieved, including:
- The removal of all single-use paper and plastic cups from the Staff Canteen, and the issuing of personal ‘keep cups’ to every staff member. These cups have been produced by ashortwalk – a product design company featured in the Future Design exhibition. The cups are made from recycled cups themselves!
- Coffee grounds recycled and turned into Bio-Bean Coffee Logs and furniture made by Löfbergs in Sweden.
- Clothes swap to mark Earth Day 2018.
- Enrolment in the KIMTECH* Nitrile Glove Recycling Programme provided by TerraCycle. The gloves are processed to produce plastic granules, which serves as a secondary raw material for new plastic products.
- A ‘freecycle’ network with unwanted exhibition build parts, used mannequins etc offered to other museums, charities, festivals and schools.
- Removal of personal office bins and move to centralised waste/recycling points in offices to encourage correct disposal.
- Introduction of recycled paper as standard and switching to green suppliers.
- In July 2018 Fashioned From Nature won a Creative Green award for Best Creative Programming.
The focus now turns to paper reduction and researching creative approaches to the Museum’s waste streams. The latter is of particular interest to the Conservation Department. Although conservators themselves are by nature inherently thrifty with materials, there are inevitably many single-use items that cannot be re-used for conservation processes. However, there is a lot more we could potentially do with our discarded mounts and scrap material if we were to look to the principles of the circular economy.
- Cory Riverside Waste: https://www.coryenergy.com/ [accessed 25/Feb/2019]
- Julie’s Bicycle: https://www.juliesbicycle.com [accessed 25/Feb/2019]
- ashortwalk: https://www.ashortwalk.com/ [accessed 25/Feb/2019]
- KIMTECH* Nitrile Glove Recycling Programme: https://www.terracycle.co.uk/en-GB/brigades/gloves [accessed 25/Feb/2019]