Are humidity and temperature controls really necessary?

Are humidity and temperature controls really necessary?

Sent Tuesday, June 22, 2010


I’m so excited this month because one of my

clients, Tate, was awarded the Platinum level award from Green 500,

an initiative of the London Mayor’s office to reduce emissions in

London. This is an outstanding achievement and required Tate to

demonstrate their commitment by showing evidence of carbon

reductions, employee engagement and innovation. I’m pleased to say

that Greener Museums has contributed to many of the successes which

allowed Tate to win this award (and achieve outstanding carbon

reductions, and save money!) In this month’s feature you’ll read

about one of the innovations that could save your museum or gallery

tons (or tonnes) of carbon and loads of money!


To your greener future,

Rachel Madan, Director of Greener Museums





Here’s what’s in this issue:


* Feature Article: Are temperature and humidity controls really


* Upcoming Events

* About Rachel Madan



Best wishes,


Rachel Madan


Are temperature and humidity controls really necessary?


Parameters for environmental conditions in museums have been in

place for over forty years based primarily on the stable conditions

of underground tunnels, cellars and quarry caves in which some

British artworks were stored during the Second World War. These

parameters were narrowly defined and accepted due to various

factors at the time including relatively inexpensive energy

supplies, inadequate scientific understanding and the technological

limitations of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems

(HVAC). Since then, times have changed; notably, the cost of

energy has risen and the effects of climate change are increasingly

being felt. Further research and discussion has lead to a

questioning of the ‘gold standard’.


Research by Marion Mecklenburg and David Erhardt has been

particularly useful in illustrating how most heritage materials are

more resistant to temperature and humidity than was previously

thought. In line with this research, in 2004 the Smithsonian

adopted new guidelines which allowed for greater flexibility in

temperature and humidity fluctuation. This has led to energy

savings of approximately 17% per year, and reduced condensation on

walls, resulting in less wear-and-tear on buildings. It has had no

known negative impacts on the collections. The cost benefits to

museums alone brought about by adopting more flexible controls are



In more recent years progress in this area has accelerated. In May

and October 2008, meetings of the Bizot Group resulted in a team of

UK conservators and other stakeholders undertaking to review

environmental conditions in museums. Mark Jones (of the V&A,

London) is a strong advocate in bringing about change in the way

that museums and funders implement environmental standards. He

states that different objects require different climate controls

and the imposition of blanket requirements needs to be

reconsidered. Sir Nicholas Serota (of the Tate, London) has also

been instrumental in advocating change, supporting research and

drawing attention to the relevance of climate change to museums and

galleries. As a first step in reforming policies, the National

Museum Directors’ Conference (NMDC) has provided guidance on

reducing museums’ carbon footprints. You can view the guidelines



So what’s been happening recently? After all, the Smithsonian

adopted new guidelines in 2004 and the NMDC guidelines appeared in

2008. What’s happening in 2010?


In February the Indianapolis Museum of Art decided to move away

from the gold standard of climate control and gave current and

future lenders the opportunity to withdraw commitments. As of

April no one has signalled their intent to do so.


In April a symposium entitled “Rethinking the Museum Climate”, was

hosted by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Getty

Conservation Institute, to consider and respond to the NMDC/Bizot

Group draft guiding principles. At the meeting general agreement

was reached on interim guidelines for loans to the American

Association of Museum Directors.


On May 13th this was followed by the Third Roundtable of the

International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic

Works (IIC), entitled “The Plus/Minus Dilemma: The Way Forward in

Environmental Guidelines”. The meeting raised the need for a more

interdisciplinary approach to obtaining more environmentally

friendly standards, the lack of properly defined levels and the

opportunities that exist through creation of micro-climates and the

creative use of space. You can find out more on the IIC blog.


So, if you have not already done so, perhaps it is time to join in

on the debate and consider what opportunities exist for your museum.


Upcoming Events: Your chance to meet me in person!


Greener Museums – Image 1Museums, Sustainability and Growth: Life

Worth Living, 8th – 9th July 2010 Norwich Castle Museum & Art


I’ll be giving a keynote address at this conference examining the

unique contribution museums and heritage organisations can make to

the development of sustainable communities Lord Smith of Finsbury

(Christopher), had this to say at the 2008 conference:

“The most powerful role that museums can play in the sustainability

agenda is that they can show us how we can learn from the past in

order to live with the future.” The successful 2008 Conference

explored the opportunities for heritage organisations to help

deliver the sustainability and planned growth agendas. The 2010

conference will examine ways in which museums can practically

engage with such issues. Visit the Museums, Sustainability and

Growth Conference 2010



Social History Curators Group Annual Conference: More for Less: Big

Impacts with Small Resources, 8 – 10 July 2010, Birmingham

Whatever the size of your museum, and whatever the challenges you

face, there will be something to inspire, encourage and reassure

you at this conference. I’ll be speaking on the subject of how even

a small environmental budget can be used to large effect. I’ll be

joining speakers from the Thackray Museum, the National Waterfront

Museum, the Ryedale Folk Museum, and the London Transport Museum.

Hope to see you there! Learn about the SHCG Conference 2010