The Wisdom of Crowds

[Greener Museums Newsletter] The Wisdom of Crowds

Sent Wednesday, July 20, 2011


This month I had the pleasure of addressing the UK Registrar’s

Group for their annual meeting. The entire agenda was focused on

sustainability. I spoke about the case study featured in this

issue, sustainable exhibitions at Tate. We also heard about LED

lighting, calculating the carbon footprint of transport, and

sustainable crating at Tate (another Greener Museums-commissioned

project). This seminar really made me think about how far the

cultural sector has come on sustainability. When I first started

working with museums and galleries back in 2008, this issue was

barely on the agenda. Now I’m routinely asked to speak at

conferences and seminars all over the world (the most recent being

Ireland and Sweden). I’m happy to see more and more organizations

taking this issue seriously and implementing strategies that will

save money and carbon for years to come.


To your greener future,


Rachel Madan, Director of Greener Museums



Here’s what’s in this issue:


Client Case Study: Sustainable Exhibitions at Tate

Feature Article: The Wisdom of Crowds

Upcoming Events

About Rachel Madan


Best wishes,






Client Case Study: Sustainable Exhibitions at Tate

Temporary exhibitions are a feature of most museums and galleries.

They bring a steady supply of interesting and exciting programming

to repeat visitors, as well as encouraging new audiences. Many

museums and galleries therefore aim to change exhibitions four

times or more per year. Tate wanted to review its exhibitions

practice against a standard sustainability assessment and

commissioned Greener Museums to conduct an investigation. Greener

Museums first determined that there were no existing standards for

sustainability in temporary exhibitions; this project would

therefore serve as a pilot to develop a greater understanding of

the impact of a single exhibition. The resulting pioneering study

would help Tate to understand its current practice and identify

opportunities for future improvements.


Using the Tate Modern exhibition Gauguin: Maker of Myth (September

2010 – January 2011), Greener Museums began by creating new

methodologies based on the internationally recognized protocols for

carbon footprinting, then used them to examine five key features of

a temporary exhibition:



Building energy use (gas, other electricity, refrigerants)

Business travel

Art transport and courier travel

Exhibition building (walls, plinths, vitrines and paint)

The investigation revealed that Tate was already on the road to

sustainability, with innovative practices including:

Use of reusable walls and vitrines

Reuse of plinths where possible

Procurement FSC certified wood, sourced from Ireland so as to cut

the emissions associated with transportation

Use of paint low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

Transportation of artwork by truck wherever possible

Consolidation of shipments wherever possible

Recycling of wood waste


The project identified a number of opportunities for additional

sustainability and financial savings which are now being

investigated by the Exhibitions team and Tate’s Sustainability Task



If you are interested in finding out the impact of your exhibitions

program, send us an e-mail at to see how we

can help you.



The Wisdom of Crowds

One news story I have been watching develop with particular

interest in 2011 is the UK government’s support for consumer ‘group

shopping’ initiatives. Consumers are

being encouraged to group together to get better deals on

sustainable products,

such as loft insulation, energy saving light bulbs, and even solar



While this is, for the moment, a consumer focused initiative, there

is still much that can be

learnt from these schemes, and applied usefully to both the

cultural sector, and to the wider world of business.


The key learning point here is that consumers are grouping

together, and using their collective

bargaining power to drive costs down. The suppliers they approach

will be able to give discounts due to the economies of scale they

achieve by placing larger orders for materials. They are also more

likely to give competitive prices, as the risk of losing out on the

business of ten consumers is far greater than that of just one.


With this in mind, isn’t it time we start looking to build

purchasing partnerships in the cultural sector to help us purchase

in a more sustainable, more cost effective way? Grouping orders

together can work for simple things like stationary, to large scale

projects such as insulation, or double glazing, and will attract

significant cost advantages. It could also mean that the

sustainable alternatives that are sometimes more expensive (for

example green electricity) could be discounted

enough to make them a more affordable option.


You may even find that you are delivering or picking up collections

to the same places as other

firms. Combining delivery times and sharing transport wherever

possible would slash your carbon footprint as well as reducing

costs. And the cost savings are just the start. Building

partnerships and sharing resources sets up a platform for sharing

knowledge. What are other businesses in the area doing to be more

sustainable? What do they know that you don’t? What knowledge can

you share with them? These partnerships could quickly become

beneficial relationships that will allow both organisations to

become more sustainable and achieve significant costs savings.


Partnerships like this do not just happen overnight. To set them up

requires a good deal of networking, and communication. Setting up

group purchasing between different organisations may also require

some careful planning, especially from the point of view of the

purchasing and finance teams. Once partnerships are set up,

however, they are set up for good. And you can sit back and enjoy

the mutual benefits of a long term sustainability partnership and

the cost savings they deliver. So take advice from consumers, and

harness the power of collective purchasing.