Sustainable and Efficient: Challenges of Best Practice
West Dean College, Chichester, UK
May 10th, 2019
Author: Daniela Molinari
Arriving at West Dean College from Newcastle-upon-Tyne after a long journey on the bus and train provided a welcome change in scenery. West Dean is located a short bus ride from
Chichester, south of London, and is surrounded by sprawling green space that is occupied by towering trees and lazily grazing sheep. After exploring the campus upon my arrival, it was easy to understand why West Dean College is considered the Hogwarts of conservation.
The conference began on May 10th with a talk from the keynote speaker, Ylva Dahnsjo. Rather than flying to the conference from her home in Edinburgh, she made the sustainable choice to give her presentation online via Skype. We were lucky to have no technical issues, so Ylva was just as effective as she would have been if she were in the room. She spoke about her belief that the four pillars of sustainability (human, social, economic, environmental) are outdated. She also said that we should, no matter what, think about our environmental impact because without the health of the earth we do not have health of our own. She provided examples of other industries that are at the very least conscious of their impact on the environment. For example, fashion designers such as Vivienne Westwood are encouraging mindful consumption and environmentally-friendly choices. She also used a Lord of the Rings metaphor to emphasise the challenges we face as we engage in sustainable practices in conservation: “in the battle of Helms Deep, the goal is not to fire as many arrows as possible but kill as many orcs as possible”. In making this reference Ylva encouraged conservators to confront each professional challenge in ways that will last, so that we conserve our resources while we solve each sustainability-related problem.
The next talk was presented by Sally Kilby, an Australian book and paper conservator studying at West Dean College. She spoke about the Duke Humfrey’s Library project at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Sally mentioned the importance of many people practicing sustainability imperfectly rather than any one individual practicing it perfectly, and she said that learning, observing, and sharing the knowledge that we absorb are effective ways to make this happen.
Erica D’Alessandro and Hollie Drinkwater, both of whom are book and paper conservators, presented their work cooperatively. While working at PZ Conservation in Penzance, they turned the entire studio into a quarantined area for books in poor condition and created an adjacent space where treatments could be carried out. In their conservation work they used freezing treatments, which were a more sustainable and less expensive option than other treatments that they considered.
Jürgen Huber, a furniture conservator who started his career as a cabinet maker, spoke about his work at the Wallace Collection in London. His favourite fill material was gesso, which he covered with layers of shellac to blend it with the pieces that was is working on. He used a novel method of cleaning with dry ice, which was carbon dioxide reused from the brewing industry. He discussed his thoughts on LED and combined heat and power units being more sustainable tools, and he emphasised that energy and renewable energy and power exports are a major focus of his sustainable practice.
I was the second to last presenter, and I spoke about my research on the sustainability of isinglass. More information on this topic will follow in a later blog. I also described everything that we are doing at SiC to make conservation more sustainable!
Overall, the conference was a wonderful experience, and it is really exciting to see conservators actively trying to consider sustainability when they are responsible for major projects that give little room for environmental considerations. Whether the focus was on energy or efficient and budget-friendly materials, it is clear that everyone who spoke at West Dean that day is doing everything that they can to make their practices environmentally conscious. I was honoured to be able to represent Sustainability in Conservation while also presenting my research to a room full of like-minded conservators, few of whom I had met before, and many of whom I’m sure I will be seeing again in the future.