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Explained: How the art industry is reducing its carbon footprint

London's Design Museum does an environmental audit of its exhibition to assess how the carbon footprint of the event can be reduced.

ExhibitionAn installation by Ibrahim Mahama made from e-waste in Ghana on display at the "Waste Age: What Can Design Do” exhibition (Photo credit:

While several exhibitions in the past have been dedicated to nature and the need to arrest environmental degradation, art establishments now are also looking inward, analysing if the crisis begins at home.

So, while planning the “Waste Age: What Can Design Do” exhibition, which looks at the global waste crisis and presents possible solutions through the use of reclaimed and natural material, London’s Design Museum also studied ways to reduce its own carbon footprint, conducting an environmental audit of the exhibition itself.

A look at the exhibition and how the art industry is taking steps to reduce its carbon footprint.

What is the exhibition?

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Timed around the UN’s COP26 conference that will take place from October 31 to November 12, the ongoing exhibition comprises more than 300 objects and features works of designers who are rethinking our relationship with everyday things, from the way we dress to what we eat and how we live.

Apart from a large-scale art installation by Ibrahim Mahama made from e-waste in Ghana, it also includes works by Stella McCartney, Fernando Laposse, Bethany Williams, Phoebe English and Natsai Audrey Chieza, among others.

Speaking about the exhibition on the museum website, curator Gemma Curtin, said, “We must face the problem of waste — we can no longer ignore what happens to things when we get rid of them. Instead of thinking of objects as things that have an end life, they can have many lives. This is not just an exhibition, it is a campaign, and we all have an active part in our future.”

What is an environmental audit?

According to the University of London website, environmental auditing began in the US in the early 1970s. The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental audit as “a systematic, documented, periodic, and objective review of facility operations and practices related to meeting environmental requirements”.

What is the “Waste Age” audit finding?


The initial phase of the audit included predicting the footprint of the entire exhibition and how to reduce it. While the initial estimate was reportedly 190 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emission, it now stands at 10 tonnes. The museum uses renewable energy and makes efforts to recycle material for exhibitions.

How do exhibitions impact the environment and what are the steps taken by the art world?

Several factors add to the environmental damage during an event, from artwork transportation and packaging to marketing banners, discarded waste and the travel that takes place.


In October 2020, London-based gallerists and professionals working in the commercial arts sector came together to form the Gallery Climate Coalition (GCC). The group’s aim is to persuade the art industry to reduce its carbon footprint.

The Carbon Calculator, available to its members free of charge, is designed for the art world and allows users to identify the primary reasons for the carbon footprint and take required action. The indicators include factors such as travel and transport arrangements, packaging and printing details. Data collected will also be used to calculate the progress in the sector.

Cognizant of the wastage, artists, too, have been taking steps to minimise the damage. In 2010, for instance, during the exhibition titled ‘In the Balance: Art for a Changing World’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia in Sydney, Australian artist Lucas Ihlein engaged in a project that involved speaking to museum staff, artists and visitors to understand the footprint of contemporary art.

In 2018, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, dedicated to environmental causes, funded the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to replace 309 incandescent lights in Chris Burden’s installation Urban Light with energy-efficient LED bulbs. This roughly reduced the artwork’s energy consumption by 90 per cent and also reduced the emission of pollutants.

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First published on: 31-10-2021 at 03:49:49 pm
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