Art and Environmental Sustainability
Concurrent with publishing Hauser & Wirth’s 2022 climate report with Gallery Climate Collation (GCC), hear from our Global Head of Environmental Sustainability, Cliodhna Murphy, who caught up with Dr. Haley Mellin, an artist and a leading voice for a shift to a more sustainable art world. Cliodhna oversees the gallery’s measures to achieve our carbon emissions reduction target of 50% by 2023 in line with the Paris Climate Agreement of the United Nations. Hauser & Wirth is committed to supporting meaningful and industry-specific response to the climate crisis including initiatives like the Gallery Climate Coalition's carbon calculator and Galleries Commit 8 x 8 Action Plan.
Haley: We met a couple of years ago when, in an artistic project, I began supporting institutions and museums in undertaking their first carbon calculations for exhibitions. I committed to doing this free-of-charge for two years, and starting in year three, the Teiger Foundation awarded a grant to continue this work. During this period, you were hired as the first Global Head of Environmental Sustainability of an international gallery. And over the last couple of years, we've communicated regularly on exhibition carbon emissions analysis. Understanding emissions and their impact is a crucial first step in organizational change. Can you share your journey to reduction? How have you gone about creating carbon budgets for exhibitions? And, for artists, curators or institutions, how can we better understand carbon emissions?
Cliodhna: It was with your support that we kicked off our first carbon calculations for our Gustav Metzger and Eduardo Chillida shows that took place in Somerset, working with the Carbon Accounting Company, and their founder, Ian Lipton. Initially, it felt like a big project scoping out what we wanted to calculate. What’s been most inspiring to see from the carbon calculations that we’ve done for shows in Somerset and Los Angeles to date, and then published through Artist’s Commit as Climate Impact Reports, is that our colleagues are interested, engaged and invested. Team members involved in planning the shows have been fundamental to gathering the information and using it in constructive ways in their individual roles.
‘In the areas we are measuring through the tool—which includes all shipping, air travel and energy consumption—we’ve made a 29% reduction overall.’—Cliodhna Murphy
A key area of review has been looking into our energy consumption. By tracking this in relation to selected exhibitions, like the Mika Rottenberg exhibition that took place over the summer of last year in our Los Angeles art complex, we have adjusted the temperature of the galleries to reduce the impact. And we now have a baseline to compare that with 2023 figures. Another major step forward has been through carbon comparisons of transportation by air versus sea versus road. We’re now able to offer reduced carbon emission alternative shipping options to our sales and exhibitions teams. This kind of thinking is getting embedded into the lexicon of the way we are operating. For me, this is really exciting as it’s something relatively new to our industry and ways of working.
HM: Climate Impact Reports, a concept created by Artists Commit and sustainability leader Laura Lupton, is a key tool used to understand the impacts of exhibition planning. This month, you’re publishing your first two years carbon reports with GCC. What have you learned from the emissions calculation process?
CM: We set ourselves the mission to reduce our carbon emissions by a minimum of 50% by 2030. After investigating all avenues, we made the most significant progress initially by reducing our energy emissions. Really this is the first place any type of organization, large or small, should explore.
HM: How is your shift to renewable energy going?
CM: Our switch to renewables has required persistence and collaboration with our local operations teams. In some locations it was pretty straightforward, for instance, in Switzerland there is already a large portion of the grid mix made up of renewables and we were already on those plans. For our independent carbon emissions calculations, we need to show certification of the renewable energy contracts we now have across the UK, New York and Hong Kong, where more renewables have recently entered the grid. I found this to be quite hopeful because that's not an individual business making a market choice. That's just what's happening in the country. As we’re about to release our 2020, 2021 and 2022 carbon footprint that we conducted through the GCC’s carbon tool we have made some progress. In the areas we are measuring through the tool which include all shipping, air travel and energy consumption we’ve made a 29% reduction overall.
‘Hopefully through peer-to-peer support, carbon calculations can help us learn and reduce our emissions, but also can help us improve the industry...’—Haley Mellin
HM: For me, as an artist: a gallery or a museum is part of an artistic practice. As such, artists can and should have a hand in encouraging dialogue with institutions and galleries to learn and to explore better practices together. This is why I got involved providing volunteer support. Some questions come to mind: how can we improve the way we work and learn together? This relates to a question that you brought up before: what does a sustainable art community look like? I feel like teamwork, collaboration and the decentralization of these conversations is key to shared success over time.
CM: As we are in conversation here, it does start to become more evident that solutions need to be accessible and possible for all, otherwise it doesn’t make sense. The solutions to a sustainable artworld exist—reducing air transport of people and art, reducing planned waste, carbon budgets, renewable energy and being conscious in consumption, we just need to put them into wider practice.
HM: True sustainability is often inclusive in form, humble in shape and participatory in nature, because, as humans, we learn and implement in real time. It's important that these intersectional dialogues focus on applicability and accessibility to be as DIY as possible. One example of this is Gallery Climate Coalition’s (GCC’s) carbon calculator: it is free to use and hopefully, through peer-to-peer support, carbon emissions calculations can help to visualize carbon and reduce the production of emissions in exhibitions and studio practices. My experience is that avoiding air shipments is important to this reduction effort. Can you speak about what you've learned since 2020 about sea freight, and where you feel like you're going next?
CM: I was inspired by the GCC’s sustainable shipping campaign because I thought, finally something practical we can grab hold of and track in terms of reducing emissions. It was a pretty obvious step to run an internal push at Hauser & Wirth to promote sea freight. There is a common misperception that you can only ship large, heavy sculptures by sea but when I probed a little further with a couple of colleagues, we started to realize that, with the right risk controls in place, sea freight is feasible for painting, photography and more sensitive sculpture.
There are a few simple things we’ve learnt: • If your insurer won’t cover the shipment, you can go out on the open market and obtain insurance and that’s what we did. • Timelines are crucial, so allow at least 3 months for the shipment. Although we are yet to experience any significant delays. • Making sure to invest in data loggers to track the humidity and temperature of the containers is imperative. On one shipment we communicated directly with the shipping agent and the vessel operator when we noticed temperate dips and this was corrected.
At your suggestion Haley, we are currently building a white paper on our experiences to date on sea freight. We’re keen to share what we are learning with other galleries, institutions, museums, studios, artists so that we can build a collective acceptance. I will caveat all this by saying that we know that sea freight is not without its environmental impact but due to the volume at which it operates it is surprisingly carbon efficient compared to air freight.
HM: I am glad that you will write a white paper on your sea freight experiences. The data set will be helpful for institutions and curators. One component of climate education is trying a new approach and developing an improved habit. It is important to focus on the simple lifts and concrete changes. To provide an example, the Nevada Museum of Art is making a commitment that 50% of an upcoming exhibition will be drawn from their permanent collection; this reduces overall shipping. Looking ahead, what are going to be some of your prime focuses on behalf of the artists of the gallery? What can you share about working with artists like myself?
CM: It’s a great question, Haley. Fast forward three years and I would love to share the knowledge accumulated so that more of our artists feel comfortable and empowered with sustainability measures. I think we need to prove ourselves a little bit more in terms of consistently adopting sustainable choices with our exhibitions and fairs and have a couple more years of evidence in the carbon numbers to really see the shifts. There's also more we can do as a gallery in how we work with collectors and offer lower carbon means of shipping. This is one of the big next steps because that will feed into the behavioral switch piece that we've been talking about. I think artists have a substantial role to play due to the power of their voices. Artists are so good at creating new systems and I think that's something we want to amplify as we move into the next phase of this work.