We discovered that sending 6 exhibitions by sea instead of air has reduced our emissions by 200 tCO2e. Photo: Tawatchai07

Sea Freight: Unlocking the Potential for International Art Transportation

2 November 2023

Global Head of Sustainability, Cliodhna Murphy, discusses the benefits of sea freight and the gallery’s commitment to the practice

We set out to discover whether a broader use of sea freight can be adopted to reduce Hauser & Wirth’s overall carbon footprint. Colleagues across the gallery, including our Registrars, artist teams, insurance brokers, conservators and shipping agents, put together a white paper on our sea freight experience to date. The goal with this white paper is to share information that will help other galleries and institutions to learn about our sea freight experiences. Only by sharing what we are discovering can we help the shift to new and more sustainable practices in our industry.

According to the Gallery Climate Coalition, air freight is the most environmentally impactful activity the art world undertakes. As Danny Chivers, GCC, says ‘transporting an artwork by air has on average sixty times the climate impact of moving it the same distance by sea.’ With the fervent belief that we need to shift the dial and embed more sustainable practices, Hauser & Wirth is committed to the use of sea freight. To reach the 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 set out by the GCC, nothing short of an extraordinary turnaround is required. While no shipping method is entirely free of carbon impact, our aim is to discover whether a broader use of sea freight can be adopted to reduce our gallery’s overall carbon footprint.

We found that sending 6 exhibitions by sea instead of air has reduced our emissions by over 200 tCO2e. As a starting point this represents 12% of our exhibition shipping in 2023.

‘Stepping up the to the challenge to create real change will be driven by fact-based decision making, competence, resilience and the ability to follow through on the pledges that we have made in support of the Gallery Climate Coalition.’—Cliodhna Murphy

We are implementing changes in dialogues with our artists, many of whom are driving forward new and more sustainable ways of working. ‘As I write, my paintings, en route to New York for my November show, are travelling as sea freight,’ says British artist Anj Smith. ‘Getting the studio organized for earlier collection deadlines, is something I am more than prepared to facilitate.’

As the art world counts down to 2030, many of us have collectively pledged to reduce our carbon emissions by at least half. There is a great opportunity for galleries and those in their sphere of influence to play a critical role in wider adoption of sea freight. Given the still limited scope of ocean particularly from a timeframe perspective it needs to be considered in tandem with other low carbon methods of moving art.

Nevertheless, with the right planning and more frequent usage, we believe that more sea container shipments will be possible for the future. It takes co-ordination, teamwork and forward planning, but is certainly an achievable aim. This approach will continue to form a strong aspect of the gallery’s environmental sustainability mission.
—Cliodhna Murphy

To learn more, download our white paper ‘Sea freight: unlocking the potential for international art transportation.’