A Journey in Sustainability

Submitted: June 16th, 2021

Anna Beaumont, SiC Administrative Coordinator

In a world where we are constantly hearing that we have to reduce waste, save energy, stop using plastics and protect the environment from contamination, entering a conservation laboratory can be quite overwhelming. Indeed, most storage materials are made of plastic, and solvents are used in great quantities, resulting in extensive cotton bud waste. The machines we need are power hungry, and some treatments require the use of petroleum-derived products. It can, therefore, seem like quite a challenge to shift conservation practices and labs to a more sustainable version of themselves.

My personal journey to engage with more sustainable conservation, started with a lecture on the conservation of waterlogged organics, where Polyethelene Glycol (PEG) reigns over all treatments. I wondered, “Are there no sustainable alternatives being developed?”. Enter an essay focusing on the future of waterlogged wood treatments to answer my question. In the essay, I discovered three ways people are tackling the sustainability issues that are present in conservation: changing the products used, finding ways to recycle and reducing energy use. In the case of waterlogged wood, the current research is creative and innovative, including:

• Changing the products used: There have been experiments with avian feathers from which keratin is hydrolysed by Endo, as well as with lactitol and trehalose by Imazu and Morgos. Even biomimetics are currently being looked at as an alternative to PEG.

• Recycling: In 2016, Arc-Nucléart experimented with a three-step method to regenerate PEG, which includes micro-filtration, UVC light exposure and physio-chemical filtration, which was successful.

• Reducing energy: Jensen in 2018 suggested that fluctuating the temperature of the chamber walls of freeze-dryers, during operating hours in the laboratory, could help speed up the process of drying and reduce energy use. Using alternative energy sources to power buildings could also help with reducing energy expenditure.

Research to discover and change treatments that have been a staple for decades, is a long process and requires patience, but it needs to be shared to increase awareness. This is why Sustainability in Conservation is important. They combine the strength of seasoned researchers and emerging professionals, to promote new research that is widely available to the public, thereby reaching a broader audience. In a similar fashion to scientific research in conservation, SiC strives to provide knowledge on alternative products, and spreads awareness for reducing waste and energy consumption through various means. This continues to develop, as the organization grows.

The new Resource Center is collating information on sustainability into one space, in order to make it easier for conservators to access a variety of materials. There is also the Greener Solvents Project, which is bringing together information on alternatives and will be published in the coming months. Our SiC Content Team has also broadened to include a new social media platform, and we are working on changes to the website (very exciting).

Established in 2016, SiC is now working on ways to keep Alumni of the Student Ambassador Program (SAP) connected, as members complete their studies. These strengthened connections from within and outside the organization, will hopefully encourage a greater awareness of alternative greener options. With a bit of luck, it will drive members and non-members to engage with the concept of sustainability in their labs, institutions, and universities. This will lead to more data and creative solutions being brought to light, emphasizing the incorporation of sustainable practices in conservation.n


Caillat, L., and Meunier-Salinas, L. (2018). Regeneration of PEG solutions used for waterlogged wood consolidation. In Proceedings of the thirteenth ICOM Group on Wet Organic Archaeological Materials conference, Florence, Itlay, 2016. pp. 305-310.

Endo, R., Kamei, K., Iida, I., Yokoyama, M. and Kawahara, Y. (2010). Physical and mechanical properties of waterlogged wood treated with hydrolyzed feather keratin. Journal of Archaeological Science, 37(6), pp.1311-1316.

Imazu, S., Ito, K., Fujita, S., and Morgós, A. (2016). The rapid trehalose conservation method for archaeological waterlogged wood and lacquerware. In Proceedings of the twelfth ICOM Group on Wet Organic Archaeological Materials conference, Istanbul, Turkey, 2013. pp. 110-117.

Jensen, J. (2018). Vacuum freeze-drying managed by object temperature. In Proceedings of the thirteenth ICOM Group ont Wet Organic Archaeological Materials conference, Florence, Italy, 2016. pp. 315-324.