A SAP Blog from Northumbria University at Newcastle

Jen Bowens, Zuraida Akma, Adam Salisbury, Joanne Fulton and Megan Arch
SAP Team 2019-2020 studying Conservation of Fine Art in Burt Hall, Northumbria University.

Figure 1. Student Ambassador Program icon.

At the beginning of the new academic year in October 2019, Adam, Joanne, Megan, Zuraida and myself formed a team to take on some of the challenges set by the Student Ambassador Program with the enthusiastic support of our classmates, tutors, and technicians. Together we held regular meetings to pitch ideas for greener practice at our studios in Burt Hall, Northumbria University. We were all well aware of sustainable practice at home and in our artistic practices, but sustainability in conservation brings its own unique set of issues. We spent a lot of time during the first semester familiarising ourselves with the many different considerations one might have when trying to “green up” their conservation practice. To break up the work we each took a subject for research that we had particular interest in: glove waste, green solvents, the ways different materials are recycled and ways to reuse our spent materials. We presented a PowerPoint to the other students, explaining conservation-specific sustainability issues, what we can improve on at Burt Hall and how we can achieve greater sustainability. The presentation sparked great conversation amongst the students about how best to enact those improvements and ways to keep sustainable thinking a core part of our training as conservators.

Our self-assessment of Burt Hall flagged our use and disposal of gloves as an issue we could improve upon. We conducted a lot of research into how nitrile gloves are made, used and disposed of and what sustainable options are available to those who use them. We considered biodegradable gloves and recycling schemes like Terracycle®. However, we found that our biodegradable gloves would be incinerated anyway due to the disposal methods of the university, and the recycling schemes required more resources than we had available to us at the time. Although we haven’t yet figured out the best way to dispose of gloves at Burt Hall, we did gain a much greater understanding of this complex issue and hopefully next semester will bring more progress. In the meantime, the students of Burt Hall remain aware of their glove use, and try to reuse them where possible.

In busy studios housing intense workshops, it’s easy for materials to become disorganised and damaged. At Burt Hall there are designated drawers for offcuts of different materials as well as used materials that can still be used again. We devised a rota for tidying our offcut drawers on a weekly basis to keep these offcuts easily accessible and in good condition. Our classmates seemed to find this helpful and it made them more likely to reach for an offcut or previously used material rather than cutting the material anew. Some students also began collecting paper offcuts that may not be useful for treatments but still clean enough to either be recycled or used to make new handmade paper in the Fine Art building’s Paper Making Studio. We learned a lot through the SiC Student Ambassador Program and I hope we can bring these considerations and skills forward into our professional careers. Some of my team members share their experiences below.

Zuraida Akma says, “As a Student Ambassador of SiC, the experience has increased my awareness of sustainability and encouraged me to really think outside of the box with my colleagues. I had a fantastic experience during our presentation on green chemistry and alternatives to solvents. I also had the pleasure of introducing some plants (Dragon Tree, Snake Plant and Devil’s Ivy) that could naturally eliminate selected VOCs such as xylene, benzene and toluene as well as improve the quality of indoor air. The experience has taught me about the evolving research and positive outcome SiC could bring to the profession. My hope is that these ideas would gain more interest and could come into realisation. I am excited to have been part of it and hope to bring a more sustainable practice in our department next year!”

Adam Salisbury says, “The SiC handbook has been really valuable for providing advanced information on specific aspects of our practice and how to make them more environmentally friendly, especially regarding the availability of ‘greener’ solvents and the environmental considerations for solvent use during cleaning treatments. Equally valuable were details of various glove disposal and recycling schemes, as well as guidance on waste and recycling management. This has significantly improved our awareness of the various options available and how we could incorporate these considerations into our working practice in the studio environment, at Northumbria University and beyond.”

We’d like to thank the Student Ambassador Program Team and everyone at Sustainability in Conservation for organising a program that supports our education and informs our conservation practice for the future.