Climate change is undoubtedly one of the greatest threats facing our planet, hence why many industries have started to make serious changes in order to reduce or offset their carbon emissions. However, it appears the usually liberal art world is slow on the uptake, continuing concerning practices with little thought for their impact on the planet.
Why should we worry?
On the surface, the art industry may not seem like the most likely of polluters. But next time you’re wandering through an art fair or visiting a gallery, think about the logistics involved in creating these experiences.
The worst culprits for the art world’s carbon footprint are fairs. The transportation of artworks to all corners of the world for short periods of time is an unsustainable practice if continued in the present way. That is not to mention the number of flights (public or private…) taken by gallery personnel and collectors to attend these shows. According to ArtNet, Dietl International, a specialist art shipping company, generated 1,000 metric tonnes of CO2 due to their shipments to Art Basel Miami Beach alone; bearing in mind that a car produces on average just 4.6 metric tonnes of carbon emissions in an entire year.
Linked to the transportation of works to fairs, the same problem applies to the delivery of works from galleries to collectors. At present, there is little to no demand for more eco-friendly solutions; likely due to it being one off purchase that clients do not consider having a major impact. Nevertheless, despite the convenience of disposable transportation packaging, its impact on the planet is far from temporary.
How can we make a change?
Whilst ‘global emissions are estimated to drop by 5%’ due to Coronavirus, according to The Art Newspaper, this is no reason to declare victory over the climate crisis just yet. Both on an individual, commercial and indeed political level, now is the time to invest in long term environmental solutions as there is still a long road ahead of us. Nevertheless, it’s not all doom and gloom, small steps are being taken to shrink the art world’s carbon footprint.
Firstly, the aforementioned shipping company Dietl now encouragingly offer eco-friendly shipping options. This includes carbon offsetting, which although is a controversial concept itself, at least contributes to investment in conservation and renewable energies. Equally as this adds a further cost to an already expensive transaction, the debate lies in whether the cost should be displayed as an added extra or buried within existing costs until there is greater demand. That being said, its presence as an option is likely to increase demand. However, this not only depends on collectors, but galleries too, as tight profit-margins make it difficult to prioritise the environment.
Meanwhile, companies such as RokBox in the UK are offering reusable artwork protection for the transportation process. This represents a great advancement for the industry by modernising their practice in a permanent way.
Furthermore, things are starting to change from earlier on in the process, with the artworks themselves being more environmentally focused. From ecological art to upcycling, artists are taking steps to use their creative platform to effect real change in bringing the climate crisis to the fore. Notably, Olafur Eliasson’s Ice Watch in 2014 displayed the melting of Greenland pack ice in real time in various global locations. Yet, these projects are not without emissions themselves as of course the ice had to be collected and transported all around the world.
Olafur Eliasson, Ice Watch, 2014
Ultimately we must ask ourselves whether it is enough to merely raise awareness for these issues or if it is time to genuinely make a difference. Hence why using recycled or natural materials, and where possible that are already local to the artists is a more sustainable solution.
Additionally, it is necessary that the art world takes advantage of the digital age by making exhibitions and fairs available in a virtual format to reduce the need of physically attending where possible. This in turn has consequences for the financial viability of putting on events if no one can attend for environmental issues, yet it can equally be viewed as an opportunity to further explore local collectors and artists.
The move online
As an entirely online platform, Artsper eliminates the need to travel to galleries in order to see and purchase works, which greatly reduces the carbon footprint of the art-buying process. Instead, collectors can buy works from anywhere around the world, without the pollution of air travel.
Additionally, whilst ‘digital pollution’ could be a hidden contributor to carbon emissions, companies such as Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services have committed to the use of renewable energy to power their infrastructure. If the pollution produced by the art market’s current practices is driving the industry to be more local, an online presence has never been more important to access art on an international scale.