We’re printing this the day before the COP26 summit, and there’s been a lot of news this week on how international organisations are working towards change – with a particular focus on carbon and plastic – but how is the art world addressing its own impact on the climate, and what are the key issues to address?
Firstly, in all conversations around climate impact with galleries, there is an understanding of the impact of production, but the learned habits of the visitor economy overlook the impact of how visitors move between spaces. There are efforts in some national galleries to encourage visitors to use more sustainable travel options to visit them, but it puts the onus on the individual rather than the organisation.
In most galleries, the drinks at preview events are still supplied in plastic glasses; their café’s sell single use bottles, which slightly undermines their drive to use compostable straws.
Then there is the reality of working from home. Yes there is less commuting, but remote working creates higher gas and electric demands while homes are heated during working hours as well as evenings, for every employee not in the office. But there is change happening, with galleries powering through individual commitments, as well as the collective work of new networks like Shift.
As for Art in Liverpool, we understand the impact of printing these newspapers, but have to weigh it against the need for them, particularly with readers who aren’t connected online. Every issue we print is printed on paper made of a combination of 19.4% virgin wood from sustainably farmed trees, and 80.6% recycled paper. There are arguments for paper in itself being a carbon store, but that relies on efforts of readers to recycle or compost it properly, and shouldn’t be assumed.
The actual process of printing on Newsprint is quite astonishing, and we had the privilege of seeing our first issue print in person. Every sheet is laid out on four separate aluminium plates, which are etched with the images broken down into Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black plates. These are set up on a gigantic roller, which prints each colour in sequence as a huge roll of paper speeds underneath.
Historically, those aluminium plates were landfill, but today they are melted down and reused (apart from one plate I managed to keep from the first issue).
Art in Liverpool has it relatively easy though. We have one problem to address. Galleries with foot traffic have so many targets to set, and I have no doubt they will get there, but the support of local government is going to be crucial to addressing how we use our town centres – including galleries.