Sustainable Heritage, Sustainable Museums: why, how and with whom?

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The Gulbenkian Museum Academy kicks off with an international conference dedicated to debating the role of museums and the heritage sector in combating climate change and promoting sustainability.


Throughout Europe, cultural institutions and their partners are investing more and more energy and time on the most important debate of our time: how can we contribute to combating climate change, to preserving ecosystems and species, and to promoting life on the planet. Monuments and museums are attempting to spur knowledge production and dissemination, encourage discussion and the exchange of ideas, as well as drive experimentation and innovation towards a more sustainable society.

Reflecting upon the impact of climate change and energy use on museums and cultural heritage is a complex and urgent challenge, which brings together discordant threads and tensions. Buildings, on the one hand, must be prepared to ensure the long-term preservation of their history and their collections, while, on the other hand, they must be ready to open their doors to thousands and even millions of enthusiastic visitors. Trying to minimize risks to collections and buildings and mitigate the negative impact of energy use on the natural habitat surrounding these institutions, while also ensuring a productive economic cycle, is a very demanding objective; one which requires advancing new practices and technologies, as well as promoting new thinking. How can resource management be aligned with conservation needs? And how can artistic production and cultural programming meet the greatest challenge of our times?

This meeting will focus on different aspects of this endeavor, on recent efforts to answer these questions, mainly through case studies and testimonies of best practices being implemented in leading institutions throughout Europe and in Portugal.

Organization: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and DGPC – Directorate General for Cultural Heritage.

The Gulbenkian Museum Academy promotes professional discussions and learning around key themes that face world museums today; this event inaugurates the Academy’s programme for 2023.



09:15 / Opening Session

Guilherme d’Oliveira Martins – Calouste Gulbenkian FoundationJoão Carlos dos Santos – DGPC – Directorate General for Cultural Heritage

09:30 / Introduction to the Meeting

Isabel Raposo de Magalhães – DGPC – Directorate General for Cultural Heritage

09:45 / Opening Conference

Sustainable Development at the Louvre: a Long-Term, Multi-faceted Effort
While museums have the mission of preserving and exhibiting their collections, sharing knowledge and welcoming a wide audience, they also have to find ways of combining these missions with the increasingly pressing need to work towards a more sustainable society. Sustainable development, and more broadly, corporate social responsibility, is an issue to which the Musée du Louvre has been officially committed for the past 13 years. There are many facets to this subject, and many responses to it. While we can't cover them all, given the broad spectrum to which they refer, we will examine some of the issues the Musée du Louvre is confronted with, and the responses that have been or will be provided, depending on the site concerned.Anne de Wallens – Musée du Louvre— Intermission 15 min. —

Panel 1 – Leading the Way: The Role of International Organisations

Rui Xavier – Calouste Gulbenkian Museum
11:00 / From Risk to Resilience: ICCROM’s Global Initiatives on Disaster Risk Management and Climate Action for Cultural Heritage
Statistics point to the fact that in recent decades, most disaster events were hydrological, meteorological or climatological in nature and have adversely affected various typologies of cultural heritage around the world. Recent projections from the United Nations point that global warming could rise up to 3.2 degrees Celsius by 2100, which is higher than the limit of 2 degrees Celsius set by the Paris Agreement. Moreover, historic cities globally and especially in developing countries are witnessing increasing pressure of urbanization that exacerbates their vulnerability to climate risks as demonstrated by increased instances of urban flooding, heat islands and epidemics.The talk will highlight the impact of climate change on cultural heritage. It will also illustrate how heritage can contribute towards building resilience through traditional knowledge systems accumulated over generations of human experience in dealing with changing environmental conditions. Various polices, strategies and planning measures necessary for mitigating and adapting to the risks of climate change will be explained through examples along with transformative change needed for creating enabling conditions for implementation. The presentation will conclude by highlighting various international initiatives undertaken by ICCROM for reducing climate risks and building resilience of cultural heritage.Rohit Jigyasu – ICCROM (online participation)
Cultural heritage as a tool for sustainability and climate adaptation: ICOMOS actions and recommendations
The Agenda 2030 recognises the importance of safeguarding cultural and natural heritage for climate adaptation. The rise in temperature due to greenhouse gas emissions has been a known phenomenon since 1824, and the construction sector is the world's main contributor to CO2 emissions. Nevertheless, the preference for new construction persists, even in risky coastal and estuarine areas. ICOMOS has the mission of conserving cultural heritage and promotes the relationship with natural heritage for climate adaptation since 1972, following the UNESCO Convention for the Protection of the World Heritage. In 2007 adopted the New Delhi Resolution on the impact of climate change on cultural heritage. The scientific plan for 2021-24 is entitled "Cultural Heritage and Climate Action", the central theme of our activities. Examples of good practice and ICOMOS publications are presented, particularly those developed by the two Working Groups dedicated to Climate Change and the Sustainable Development Goals.Soraya Genin – ICOMOS - Portugal / ISCTE - Instituto Universitário de Lisboa
11:40 / Sustainable Museum: a Model to Create
Born in the environmental field, the discourse on Sustainability is now closely associated with Cultural Heritage. Defined by its ‘living’ character, based on deep and intrinsic relationships with Economy, Environment and Society, this issue brings out in a particularly explicit way new stakes that go far beyond those classically associated with conservation. This association transforms our ways of apprehending Heritage and Sustainability and acting in these two fields: on the one hand, Heritage introduces new variables and priorities, requiring us to take into account the notion of sustainable conservation; on the other, the founding principles of Sustainability broaden (and upset) the field of Heritage, questioning the museum model and committing it to a profound transformation – adaptation and resilient efforts advocated by the IPCC sixth Assessment Report and relayed by the international museum community.Hélène Vassal – ICOM
12:00 / Charting the Path to Sustainability: the KIK-IRPA Sustainability Unit in Heritage Preservation
Sustainability is a fundamental aspect deeply embedded in our work, yet embedding it in our daily practices requires a shift in our mindset. While transitioning to a new dynamic may be complex, it is imperative to address it now. At the Sustainability Unit of KIK-IRPA (Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage), our mission is to assist cultural institutions in their sustainable journey through interdisciplinary projects and (inter)national networks. Through projects like Climate2Preserv and Resilient Storage, we develop protocols to implement energy-saving strategies for indoor-climate management, empowering cultural institutions to reduce their environmental impact. Estelle De Bruyn & Annelies Cosaert – Coordination of Climate2Preserv at IRPA and NEMO— Intermission 90 min. —

Panel 2 – Museums in the 21st Century: Greening Our Way Forward

Margarida Mafra – CAM
14:30 / The Sacred, the System and the Place of Shelter
Reflecting on learnings from past projects, from Serpentine’s General Ecology to the touring opera-performance Sun & Sea, curator Lucia Pietroiusti discusses the possible roles art, culture and cultural organisations can play towards environmental justice and balance – proposing a holistic, artist-driven and systems-led strategy for finding purpose in a time of breakdown.Lucia Pietroiusti – Serpentine Galleries
14:50 / Museum Architecture, Between the Media Attention and the Challenges of Sustainability
Following the museum boom of the 1990s, when architectural expression was often prioritised over environmental concerns, the past two decades have witnessed a gradual paradigm shift. By examining some exemplary cases in various locations, this presentation aims to reflect on recent experiences in the field of museum architecture, with reuse, integration and resource efficiency being favoured as a means of preserving heritage and the environment.Helena Barranha – IST and IHA (NOVA FCSH)
15:10 / Materials and Sustainability. Challenges and Expectations for Artistic and Exhibition Practices: the Case of Ceramics and Glass
Andreia Ruivo – NOVA School of Science and Technology
15:30 / An Art Centre Thinking About the Future
What are the challenges facing a philanthropic and cultural institution that places sustainability at the centre of its strategic goals while also being a major producer of artistic and cultural events – and more –, with thousands of square metres of air-conditioned spaces that welcome hundreds of thousands of people a year from all over the world?Miguel Magalhães – Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation

Closing Session

16:45 / Reflections

Jessica Hallett – Calouste Gulbenkian Museum

17:00 / Environmental Sustainability at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

Concern about the current climate crisis and the need to commit to the Sustainable Development Goals is currently on the agenda of all museums. However, the creation of a green team, the development of a strategic framework, the measurement of the carbon footprint, or the implementation of an annual action plan are complex processes that require strong leadership, deep analysis, intense dedication, and the revision of internal policies. The presentation will address the case of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, explaining its sustainability journey and sharing practical examples of energy efficiency and circular economy, programming initiatives, as well as awareness-rising and collaborative projects.Daniel Vega – Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (online participation)

17:45 / Final Remarks

António Filipe Pimentel – Calouste Gulbenkian Museum

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation reserves the right to collect and keep records of images, sounds and voice for the diffusion and preservation of the memory of its cultural and artistic activity. For further information, please contact us through the Information Request form.

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