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Sustainability in Conservation-Restoration
By the time this editorial is published the Copenhagen Climate Conference 2009 will be going on.This is the perfect opportunity to reflect upon the relationship between conservation-restorationand the rest of the world in general, and more precisely, its sustainability.Nowadays sustainability as a word has become almost a cliché, however its concept should bereconsidered. The term sustainability is most commonly used when referring to environment but it is quite rarely used in conservation issues. However, our activity does affect other areas, having aparticularly direct impact on three main sectors which are all interconnected: works of art,environment and society.Obviously the correct intervention on works of art is the main focal point of we professionals, but there are some factors that have not yet been assessed well enough, such as the real consequences of repetitive interventions on the same artwork. The environment involves not only the short-termconsequences of our decisions but more so the long-term consequences which are, if not dis-regarded, often ignored. We are becoming evermore aware of our carbon footprint and indeed carbonis mainly responsible for climate change. We tend to forget that there are many processes that couldbe more eco-friendly than most of our usual professional practices. And finally, society because it involves a wide set of factors such as cultural tourism or the socio-economical impact of conservation.The technological revolution that our society is going through has had a positive influence on ourmethodologies and even some of our techniques. However conservation practice in workshops hasnot changed that much in past few decades. In fact, new equipment and materials may be availableto us but the practical work is still performed in the same basic ways.Being aware of the sustainability factor could even be understood as a measure of preventiveconservation. The best practical methods are already dictating principles that reduce and minimiseconsumption; for example, the use of ‘cold’ lights in exhibitions is art and environment-friendly.However, best practices are not always the priority concerns that we may take into our workshops.For example, what exactly do we do with the remains of the solvents? Do we all store and thendeliver them to a specialised residue company? Unfortunately, I’m afraid not.In the case of solvents, very few are innocuous for ourselves or the environment, they aredangerous and extremely toxic, even cancerous. Still, they are vital for conservation proceduressuch as consolidation or cleaning. From this point of view, the use of gels was a majorbreakthrough as it helps to significantly reduce the actual amount of solvents that are laterreleased into the environment or manipulated by the technician. The use of laser technology isnon-toxic and is already a common practice in stone-based materials but there is still muchresearch to be done about its use on organic materials. But are there really any ecological treatments? Is there any research being carried out in this field? Not to my knowledge. The use of nanomaterials (solvent-free) is advancing in huge steps and its application to conservation shouldbe better considered, not only because of its impact but also for ethical concerns.It would be interesting to assess the consequences of our profession on the environment, onsociety and even on the economy. The study of these aspects is still at a teething stage. We lackmuch information which may be required to make decisions and to take on responsibility for moreconscientious practices.Although this subject is normally not discussed on the international sphere, there will be aconference in May 2010 in Barcelona organized by Grup Tècnic precisely about these issues that promises to be extremely interesting. A ‘must go’ in my opinion.
Rui BordaloEditor in Chief