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Kunst Haus Wien
Photo: Eva Kelety

04.10.2021

Fighting the Energy Guzzlers!

Sustainability is a subject that concerns us all. And museums in particular are witnessing the emergence of a new awareness of the need for change and for preserving natural resources. The ambitious target for the future is climate neutrality.

This is why Bettina Leidl, Director of Kunst Haus Wien, has launched the 17 Museums 17 SDGs – Sustainable Development Goals initiative, in the course of which 17 museums are developing concepts for the implementation of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Here, she tells you what museums can concretely do in order to be more environmentally friendly.

Bettina Leidl
Photo: Stefan Oláh

Why is sustainability important for museums?

While they were closed during the pandemic, museums asked themselves lots of questions: How relevant are we? What contribution can we make to social cohesion? Which substantive discussions can we trigger? Many artists are currently addressing such urgent socio-political issues as the loss of biodiversity or the melting of the polar icecaps. Art can make complex subjects more accessible. Who really reads comprehensive scientific studies? It is precisely the emotional approach offered by art that can sharpen our awareness and alter our perspective.

What does this mean for Kunst Haus Wien?

All institutions must ask themselves how sustainable they really are. At Kunst Haus Wien, the answer is probably more obvious because the museum was designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser. He stood up for environmental protection, demanded that we live our lives in harmony with nature and always got involved with such issues as nuclear power and the protection of the rainforest. In the 1970s, this new awareness was avant-garde, but today such subjects as sustainability and social responsibility are right at the heart of society.

What can a museum concretely do for sustainability?

This starts with really simple things such as using chlorine-free paper or companies with an environmental label to print invitations and catalogues, as well as generally acting sustainably. Toxic substances are used in the restoration and conservation of artworks – but how are these correctly disposed of? Storage, packaging and transport are important areas. But one also has to ask if we really need a new architectural setting for each exhibition or if we can reuse things rather than simply throwing them away.

What is the largest source of environmental problems in museums?

Air conditioning, humidification systems and the lights in exhibition spaces are the greatest energy guzzlers. Here, we need far-reaching concepts and investments, the switch to LED technology, more efficient air conditioning and improvements in the built substance. Vienna wants to be climate-neutral by 2040, but this ecological transformation is a complex challenge for museums.

You launched the 17 Museums 17 SDGs – Sustainable Development Goals initiative. What is this?

It’s a pilot project that was initiated by ICOM Österreich, the International Council of Museums and the Ministry of Arts and Culture. The board of ICOM Österreich invited 17 museums to address the 17 UN Development Goals as a way of contributing to changing our society on the ecological, economic and social levels. 17 museums across Austria – from tiny ones to federal institutions – were nominated and are acting as role models. Each was randomly assigned a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) and is now working on its concept. This could range from a charging station for electric vehicles via a more sustainable shop to the reorganisation of the collection.

Kunst Haus Wien
Photo: Eva Kelety