An Environmental Management Team is the Heart of Sustainable Preservation Practice

Your goal:

  • An optimal preservation environment that achieves the best possible preservation of collections with the least possible consumption of energy and is sustainable over time.

Successful attainment of that goal depends on a strong working relationship between departments:

  • Collection staff cannot change the mechanical system that produces the storage environment without facilities help
  • Facilities staff cannot fully implement sustainability measures without collections staff defining an environment that does not put collections at risk
  • Without administrative support, it can be difficult to work together to achieve and sustain an environment that saves energy without causing harm to collections

Team members should include or represent everyone whose decisions or behavior has an effect on the environment in collection storage and display locations. Depending on the size or your institution, that can include a large number of people from institutional departments with different priorities and standards of operation. It is important to find people who are willing to work together, to share information, and to respect what each person brings to the team. The collections champion often takes the lead but the facilities team members are the key to success.

One common roadblock is the fact that facilities staff are focused on resolving immediate concerns, and rarely have the time to take a more holistic, strategic approach. People are busy, and facilities management or upper administration may not immediately see the work of an environmental management team as a productive use of resources. At the same time, most institutions are under pressure to reduce energy costs.

Team ApproachThis is one of the reasons why buy in from upper management is crucial. Without their support and encouragement it can be difficult for individuals to commit the time needed to understand and improve the storage environment. It may be helpful to explain the benefits of team management of the environment to administrators. Primary inducements include the potential for energy savings (big money) through operational changes, the availability of grant money for environmental improvement projects ($40,000 to $350,000 from NEH SCHC programs and up to $150,000 from the IMLS Museums for America program), and the fact that working together and sharing knowledge really does save everyone time in the end.

Once a team has been formed, create a formalized structure for working together and identify both short-term and long-term goals. First steps include developing a shared understanding of both the nature and capabilities of existing mechanical systems and a clear determination of the needs of the collections. Consider the following:

  • What preservation climate is the existing mechanical system actually delivering on an annual basis?
  • What preservation climate is the existing system capable of delivering on an annual basis?
  • What environment is achievable given your regional climate, your building, and your mechanical system?
  • What environment is best for the collections in your institution? Which collections are most vulnerable to deterioration?
  • What environment is acceptable to occupants of the space? Can work areas be separated from storage spaces?
  • Is the system consuming more energy than necessary to deliver the actual climate?
  • What changes are necessary to achieve optimal operation?
  • What procedures would ensure continued optimal operation?

Mechanical systems are complex and no two are exactly alike. Creation of system diagrams and cartoons can help with your initial investigation. Often there is no one person who has an overview of system operation or the person who knows the system best will not have the authority to make operational changes. Try to understand all the ways the system can dehumidify, humidify, heat the air, and cool the air. Decide on one or two operational changes that could be done on a trial basis to address concerns the team identifies. For example:

Problem

Storage space is more humid (damper) than desirable

Risk

Increased rate of natural aging; increased risk mechanical decay and mold growth

Potential Causes

  • Lack of dehumidification capability
  • Disabled dehumidifier
  • Lack of sufficiently cool chilled water
  • Insufficient maintenance of dehumidifier or dirty cooling coil
  • Cooled air set point higher than necessary
  • Insufficient reheating

Potential Solutions

  • Raise the temperature to lower the RH – use the Dew Point Calculator (www.dpcalc.org) to estimate how high the temperature can go to lower the RH to desired levels
  • Repair or replace unreliable dehumidifier
  • Invest in dehumidification capability

 

Problem

Storage space is drier than desirable (low RH)

Risk

Increased rate of mechanical decay in vulnerable materials

Potential Causes

  • Lack of dehumidification capability
  • Disabled dehumidifier
  • Insufficient maintenance of dehumidifier
  • Overheating in winter
  • Excess outside air in winter

Potential Solutions

  • Lower the temperature to raise the RH – use the Dew Point Calculator (www.dpcalc.org) to estimate how low the temperature can go to raise the RH to desired levels
  • Repair or replace unreliable dehumidifier
  • Invest in dehumidification capability

 

Problem

Although the temperature is steady, storage space data shows wide seasonal swings in RH

Risk

Increased rate natural aging, increased risk of mechanical decay, periods of high RH increase the risk of mold growth

Potential Causes

  • Lack of humidification and dehumidification capability
  • Insufficient maintenance of equipment
  • Excess outside air
  • Building envelope issues

Potential Solutions

  • Develop a management approach that deals with the extremes by defining and enforcing seasonal set points
  • Repair or replace unreliable equipment
  • Invest in additional mechanical equipment for environmental management

 

If your institution has instituted a successful cross-disciplinary environmental management team, please let us know. We would love to highlight your projects in future editions of Climate Notes. Please contact Patricia Ford at pafpph@rit.edu to share your stories.