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The Art of Sustainability: Exploring the Impact of Art, Artists and the Art Market on Our Environment

Posted on 25 October 2021

Mishcon de Reya, Art Law Partner Amanda Gray hosted a lively discussion as part of the Mishcon Academy: Purpose Matters series - The Art of Sustainability: Exploring the Impact of Art, Artists and the Art Market on Our Environment.

The panellists, Head of Mishcon Purpose Alex Rhodes, Global Head of Environmental Sustainability at Hauser & Wirth Cliodhna Murphy, Vice President Ground Operations Europe at DHL Mark Evans, and the award-winning international British artist Gavin Turk, discussed the role that sustainability plays in their businesses and the future world of art.

Alex Rhodes 

A warm welcome everybody for this panel discussion on the art of sustainability.  I'm Alexander Rhodes, I'm a partner and I head up our business called Mishcon Purpose which is a sustainability advisory business.

I'm also lucky to serve as the Chairman of Tusk. Tusk Trust is a UK charity and it serves to support the advancement of conservation across Africa and this year we're happy to to support the Tusk Lion Trail and I hope that you may have seen in Davenport's amazing Camaro in our hall downstairs each piece is a collaboration between a corporate sponsor and an artist who have poured their love into these pieces to highlight the plight of the lion and there are fewer than 20,000 animals in the wild today. 

Those lions or the 27 of them anyway will be auctioned at Bonham’s on the 9th of November to raise money to support conservation work.  And so without further ado I'm going to hand over to Amanda and thank you all very much for coming and thank you.

Amanda Gray 

Thank you so, much Alex for that warm welcome and welcome to the panel. I'm delighted to be joined by everyone here today.  It seems quite timely and perhaps a bit belatedly we're having this discussion, we've also had the hiatus of the pandemic to deal with and we're following on hot from the heels of Art Basel, we're now entering Frieze this week and Frieze Masters in London and it feels like the art market is actually getting back to business in a recognisable form.  So it seems a good time now to evaluate, evaluate and take stock of where the art market is in relation to sustainability.

Today it's a great opportunity for us to share knowledge and practical advice with our panellists - thank you so much for taking up the time to do this.  I'm joined today by Cliodhna Murphy who is Global Head of Environmental Sustainability at Hauser & Wirth, Mark Evans is the Vice President for Ground Operations Europe at DHL, Gavin Turk is a British artist from Guildford.  Of particular relevance to our conversation today is Gavin's use of waste and rubbish in art.  So Chliodhna can I hand over to you?

Cliodhna Murphy

Great sure yeah, yeah, yeah.  So I guess thank you so much for that introduction Amanda, I just wanted to start off by introducing my role and position at Hauser & Wirth.  It is a first for our industry they're in the contemporary commercial gallery world there hasn't been anybody who's overseen sustainability previously, but at Hauser & Wirth we felt quite passionately about how we could reduce our emissions and how we could start to build sustainable practices into our business and then further into the DNA of what we do. 

The objectives that we have are to reduce our absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 so that's in line with the Paris Climate Agreement and also in line with the Gallery Climate Coalition and we very much want to be steered and work in collaboration with the Gallery Climate Coalition because our industry as a, as a whole needs to make these changes.

We are working to sequester more carbon than our total footprint each year and we're also working to reduce our freight business travel and exhibition construction emissions and we've also signed up to the science-based targets initiative so it's a way in which organisations can work to reduce their emissions year on year in a tracked way that helps align with the Paris Climate Agreement.  For a commercial gallery this is quite a huge undertaking…

Amanda Gray 

Yes.

Cliodhna Murphy

… because you need to invest heavily in decarbonisation strategies and you need to look at the whole foundation of the way that the business runs in order to, to commit to it so it's a pretty major commitment…

Amanda Gray 

Yes.

Cliodhna Murphy

…to have made.  So then just digging into some of the approaches, we're looking at training.  So within our organisation looking at training our staff around carbon literacy.  In terms of our partnerships, so obviously working with organisations like Gallery Climate Coalition, Artists Commit is another organisation in New York, Galleries Commit, Art Switch - there's a whole host of these initiatives that have come about over the past 18 months and I think it's no coincidence that it's happened during the pandemic.  It gave people a little bit of a chance and a moment to think about like where are we really headed with this. 

We're evolving something called Carbon Budgets which I think in other industries has been adopted already but for the, for our sector it's really a first and we're the first commercial gallery to embark on that exercise with the aim of making significant reductions. Looking at digital innovation so a really interesting example of how we've started to do that is Art Basel this year. We decided not to print catalogues but to make a website. We saved over 17,000 carbon tons through doing that.  Obviously there are emissions associated with digital technology but from a waste and carbon perspective we definitely made some good changes there.

And yeah so this, this concept of the Carbon Budgets, it's also something that we're trying to work with the Gallery Climate Coalition on as well so that it becomes something that other galleries within the sector start to adopt and really thinking about like how artworks are shipped using Seafrays, how artworks are packed, using more sustainable and reusable packing materials is also a huge part of what we need to get to and where we need to get to.

Amanda Gray 

Thank you that's a really helpful overview and it, it feeds quite nicely into what Mark's going to talk about in terms of DHL and there's some overlap obviously in terms of your, your thought processes and how you developed the practical application centre packaging transportation around the art market because you work both in the art market and obviously much wider range of businesses as well.

Mark Evans 

I've been working for DHL Express for 23 years.  I know I don't look old enough and been in logistics for more than 30 years and in that time seen a huge, a huge move probably in the last eight, eight years, seven, eight years to the responsibility of large corporations like ours to be doing more and be more sustainable and hopefully from what I'm going to show, you can see that there is a huge amount of effort going on globally to reduce our carbon footprint which is sizeable we can't… I'm not going to sit here and deny that we don't have a large carbon footprint we do.  But we do take it very seriously to reduce that carbon footprint.  Some of the things, obviously airplanes are extremely pollutant and historically in the freight world the aeroplanes that we used were Boeing 747s.  Now one of the positives if we can, and there are positives that we can draw from the Covid pandemic, one of those positives was a reduction in passenger volumes and airplanes in the sky and a lot of airlines used that opportunity to retire their aged 747 aeroplanes which are exceptionally polluting.  We had 747 airplanes as well, but where the passenger volume dropped off, our volume increased significantly during that Covid time. 

So what we've done is we've replaced all of our 747s with Boeing 777. Boeing 777’s fuel burn is significantly less than a 747 to the point where just in fuel burn savings alone, the payback of those aeroplanes is over a very, very short period of time. The area that we're really making huge progress and you can see at the top there, our target by 2030 is not that far away is that 60% of our ground transportation will be using green fuels. Our target now is that every new facility that we build has to be carbon neutral.

Amanda Gray 

Uh huh.

Mark Evans 

Lastly looking at packaging, our packaging is something that you guys I'm sure are interested to hear about so we're looking at a lot of our deliveries are in in plastic flyers. Obviously plastic flyers are not environment friendly at all, so we're putting a lot of effort into finding a new eco flyer, some biodegradable but also still retains the security that our customers are looking for.

Amanda Gray 

Mm.

Mark Evans

Something that probably isn't an obvious one is reusable pallet wrap. Now pallet wrap if you think about the amount of pallets that have moved around the world globally and they're all wrapped in this clear sticky plastic that goes around the pallet. Now again, none of that is biodegradable, with these we can use these more than a hundred times each. We have a Bluetooth chip in each of these pallet reps and that actually can connect to wi-fi and actually give live updates of where these shipments are as well.

Amanda Gray 

That’s great.

Mark Evans 

So there's lots of other things that we're working on but I just thought that I'd give you a little idea of what some of the things that we're working on.

Amanda Gray 

Gavin can we hand over to you and to get to an artist's perspective?

Gavin Turk

You know I think that the idea of art and the importance of art is essential. The importance of storytelling and narrative and communication and, and how that happens is sort of central to the process of art. I think it's part of our moving and rich culture. So art itself is going to be part of the solution to this problem that we're in. But art really again is sort of built around the process of individualism and, and about consumerism and both these things, individualism and consume, consumerism or capitalism even - dare I say it – essentially like where they go and where they take us to is, in a way, a place where, where we sort of revolve around the idea of waste. We're basically we're addicted to and we're, and we're controlled by and we're now even more controlled by it because we've realised that ultimately that's the number one challenge that we have to face as species.

Sat on the panel here I suddenly was like why am I here? Well I'm here obviously because of my involvement with Tusk, a charity, NGO charity which has been set up to try and save the lions, try and save, try and save big mammals you know, it's, it's terrifying that big mammals need us to sa… you know, need us sitting here saving them in this way. The irony obviously is that, that you know, us artists have created painted plastic lions in order to do it so in a way we're, we're kind of trying to solve something but we're creating problems in the process of, of solving it and I think that, that you know, this is, this is in this sense quite obvious but you know and also moving the lions all over the world as well. And also actually you know, what we're doing is we're actually, we're actually giving support structure to wardens in Africa to kind of police, to police these areas to make sure that poachers and various other people don't come and kill the, kill these mammals. You know, I'm pleased to do it but it's, it's full of, it's full of complications for me.

Amanda Gray 

Some artists address issues through the environment and sustainability.

Gavin Turk

Yeah.

Amanda Gray 

For those that don't within their practice it's obviously a bit of a different conversation because they've got to address methods of production in terms of sustainability but they're not actually commenting upon it, they're not a sort of a commentating voice. It's a slightly different position isn't it and you obviously also work with a lot of artists as well. What are your, both your experiences in terms of that, in terms of artists engagement and where they want to take it?

Cliodhna Murphy

I mean I think there's like two ways to look at it. There are artists that want to in engage in environmentalism and that's what their practice is about but I think we have to also be careful not to be prescriptive around that and a number of the artists that we work with at the gallery are thinking about exhibition practices and the way in which they go about making their work and presenting their work that has a more sustainable focus.  Kind of I guess we're starting to help artists figure out how to like do this and, and I guess that's one of the parts of my job at Hauser & Wirth is to try and help artists also navigate this.

Gavin Turk

Yeah it's super important because it's very difficult for artists essentially to have the kind of the wherewithal to understand exactly how to properly offset you know, the carbon emissions that they're making and I think if the galleries and, and also if the transport companies can offer, immediately offer artists alternatives and ways of doing things, if they can say, oh I've got a way of packing this which is going, which is going to save you money and also save the, save the planet a little bit you know, then this is really good, this is really functional, this is really the syst… the gallery system working well under these terms.

Amanda Gray 

Mm.

Cliodhna Murphy

I think it's, it's about education isn't it.

Gavin Turk

Definitely.

Cliodhna Murphy

And, and about how, how we can all educate ourselves in this area.

Amanda Gray 

Do you think obviously we're talking, with the, the art calendar is punctuated by a series of art fairs and we've got Frieze. That's a traditional way or has been over the last say 15/20 years of selling art or enabling art to be seen and it involves the international transportation of artworks, people, collectors, buyers and they travel around certain locations. Do you think that will change given that we have this pause, this moment of reflection?

Cliodhna Murphy

I mean we're already seeing a change.

Amanda Gray

Mm.

Cliodhna Murphy

I think that there's the, the element of the hybrid like this event in a way. That the digital realm is I mean definite I'm speaking on behalf of our gallery, we're using that in a much more strategic way than we would have previously and sales will happen online in a way that they, in a sophisticated way, in a way that they wouldn't have previously.

Amanda Gray 

In terms of the gallery, can ask about the Gallery Climate Coalition because you, you're both involved aren't you, Cliodhna and also Gavin. Just about its evolution. There are about 550 members aren't there? Are they all commercial galleries, gallerists that are involved?

Cliodhna Murphy

Yeah so it's set up for commercial galleries.

Amanda Gray 

Yeah.

Cliodhna Murphy

For auction houses, I guess you said in your introduction the, the public sector has had industry bodies behind them for many years to try and look at this topic whereas commercial galleries have been pretty freewheeling when it comes to all of this so that's why the Gallery Climate Coalition was set up in order to try and create some guidelines and structures around, how galleries could start to reduce their carbon emissions and look at their waste.

Amanda Gray 

Yeah.

Cliodhna Murphy

And so there's chapters in London LA, Berlin and Milan at the moment and they are free.

Amanda Gray 

Yeah so they're free so it's interesting.  So it's a way of knowledge sharing which sort of transcends sort of various galleries developing their own strategies, is that right?

Cliodhna Murphy

Yeah and I think it really goes against this idea of competition as well…

Amanda Gray

Yeah.

Cliodhna Murphy

Because you know and commercial galleries are all competitive with one another and I think what's been great about Gallery Climate Coalition is that it's, that's, that's not what this is about.  That's about us sharing information and how we can do things better together as a whole industry because if we don't do it together, we won't be able to do it.

Amanda Gray 

Thank you ever so much to all our panellists, thank you much Cliodhna, thanks Mark, thank you very much Gavin and thanks so much to Alex as well and to our audience for attending.

Thank you, thanks.


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