Gallery Space: Effective Actions   Back to Resources


Gallery Spaces


  • Exhibitions are inherently temporary which can lead to unnecessary waste. Forward planning, reusing and recycling can mitigate this.

  • Simple changes to office best practices can hugely improve general sustainability.

  • Convert high energy-consuming halogen lighting to energy-saving LED lighting. This will reduce energy bills and eliminate the need for costly - and non-recyclable - consumables.

  • Materials should be carefully considered with an aim to reduce and reuse as much as possible. Have a clear plan for how to reuse, share, or properly dispose of all materials used before purchase. 

  • Audits suggest that a gallery's electricity use might account for up to 30% of its annual greenhouse gas emissions.


Exhibition Installation

Exhibitions are some of the fastest moving, and most temporary, aspects of the commercial art space. Their temporary nature leaves exhibitions prone to unnecessary waste and energy consumption.


Improving the sustainability of exhibition programming is a process which must begin in advance of the exhibition itself and is a continual goal which we as a coalition are continually striving for. Be sure to have a deinstallation plan in place before construction and understand the post-exhibition destination of every material used. Remember that all materials have an embeded energy cost and this cost must be considered alongside its monetary expense.


This is an ongoing process, requiring systemic change, to which there are no easy answers. In the end, the age-old mantra of reduce, reuse, recycle, should be at the heart of any planning phase and organisations such as Opera North have demonstrated the positive changes that can be made. Be sure to have a clear deinstallation plan for recycling, reusing, or ‘upcycling’ any materials used in place before beginning construction.


GCC, with the help of its members, will be continually working to refine how exhibitions are planned and implemented and leveraging the collaborative power of our members to push for more effective systems of reuse to help galleries reduce their consumption.


Many materials used in exhibition displays such as plinths, temporary wall cladding and timbers can easily be reused, and these reused materials should be preferred over newer materials where possible in future projects (providing they are safe). 


A number of organisations specialise in the reuse and sharing of exhibition materials and the GCC will work to promote such initiatives around the world.


Art Fairs, Festivals and Biennials

Art fairs, festivals, and biennials are events in which all strands of art world activity come together: energy, shipping, travel, building and construction, packaging, and digital. Each art fair or biennial, whether held in a temporary or pre - existing structure, along with each participating gallery, needs to take responsibility for their individual environmental impact. It could also be argued that art fairs form a geographical focus point which reduces other international travel. But conversely the considerable energy and resources required to host art fairs, festivals, and biennials is also clear. There needs to be more discussion and research around the ecological and material impact of art fairs, festivals, and biennials. Discussions which the GCC aims to actively contribute to moving forward. 


For advice and information on how art fairs, festivals, biennials and participating galleries and artists can reduce their carbon emissions and waste, see the individual GCC website sections on shipping, travel, packaging, energy, and recycling.


Effective Actions

  • Ensure consumables are made from recycled materials, or are fully recyclable, or both, where possible.
  • Optimising daylight and switching to LED lighting is effective both in reducing a carbon footprint and in lowering financial costs. LED lighting also reduces waste, as the need for replacement bulbs is greatly reduced.
  • Avoid materials which are plastic laminated. Moreover, timber materials are often pressure treated to improve durability and in some cases can release a number of harmful compounds upon breaking down.
  • Save offcuts of packing material in a 'remnants bin' to use for wrapping smaller artworks.
  • Avoid using medium-density fibreboards where practicable as these materials have been shown to release harmful amounts of volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) and are environmentally unfriendly.
  • Paint is by definition not reusable and care should be taken to minimise its use. When purchasing, be sure to avoid any paints which have added VOCs and/or heavy metals such as lead. There are organisations that collect leftover paint pots to reuse in community projects. Check if this is available in your area.
  • Seek to reuse built items such as plinths, wall sections, and carpets and minimise the use of non-recyclable and non-reusable materials such as vinyl, window blackouts, filler plaster.


Changing Office Culture

The culture and attitude within a workplace has a major impact on the carbon emission (and energy bills) of a building. From shutting off computers at night, to minimising printing, there are multiple steps that can be taken to reduce an office's carbon emissions and office waste.


The most important are:


  • Switch to LED lighting and make the most of available natural daylight where possible. 
  • Turn off lighting and electronic devices at night/weekends and minimise heating and cooling systems where possible. Consider using zoned energy controls to control low-usage areas separately.
  • Ban all single-use materials such as plastic water bottles, plastic lined tea bags, Nespresso pods etc.
  • Install water saving devices such as timed taps, low volume toilets, and (where applicable) rainwater catchers for bathroom (non-drinkable) water supplies.
  • Printers should also be automatically set to print double-sided. When finding truly eco-friendly paper to stock your office, always check the paper supplier’s green credentials online or check for the FSC label.
  • Consider reducing the amount of printed out single use works lists and press releases and reduce unnecessary publication and magazine subscriptions or ensure that only one copy is being delivered to the gallery 
  • Alternatives to print-outs include laminated versions that can be reused, or QR codes that allow visitors to access information via their mobile phones.
  • Conduct annual carbon audits to monitor changes and improvements.


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