Sustainable Art Shipping: Challenges and Solutions 

Sustainable Art Shipping: Challenges and Solutions

Environmental changes are affecting every aspect of life today. And while sustainable ways are already being implemented across many industries, a lot more system efforts should be made, and art shipping is no exception.

Environmental Challenges of Art Shipping

When it comes to sustainable art shipping, the first thing that comes to mind is packaging materials such as bubble wrap, foam core boxes, tape, and plastic envelopes. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. For art shipping companies, it’s not only about packaging but about the art transportation services as a whole. The American transport sector accounts for 29% of emissions. The bigger the load, the larger the carbon footprint it leaves in transit. Now imagine the footprint of transporting wall art or large sculptures. According to a 2020 study, art shipping by road from New York to Los Angeles creates emissions ranging from 4.36 kg to 29.07 kg of carbon dioxide (CO₂e), depending on the size of the work. However, by air, this indicator increases to 31.29-86.05 kg. Airfreight from New York to London causes 110.74-442.98 kg of carbon dioxide, while sea freight produces 3.53-14.13 kg of CO₂e.

Sustainable Art Shipping Strategies

So how can we achieve a zero-waste level? First of all, we need to assess the situation and calculate the current carbon footprint of our activity. There is even a formula for independent calculation: weight x distance x corresponding emission factor = kg CO₂e. 

Implementing a sustainable strategy can be done in two ways – emission reduction and carbon removal. 

Based on the above data, the transition from air to sea transport in a transatlantic shipment and from air to road transport across the continent is so obvious. The next step is to use low-carbon fuels and renewable energy. We should also rethink freight optimization and stop shipping framed art in a large frame to reduce the weight of the cargo and thus the carbon footprint. 

Plastic in packaging can easily be replaced with recycled tape, compostable foam and film, reusable boxes, and art bags. Common polymeric materials can be gradually replaced with chipboard, recycled shipping boxes, cardboard, kraft paper, and ‘lightweight’ art packaging materials. And ‘caution’ or ‘fragile’ stickers can be replaced with postage stamps.

Another growth zone is art storage facilities which should be converted into energy-efficient buildings certified according to the LEED system (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and the ISO 14001 and ISO 5000 green standards. There are already examples of conversion to photovoltaic systems that reduce energy consumption. Geothermal heating is an excellent environmentally friendly alternative to conventional heating. 

First Robins of Change

The arts field is spawning new environmental initiatives, but they are mainly nonprofit organizations whose resources are scarce by definition. Among them are Gallery Climate Coalition, Art to Zero, Clever Custodians, Ki Culture, Art/Switch, Julie’s Bicycle, Art to Acres. The Galleries Commit was established in New York in 2020 and has brought together a number of artists like Jordan Wolfson, Tauba Auerbach, Eddie Martinez, and Marilyn Minter, as well as collaborators from famous galleries. These include Gladstone, David Zwirner, and Hauser & Wirth. The latter is also actively working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030.

Sustainable Prospects of the Art Industry

As an art logistics company committed to sustainable development, we welcome and support an initiative that calls on galleries and auction houses to plant a tree for every painting sold or to forward a certain percentage of the proceeds from the sale of artworks to environmental organizations.

But the most important thing in the transition to sustainable ways in the art industry is the exchange of information between art institutions. It will allow us to create common standards and share resources within and between the art market players.