Sustainability in temporary exhibitions

In the current climate crisis context, sustainability should be a must when planning and designing temporary exhibitions. They can incorporate responsible values and be produced using a certain approach. The temporary must be sustainable, and this can be achieved through creativity.

What is sustainability in museology?

There are three ways of understanding the concept of sustainability in the field of museology: environmental, social, and economic sustainability. This is achieved through good resource use, eco-responsible design of temporary and permanent exhibitions, architecture, and good practices on the part of the staff. Sustainability should be part of the museum's mission, as it should contribute to the cultural well-being of the community (Worts, 2006). In this article, we will focus on environmental sustainability.

Why is it important to consider the concept of sustainability in museology and museography?

Sustainability improves museum service on a social level, helps to make decisions about collection management, brings long-term financial stability, and, most importantly, prepares future generations to live in a more ethical world.

Another reason is that it offers new opportunities to innovate in heritage interpretation and communication, reaching a wider audience as society becomes more inclusive and caring. A sustainable culture leads to a more optimal use of resources and gives value to social responsibility.

Ephemeral is not synonymous with disposable

To be sustainable, consider using more durable materials that can be reused and transformed into other valuable objects. Temporary exhibitions are continuously assembled and disassembled, but this does not mean they should be "disposable". The key is creativity in giving objects a second life and finding materials with the smallest possible ecological footprint. In addition, materials should be easily recyclable if there is no choice but to use them.

For an exhibition designer, it is crucial to know the resources and environmental impact each material or product generates, both during its useful life and afterwards: if it is discarded, can it be recycled? Does this recycling generate energy costs or CO2 emissions? Will the people in charge of dismantling it process it correctly? Some sustainable materials can only be recycled in a specific way. If they have to be transported too far for recycling, the CO2 emissions can be counterproductive.

Optimising resources

In general, when we talk about sustainability, we talk about the "4 R's". In museology, too. To design and set up a sustainable temporary exhibition, a series of steps must be followed: reduce, reuse, recycle and reuse again.

**Reducing **is based on generating less waste in the assembly of the stands, making conscious and responsible consumption and using sustainable materials.

Reuse is about repairing or reusing items from other exhibitions or items that are considered "waste" but can be helpful. For example, in many cases, walls or panels can be reused.

Recycling is the process of separating materials in an environmentally friendly way at the end of the exhibition. The aim is to discard as little as possible and reuse as much as possible.

Recover is about saving energy and resources for the following exhibitions. When the temporary exhibition ends, set aside valuable materials to give them a second life; do not throw them away.

Economics and sustainability

Sustainability is closely linked to museums' economic objectives. Several economic practices are recommended to reduce environmental impact, including collaboration or partnership with other cultural entities to reduce waste and save on resources (e.g., exchanging furniture and audiovisual equipment). Another recommendation is that museums should be sourced from local products, supporting small and medium-sized enterprises in the surrounding area and reducing CO2 emissions in transport.

It is also essential to remember that a more sustainable management of the exhibitions and the museum as a whole can have a positive economic impact on the institution in the medium to long term.

How to run a sustainable temporary exhibition

The design and mounting of temporary exhibitions must begin to take steps to regulate the expenditure and investment of natural resources to benefit the planet. What kind of materials can be used to achieve more sustainable results?

  • Cardboard
  • Honeycomb cardboard.
  • The "second life" of some objects.
  • Recycled concrete to create structures.
  • Tiles or panels made from recycled plastics.
  • Cellulose fibre from recycled paper manufactured in a low-energy process (behaves similarly to wood).
  • Polypropylene, polybutylene and polyethene are alternatives to PVC.
  • Bread made from wheat crop waste.
  • Ecological paint is based on milk protein, clay, lime, or mineral pigments.
  • Recycled glass as a wall and furniture covering.
materiales alternativos para exposicion sostenible

Seven keys to sustainable museum management

For a museum to be sustainable means not only having to take care of its permanent or temporary exhibitions. The museum management can be improved step by step, from the architecture to the composition of the collection to the infrastructures or the behavioural norms of the employees. Here are some measures to consider:

  • Reducing energy consumption (e.g. by renewing computer equipment).
  • Promote fair trade in their commercial spaces.
  • Establish environmental management systems
  • Become a space for sustainable cultural production.
  • Informing the public about ecology and sustainability
  • Focusing on sustainable materials and reuse
  • Link museums to sustainable tourism

Over the last decade, museums have focused on energy savings and a "green" message to the public. These institutions, under pressure from the current unfavourable circumstances for all public economies, have two options today: to limit themselves to their core business by offering a minimum of services consistent with their objectives or to reinvent themselves completely. Both are equally worthy (Negri, 2012).

Ultimately, cultural entities that successfully create cultural value for the public achieve economic value. Research on this topic shows that museums should adopt practices and policies that focus on reducing environmental impact (Sala and Gallo, 2007) and have pedagogical intent about climate change and ecological values (Cameron, 2012).
We are also committed to starting step by step: changing the materials or the design of temporary exhibitions to make them more sustainable is a good starting point.


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DECARLI, G. (2006). Un museo sostenible. Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica.

BERNAD, S. (2013). Exposiciones temporales y sostenibilidad. Estudio sobre las prácticas y propuestas sostenibles en los museos de Barcelona. Centre Universitari de Disseny. Barcelona.

Museu Nacional dʼArt de Catalunya. MNAC. (2010). La gestió de residus al Museu Nacional dʼArt de Catalunya. Manual de bones pràctiques ambientals. Generalitat de Catalunya. Departament de Territori i Sostenibilitat, Agència de Residus de Catalunya.

NEGRI, Massimo. (2011-2012).La aparición del concepto de sostenibilidad en el ámbito de los museos en Europa. Revista 7-8. Ministerio de Educación. Cultura y Deporte.

FELBER, Christian.(2012). La economía del bien común. Ed. Deusto, Barcelona.

RIERADEVALL PONS, Joan, OLIVER SOLÀ, Jordi. (2011-2012). Museos y medio ambiente: sostenibilidad cultural. Revista 7-8. Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte.

FERNÁNDEZ BUEY, Francisco.(2011-2012). Sostenibilidad: palabra y concepto.
Revista 7-8. Ministerio de Educación. Cultura y Deporte.

HERRÁEZ, Juan Antonio, (2011-2012). La sostenibilidad en los museos. Revista 7-8. Ministerio de Educación. Cultura y Deporte.

Need help?

If you have an exhibition or stand in hand and want it to meet sustainability criteria, do not hesitate to consult our team.