This diagram shows the way that Environmental Audit has developed over recent months. The way I see it, the project has evolved into three parts, in terms of its working methods: blogging, printing, and (for want of a better word) “experiencing”:
…and in this next diagram, the audit is again shown to have 3 bits, but in different way. It focuses on the trio of areas to which I’ve been bringing attention: the MCA, the In the Balance exhibition, and my own working methods:
One of the things I’ve been struggling with – as I find myself becoming more and more confident in this field, is that every meeting, every encounter opens up a whole new can of worms – and I just don’t have enough time to follow each worm to its compelling wormhole.
And so these diagrams helped me realise something that had been rattling around in my head for a little while. That the scope of this project is actually a bit too large for one single fellow to handle. I think, if I were to do another Environmental Audit like this one, I’d plan in advance to have 2 full-time helpers working with me.
This is quite challenging, and humbling. And I simply need to accept that I don’t have infinite time, nor infinite resources – and there’s actually not much I can do about it, but take a deep breath and let those extra things slip through my fingers.
I suppose, if I put a positive spin on it, I could propose the project as a sort of “pilot” study of how an artist could do this sort of thing, and a way of pointing towards how it could be done better.
The second of the two diagrams above shows how one of the three major parts of the project involves the organisation. Certainly, the exhibition is the reason I was invited to do the audit in the first place. Without art, without exhibitions, there would be no MCA. And yet, particular exhibitions come and go – but the organisation itself – how it’s run, how it works, how it transforms itself over time – that, for me, is some real meaty stuff.
When I’m hanging out in the audit office in the MCA gallery, visitors often ask me about the organisation of the museum itself. They like to hear about how it’s all run, and to a small extent, I can offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse. Questions about lighting systems (“Why do you still use those power hungry old-fashioned halogen lights?”), or the new building extension (“What do you mean the extension will not incorporate solar panels?”) inevitably lead to a discussion of the obstacles which stand in the way of making such changes.
In talking to the public, I’m aware of my strange hybrid role – half in, and half out, of the organisation. I am not an official representative. I’m not even an official consultant. But I try to weave a balanced and straightforward – but not apologetic – tale about what obstacles slow down such an organisation’s self-transformation. Actually, not being directly blocked by them myself, I think the obstacles are juicy and fascinating!
Nearly always in these discussions, significant financial constraints arise. In the case of the transition to low-wattage LED lighting, waiting another 12 months for a better-functioning, cheaper system which will last for the next 20 years seems to make total sense (even if this means burning up tonnes of carbon dioxide with the old-fashioned system in the meantime). LED is a new technology in rapid development right now, and those organisations that buy too soon might be left holding a white elephant.
And with the solar panel situation – government regulations make it difficult to obtain ROI (return on investment) in a timeframe that makes any sense. (Of course, one could argue that there are ways to think about “investment” other than straight-up finance… )
So it might seem easy to accuse the museum of dragging its heels, or of not prioritising environmental concerns above the production of “high art” events. But I can tell you, if you’ve actually met and chatted with the folks involved in making those decisions, it’s not quite so easy to play the role of Mr High-and-Mitey. Members of the community which constitutes the MCA (the workers, at every level) strongly feel the need to make changes, but also experience deeply just how damn difficult it is to transform things.
But what about these changes? What would they look like?
Well, some of them could be as simple as this suggestion from Alana the Visitor Services Officer to change the way that paper is used in the process of creating reports. Or the notion of using a worm farm for the staff kitchen foodscraps. These are (relatively) easy plug-in solutions which link into the daily life of employees, but don’t need major infrastructure investments.
At the other end of the scale, consultations between Euan the Chief Operating Officer with the engineering firm Steensen Varming has generated a 35 page report recommending such innovations as a sea water heat exchanger to cool and warm the building. This will involve a large initial investment via a major engineering project, but potentially could save the MCA thousands in electricity bills (and reduce emissions of course) – not to mention putting the musuem “on the map”, if the project is marketed well. (I’ll go into more detail about Steensen Varming’s fascinating recommendations in a future blog entry…)
On Friday I caught up with Chief Preparator Tony, and we talked about all this stuff. One of the most exciting pieces of news to emerge this week is that the MCA’s Environment Committee is officially happening! It was announced at the all-staff meeting last Wednesday. I reckon this is a big step – employees who are keen to get involved in the committee can check in with Dee in Human Resources, who is co-ordinating its formation.
While I was chatting with Tony, I drew up this diagram to try and come to grips with the challenges that will be faced by the new committee:
It strikes me that this committee – composed as it will be of these two ends of the spectrum (top-down and bottom-up) has the potential to transform not just what things get done (should we use recycled toilet paper? should we install solar panels etc) but also, the way that things are done. How are decisions made? Who makes them? And who implements them? What systems of feedback inform us whether our new policies are working? And so on.
At stake here is the opportunity for a deeper integration between the everyday routines of work life and the way those routines are linked in to the world around us. It warms my utopian heart just to think of it…