It’s no coincidence that in a year when the art world has been forced to adjust to a new pace of life, many art businesses have started thinking seriously about sustainability. The growth of interest in the Gallery Climate Coalition and other sustainability-focused organizations reflects a growing unease that existing models of art production, exhibition, and sales can have significant downsides from a sustainability point of view. Needless to say, where it has been feasible to bring the process of showing and selling art online, galleries have been keen to experiment.
But all this online activity begs a new question: Does the art world have a digital carbon footprint problem? News articles sometimes paint an alarming picture of our digital energy consumption, but for most art businesses, it will be flights and shipping that cause the biggest problems. However, some aspects of our collective digital usage—such as device addiction, voracious streaming of digital video services, and Bitcoin production—can have negative environmental consequences, so it’s worth addressing some of the myths and misconceptions.
Here are five ways art businesses’ digital activities are (and aren’t) generating a carbon footprint, and what questions you should be asking about reducing emissions.
How Much Energy Does It Take to Run My Website?
Contrary to some claims, the amount of energy used to serve web pages is actually tiny. Efficient web servers are capable of delivering hundreds of pages per second and the total energy consumption of a server will have a finite maximum not dissimilar to a fancy laptop. Compared with the energy consumption of all the other computers your business uses, the website should not be a major concern.
Furthermore, considering what an important shop window a website is for an art business (especially if you offer an online viewing room), the energy used to run it will be insignificant in the context of what you expend to operate your brick-and-mortar spaces.
Do Video Calls and Email Cost the Earth?
Most of us have moved our meetings online in the past year, and there’s no doubt that online video conferencing consumes significant amounts of bandwidth and energy compared with other digital technology. But considering how much energy it might require to get everybody in the same physical room, it could be argued that video conferencing is by far the more energy efficient way of meeting face to face.
If you feel you’d really like to make a difference, try audio apps (or old-fashioned telephone calls) instead of video conferencing when you don’t need to see the person you’re talking to. Video gobbles bandwidth.
When it comes to email, there is a problem with the reliability of research into its carbon footprint, as many published statistics come from a pre-cloud era when email contributed more to carbon emissions because many companies ran their own email servers. The consolidation of resources by cloud platforms has made email technology considerably more efficient but, as one of the forms of communication used most frequently to inform collectors and art lovers about artworks and exhibitions, it still represents a significant volume of data exchanged among and stored on huge numbers of computers. Clients at my company Artlogic, which builds technology to make art businesses more efficient, sent more than 57 million email notifications in the past 12 months alone, and that doesn’t include direct emails sent by gallery employees.
There’s no doubt that the email technology—especially the fact that most emails contain the entire prior exchange—was not designed for data efficiency. So one thing you can do to…