Art, Digitalisation, and a Low-Carbon Future

Imogen Prus leads Environmental Sustainability at Convelio. Convelio is the freight forwarder who is reinventing the world of art logistics. They were selected by Cambridge Institute of Sustainability Leadership for the 2021 Transition to Net Zero Accelerator. Since then they have launched their Climate Care program to support the art world as it shifts to a low carbon future.

Prior to this, Imogen was at Artsy.net where she grew the Gallery programme across EMEA. She graduated from Oxford Said Business School Leading Sustainable Corporations course and also has a Masters degree from The Courtauld Institute of Art.

The mounting physical toll that human activity and associated carbon emissions are having on our environment is becoming increasingly visible. We see it in extreme and unpredictable weather patterns and hazardous events such as forest fires, droughts, flooding, and hurricanes. Every inch of the earth, and every single human on the planet, is affected.

The art market reflects these ongoing changes. Sotheby’s 2021 art market report noted that “the art itself reflects the growing concerns of our ecological crisis, and the types of art collectors are interested in.” Artists have the power to spark action. Their works are important, they encourage education and conversation. We need this for the industry to continue, and we need the planet to be healthy and prosperous for art and artists to survive.

But what does this mean for the actual mechanics of our industry and how the businesses that buy, sell, and promote works operate?

To answer this question, we need to consider the role of digital and the accelerated shift online over recent years. A study by Shopify showed that over the last six years there has been a 71% increase in online searches for “sustainable goods,” and when speaking with a survey group they found that, in the past year alone, 44% of consumers chose to buy from brands that have a clear commitment to sustainability.

During 2020, Artsy reported a sharp rise in the popularity of their online marketplace, and Artlogic launched their OVR feature (online viewing rooms). These tools equipped art businesses to promote their artworks using cutting edge technology, which in turn decreased the environmental footprint previously associated with art and design purchases.

Shipping: Where Digital Meets Physical

The premise here is that the act of buying art online produces less carbon than would have been generated in the organisation of a physical exhibition. However there is one key data point left out of this assessment; although the artwork is purchased by simply clicking a button it still needs to physically move.

The 2022 mindset is a digital one. Online buying has never been this accessible. But getting to this point has created an increase in demand for shipping, and with it its climate impact.

Freight and logistics activities currently contribute to 8–10% of global emissions, and considering current levels of growth it is predicted to become the most carbon-intensive sector by 2040. Without intervention, freight transport emissions will more than double by 2050.

Convelio is a fine art freight forwarder. This means we collect art works, pack them and transport them to their end destination. We also have an online platform and API that allows for instant quoting and booking. During the pandemic, we saw a rapid uptake of our services. In 2020 we launched our office in the US, worked on global fair partnerships in London, Miami and Paris, developed our API tool and increased the team from 35 to 71. We are now 200+ across all three offices. As we grow as a company, we want to ensure that the environmental impact of our business does not.

We have recently published our first emissions report. The highest impact area was air freight emissions (95% of our total emissions), with the highest carbon intensity factors across all our business activities. By making the choice to ship a work by sea instead of air you can actually reduce the carbon footprint of one shipment by more than 90%. However, the difference in time is substantial, in some cases as much as receiving your painting in a matter of months, as opposed to days.

A Necessary Shift in Mindset

To curb the trend of transportation emissions we need a collective shift in mindset. If you don’t know where to start we can recommend speaking to the Gallery Climate Coalition who have just launched a Sustainable Shipping Campaign. The coalition started in 2020 and brought together a wide section of the art industry to discuss ways to reduce the impact that the art world has on the planet. They offer support and guidelines to encourage concrete steps to tackle climate change, and their Sustainable Shipping Campaign looks at the various activities that can be done to curb transportation emissions.

We all have a part to play in this process. Marketplaces need to ensure clarity on location of buyers and sellers, galleries need to revise how they schedule their annual programs, and collectors will need to acclimatise to longer waits for delivery. As a transportation company, we must be transparent on emissions and offer alternative low emission services.

It is upon all of us to look closely at how we operate in the world, and to make decisions that help construct a future where both the natural world and art can prosper.

For more information about Convelio , click here.

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