It all started with the disposable nitrile gloves – The story of Sustainability in Conservation (so far)

Today’s Guest Post is by Caitlin Southwick, the Executive Director and Founder of Sustainability in Conservation

SiC Logo

SiC, Sustainability in Conservation is a non-governmental organization (NGO) aimed at building awareness and providing resources and programs for incorporating more ecological awareness and sustainable practices into the fields of conservation and cultural heritage.

Starting up

I started SiC when I was a Master’s student. In my personal life, I have always been committed to living sustainably. However, it wasn’t until one day I looked into the trash can at the lab and noticed a huge pile of disposable nitrile gloves that I thought, we are actually quite wasteful in our work. There must be a solution for this!

Used gloves from conservation lab at Cardiff University. Photo: Caitlin Southwick

I embarked on a mission to find a way to mitigate waste produced by gloves. I started doing research, thinking that it would be easy to find a simple solution, and I was encountered with a surprise: I couldn’t find a resource with sustainable suggestions for conservation practice.

After a lot of digging, I was able to find solutions for the glove problem: https://www.sustainabilityinconservation.com/gloves, https://www.sustainabilityinconservation.com/forum/materials/gloves.

However, this investigation led me to realize that there was a need for more accessible solutions, for better communication regarding sustainable practices for conservators. As a student, it can often feel daunting trying to make change: like you have no real power or influence. In order to give a voice to students, I started a Facebook group called Students for Sustainability in Conservation. I wanted to provide a platform where students could share ideas and tips on sustainable practices, to promote awareness and an exchange of ideas. I posted things that I was doing, questions and ideas to try and initiate discussion. Within only a couple of months, I had over 400 followers. However, I saw that I was the only one posting.

I quickly realized that this topic was one with a great interest, but with little information or simple solutions. I decided to do something about it.

Caitlin Southwick
SiC’s Twitter Feed. Photo: Mariana Di Giacomo)

I recruited volunteers and expanded SiC into a professional network. I wanted to create an all-encompassing resource center for all things sustainable. My team and I built a website which features programs, literature and information. We created a forum and a social media platform to effectively disseminate information, create discussion and build awareness. We conducted surveys and identified areas where conservators would like to get more information on sustainable alternatives and using this information, designed programs to facilitate sustainable practices. These initiatives include the SiC Student Ambassador Program, the Gels Cookbook, the SiC Sustainability Toolkit, the Green Solvents Initiative and more. Information for all of our programs can be found on our website.

Growing & Developing

Over the last three years, SiC has continued to develop and expand, compiling resources and building initiatives. Today, we have over 3,000 followers on various platforms, our Student Ambassador Program is active at 12 universities worldwide, and we continue to be active at conferences and give workshops (join us for our Sustainability Toolkit Workshop at AIC 2019).

One of the main goals of SiC is to create an international network; to connect organizations, individuals and researchers. By creating a global system to share and disseminate information, SiC aims to facilitate and inspire research and provide easy to access information and easy to implement solutions to lead to a more sustainable profession.

Results from SiC survey on alternative materials. Photo: Julia Wagner

We have partnered with various organizations and institutions, including the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice, the AIC Sustainability Committee, Sustainable Museums, Museums & Climate Change Network and the ICOM Working Group on Sustainability. These types of collaborations have created an international, unified approach and by fostering these relationships, SiC and the shift to sustainable practices continues to grow.

It is our hope to not only turn conservation practice into a sustainable profession, but to elevate the cultural heritage sector to become leaders in combating climate change, positioning us to pave the way to a sustainable future.

Caitlin Southwick

For more information, please check out our website, subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on social media – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Join our Forum to share your ideas, questions, best practices and failures.

SiC is always open for ideas, collaboration, suggestions and new members, so please contact us to get involved.


Caitlin Southwick pic

Caitlin Southwick is the Executive Director and Founder of Sustainability in Conservation. A trained stone conservator, Caitlin’s primary focus is promoting sustainability in the cultural heritage sector. Caitlin is also the secretary for the ICOM Working Group on Sustainability and a professional member of the AIC Sustainability Committee.

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  1. Sarah Sutton

    I had the same anxiety about gloves. I once asked a client “what’s a not-green thing that is just bugging you? That’s often a great place to start on this journey.” He took a nitrile glove out of his pocket: “This” he said. We had a similar exloration process, ending up with TerraCycle. Large institutions with Terracycle boxes may take gloves from small organizations, and small organizations can create their own hub for collecting the scourge! :-)

  2. mchriscastle

    Fantastic idea. Thanks for sharing, Sarah!

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