Greening Your Art Program

An art program that cuts waste and reduces environmental damage can be as beautiful as it is sustainable. Here’s how.

If you’re like most designers, incorporating sustainability into a project is almost second nature these days. You check your furnishings for the right certifications, ensure there’s recycled content in the carpet and specify no-VOC paint. But have you considered the sustainability of your art program?

New substrate and material options such as cotton weave canvases and water-based inks can make for healthier interiors, but the waste produced in art specification and production continues to undermine our efforts to create the most sustainable spaces possible. In an average art production job, as much as 20 percent of the materials can be wasted if yield is not factored into the equation. Furthermore, in high turnover sectors like hospitality, where the typical hotel chain refreshes its artwork scheme every five years, most of the existing artwork is usually discarded.

The good news is that it only takes a little bit of planning to ensure your art program is as green as it can be. For most projects, the solution lies in a simple mantra many of us know by heart: reduce, reuse and recycle.

The first step focuses on minimizing the use of raw materials in the art production process. By taking yield into consideration in the preliminary design phase and specifying art in standardized sizes, designers can avoid sizable amounts of material waste, including paper, matting, mirror and glass.

You might be surprised to discover how much only a few inches can affect the final yield in an art program. For example, if a vendor supplies a standard sheet of mat board that is 40 inches tall by 32 inches wide, you would be able to get four pieces of frame-ready mat measuring 20 inches by 16 inches wide from a single board. By comparison, you would only be able to get one mat measuring 24 inches by 18 inches from that same board, with the rest of the material going to waste (see diagram).

Since standard sizes vary from product to product, it’s critical to have a dialogue with each vendor during the selection and specification process. This includes taking into account what kind of inventory your vendor maintains. For example, if you want a piece of artwork that requires 10 ½ feet of molding, but molding sticks are only available in 10-foot lengths, you may want to discuss adjusting the size to avoid cutting into new sticks and ordering more stock.

While maximizing yield is good for both the environment and the bottom line, some designers may feel limited when restricting themselves to standardized art sizes. For Dina Belon-Sayre, LEED AP ID&C, an internationally-renowned expert in hospitality design who currently serves as sustainability specialist for the Peabody Orlando, it’s simply a matter of finding the middle ground between a project’s aesthetic and sustainable needs.

“The biggest challenge in considering yield arises when a design concept calls for a specific scale that does not conform to standardized production sizes,” she says. “In this situation, the designer needs to identify a level of compromise that doesn’t adversely impact the design intent while still maximizing material use. In almost all cases, there is an option that can work.”

Designers should endeavor to reuse and repurpose existing artwork whenever possible. Known as “down streaming,” this process may include the refurbishment or donation of artworks, and the relocation or reincorporation of sculptures and other large installations.

Belon-Sayre notes that down streaming is about more than just keeping art out of the landfill; it represents a way to spread the impact of design to the community at large. “Artwork in 4-star properties could be relocated to 3-star properties, or could find a great home in an assisted-living facility, school or homeless shelter, where it would continue to be valued and appreciated. This offers a great opportunity not only to save time, money and the environment, but also make a valuable contribution to society through social awareness.”

The process of reuse might also entail the creation of new art from existing materials. HG Arts recently recycled production materials including paper, Giclée prints, moulding and more to create new art for the Zebra Coalition’s facility in downtown Orlando, Fla. The organization fosters hope, dignity and self-respect in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and youth communities, and its facility provides services like an emergency shelter, medical services, and a food and clothing bank.

“We were very fortunate to have been the recipient of this meaningful contribution, as the donated artwork created a welcoming environment that enhanced the interior space,” says Jefferson Voss, president of the Zebra Foundation for Youth. “This is of tremendous value, as many of our young people do not have this experience in their day-to-day lives.”

If you have already reduced your material usage and cannot repurpose the artwork already sitting on a facility’s walls, the last step in building a sustainable art program lies in responsibly recycling what’s left. This can be a tricky process for designers, as they do not own the art and can only make recommendations about how to properly dispose of it.

Make sure to talk with your client about the value of recycling artwork from renovation projects and the importance of avoiding the landfill. In addition to adding to the burden of waste, artwork in landfills has the potential to contribute to air and groundwater pollution as their stains, dyes and inks begin to break down.

Your art consultant should be utilizing environmentally safe practices for the disposal of art, but make sure to ask about their procedures so you understand their methods fully. If you are planning to dismantle art and reuse components, he or she can help you ensure toxic substances like heavy metals (found in certain pigments), glues or solvents are excluded from that process.

In the end, art programs need to go beyond the concept of simply filling the walls and hitting a budget if we are to make our spaces as sustainable as possible. It’s a challenge that will require the education of everyone from the ownership group to the vendors, but we must develop effective and efficient programs that minimize waste, consider the long-term impacts of art selections and incorporate “end-of-life use” plans.


Russell A. Glotfelty is president and CEO of HG Arts, an Orlando-based art consulting and wholesale framing company specializing in hospitality, healthcare and residential facilities. For more information call (800) 393-2787 or email