Exhibiting More Sustainably

Miriam Szwast

Exhibiting More Sustainably: Notes from Our Practical Experience

We at the Museum Ludwig are alarmed by the noticeable impact of species extinction and the climate crisis. Over the past few years, our sustainability team has worked to learn, develop ideas, and implement ecological measures within our institution. This process produces moments of inspiration, euphoria, and awareness, countered by moments when we feel frustrated and overwhelmed. After all, to accomplish the things that we want to achieve—climate neutrality, the creation of habitats for plants and animals in places where the museum has engaged in soil sealing, and the mindful use of resources, including our own—we must reflect on our customary processes, edging along a path that is not predetermined.[1] If we strive for “change by design, not by (further) disaster,” we must unlearn certain things, relearn other things, and try new things to find out what works. What can help us emit noticeably less carbon dioxide, use less energy, and decarbonize? How can we increase biodiversity? How can we realize our aims and continue to mount relevant exhibitions as a museum while staying as healthy and optimistic as possible, feeling more hope than fear in the face of change?

Acting in a sustainable way means thinking in terms of generations and doing so on multiple levels. In order to tackle climate change and inequality, the United Nations has defined seventeen interlinked Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).[2] There is a rough distinction made between ecological, social, and economic sustainability, with culture playing an important role.[3] Culture is visible, encourages reflection, and provides room for creativity and vision.

Our focus while developing the exhibition Green Modernism: The New View of Plants was climate protection, and from the beginning, our aim was to engage in “eco-curating.” The preparatory stage and run-time of the exhibition, when the space becomes a field of experimentation, will help us gain experience toward achieving greater sustainability at the Museum Ludwig, which can be shared even after the exhibition closes.[4] In other words, this is merely a short progress report, which will hopefully be out-of-date tomorrow. In disclosing the various measures we have undertaken, we are also aware of how much more needs to be done. We are still far from reaching our goal, and we are not perfect. However, transparency helps us learn together and build trust inside our institution. Outside the museum, we hope to engage in more dialogue with others, expand our “learning community,”[5] and contribute toward shaping social and ecological transformation. We intend to decrease the size of our carbon footprint while increasing our “handprint”—the sum of all our actions that have a positive impact on the climate.[6]

In the interest of clarity, we would like to lay out four areas of action in this progress report: building, processes, products, and program.


  • Mapping the status quo
  • Shift to 100 percent eco-power derived from hydropower
  • Saving energy through LED lighting (not yet completed)
  • Planting greenery on the rooftop terrace to increase the city’s biodiversity (not yet completed)
  • Preparing further measures through the sustainability team in cooperation with the municipal office


  • Reusing materials (facade banners, exhibition walls, tables, curtains, paper, etc.) to save resources and reduce garbage
  • Focusing on the Museum Ludwig’s collection and forgoing art transport that creates carbon dioxide
  • Applying wall texts by hand instead of using foil lettering
  • Contributing one euro from every exhibition ticket sold to nature conservation projects


  • Printing exhibition invitations on seed paper that can be planted in the ground to produce flowers
  • Making a free digital exhibition catalogue, hosted climate neutral at www.green-modernism.de
  • Offering handmade vases by artists from the Cologne-based Kunsthaus KAT18 as a special limited edition during the exhibition


  • Examining the relationship between humans and plants through the subject matter of the exhibition, cooperation with partners, and lectures
  • Encouraging empowerment through offering climate workshops to visitors and providing special training to guides from the municipal museum service on climate change and species extinction
  • Using the closing event, “Recycle the Exhibit,” to extend the life cycle of materials
  • Offering a broader range of vegetarian food at the museum café

  1. For more information on sustainability at the Museum Ludwig, see our 2020 sustainability report: https://datenbank2.deutschernachhaltigkeitskodex.de/Profile/CompanyProfile/14231/de/2020/dnk. A biennial sustainability report will be used as a tool for reflecting on our path and further sharpening our focus.
  2. See the website for the United Nations; Department of Economic and Social Affairs: Sustainable Development; “The 17 Goals.” Online: https://sdgs.un.org/.
  3. Formulated in the Tutzinger Manifesto (2001); see https://www.kupoge.de/ifk/tutzinger-manifest/tuma_gb.html.
  4. Changes in environmental behavior can be divided into five phases, which do not always strictly follow this order in practice: nonchalance, formation of intention, preparation for action, implementation of action, and perpetuation. See Marcel Munecke, Psychologie der Nachhaltigkeit: Vom Nachhaltigkeitsmarketing zur sozial-ökologischen Transformation (Munich: oekom, 2022), 37–47.
  5. Dietmar Sternad, James J. Kennelly, and Finbarr Bradley, Digging Deeper: How Purpose-Driven Enterprises Create Real Value (New York: Greenleaf Publishing, 2016), 152–86.
  6. Gregory Norris coined this term; see www.extension.harvard.edu/blog/introducing-handprints-a-net-positive-approach-to-sustainability/.