Charlotte Parrottey (Student Bard MBA Sustainability and VP, Director of Collections Development at Art Agency, Partners - NY) has beautifully written the article “Protecting Art and the Planet” based on an interview with our colleague K.C. Serota, Special Projects Manager at Turtle North America/Masterpiece International. Her piece excellently highlights the history, core values of Turtle and the qualities and advantages of the Turtle crates. Thank you, Charlotte!
We are grateful for our worldwide partners and the collaboration in finding innovative solutions for the sustainability challenges in the Fine Art Logistics industry. Together in protecting Art and the Planet!
While the world’s most important works of fine art are the opposite of single-use, carefully cycled through the hands of multiple owners and preserved for posterity, the materials employed to safely pack and ship artworks around the globe are decidedly throw-away. Inordinate amounts of wood, cardboard, plastic, foam and tape are used to build sturdy, high-quality art crates that are used once and then discarded. Turtle uNLtd is changing the game in art packing, developing an innovative reusable art crate that provides best-in-class protection for art while reducing waste and saving trees. Consequently, Turtle uNLtd tackles SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production.
“They are fantastic,” says K.C. Serota, Special Projects Manager at Turtle North America/Masterpiece International. “Not only are they reusable but they are also better than the single-use alternative.”
The Turtle art crate's hard outer composite material, developed together with an aerospace company, is both exceptionally strong and very light. Inside the crate, there are numerous layers, which reduce vibrations and insulate against humidity and climate fluctuations. Artworks are fitted within the crate with adjustable block corners that are held in place with highly adhesive Velcro. Depending on the size of the artworks, more than one piece can be packed inside one Turtle.
The strength of the outer shells and the climate control provided by the interior layers provide superior protection for artworks. The lightness of the outer material and the adjustable block corners make Turtle crates easier to use for art handlers and shippers. The lightness of the outer material and the feasibility of packing more than one artwork in one crate make Turtle art crates notably more efficient than single-use wooden art crates.
In addition, all of the Turtle’s separate parts are easily replaced, meaning that one faulty piece need not take a crate out of circulation forever nor prompt the construction of an entirely new crate, further reducing the need for virgin raw materials. When a Turtle does reach the end of its life, 99% of its parts can be recycled, avoiding landfills. K.C. noted that, “…the outer shells can be completely recycled…they can be chipped down and have been used as part of concrete for roads in the UK.”
What might surfing, Piet Mondrian, and wooden crates have common? Together, back in 1994, these three seemingly disparate subjects inspired Hizkia van Kralingen, CEO and founder of Netherlands-based Turtle, to innovate a superior and more sustainable way to package and ship valuable fine art around the world.
While the world’s most important works of fine art are the opposite of single-use, carefully cycled through the hands of multiple owners and preserved for posterity, the materials employed to safely pack and ship artworks around the globe are decidedly throw-away. Inordinate amounts of wood, cardboard, plastic, foam and tape are used to build sturdy, high-quality art crates that are used once and then discarded. Prompted by a request from a Dutch museum interested in developing a way to mitigate this waste, Hizkia van Kralingen thought of the almost indestructible nature of his surfboard – resistant to wind, sea and rock. He envisioned how the materials used to make his surfboard could provide excellent protection for art and also be reusable. Experiments ensued and the Turtle, a composite climate case complete with two hard outer shells and insulated inner panels, was born. The Dutch museum shipped their priceless Piet Mondrian paintings in Turtle crates. 25 years later, these same crates are still in use today.
Storing and reusing crates can pose logistical challenges, as is often the case with circular business models. In order to recoup and redeploy crates effectively, depots on a well-connected network need to be established. This is what K.C. Serota has been working-on as he oversees the distribution of Turtle crates in North America, a significantly larger service area than Turtle’s home country of the Netherlands. Such challenges, however, can inspire further innovations, as K.C. explained, “…we have built a new network of shuttles and now work with partners to get our empty crates back to depots. We move things in a more consolidated way now, which in and of itself is a lot less impactful on the environment.”
A family-owned business, Turtle has grown significantly since its founding. Its crates are now distributed around the world, including in the U.K., Europe, Australia, parts of Asia, and North America. And as the art world has been put on pause during the coronavirus pandemic, Serota has noted an increase in demand for Turtle crates, which he surmises may have a lot to do with the fact that many museums have been reconsidering their environmental footprints and how they do business while they have been closed. A number of major institutions across North America have been trying the Turtle for the first time and are eager to continue working with the crates. K.C. recalled one of his favorite presentations of the Turtle, to a museum in Canada, “…[they were] so excited about it as a way to alleviate some of the challenges they have…they build all of their own crates…to have access to a crate that is reusable and easily retrofit is a big deal to them…"
The Turtle is also a “big deal” for K.C. and his colleagues: “Shipping, packing, airfreight is really dirty, this is the biggest drawback for me as an art world professional. To think of alternatives to this is the most encouraging thing... When sustainability is a core part of the business it does impact the way you work, it is such a fun place to be. Just having a Turtle crate in the office -- here is something I can use and implement that helps change the industry -- it encourages innovation and different ways of doing things, that’s a super big benefit for us.”
The Turtle’s lifespan, more than 20 years, is significant, and every time a Turtle is reused, all the wood, cardboard, foam and screws that would typically be used to build a single-use crate are saved. According to Turtle uNLtd, “When comparing the number of wooden crates that would need to be built to match the lifespan of a TURTLE, it is estimated that during its lifetime a TURTLE can save 40 trees from being cut down. With our current fleet of 500 Turtles, this means that no less than 20,000 trees have been saved over 20 years.”
In addition to reducing the use of virgin materials, the reusable crates cut down on waste accumulating in landfills. As Turtle continues to grow, the greater its environmental impact will become.
K.C. Serota, Special Projects Manager Masterpiece