Sustainability: making a difference

November 11, 2010

As organisations in the service of community, do museums have an obligation to be more sustainable?

Recycling station at the British Museum staff canteen

Museums – with their climate control systems, their computer interactives and lighting – can be very energy hungry. But there are things that we can do to make a difference. For example, when I was at the British Museum last week, their staff canteen has a whole wall of recycling – and the staff take it very seriously. It takes a bit of extra effort, but surely it is worth it.

I caught up with Rachel Maden from Greener Museums today, and we talked a bit about the work that she has done with some museums in the UK. Rachel is an environmental consultant who has been working specifically with museums for about three years. To find out more about Rachel’s business, have a look at her website –

I have been subscribing to Rachel’s newsletter for about a year, and thought that it would be good to meet her while I was on my Fellowship, because I believe that being environmentally responsible and sharing that message with our visitors is one way that museums can serve their communities – no doubt there are opportunities for partnerships. Chatting to Rachel gave me some ideas about how we might share the sustainability message with out communities:

  • obviously we can research the materials we use in our temporary exhibitions – are they recyclable, are they produced in environmentally friendly ways?
  • we can also make sure that we tell visitors about what we are doing – let’s not hide our lights!
  • we can also think about whether we can make changes to the way we run our museums – Rachel gave me an example of a museum that has multiple sites, and staff used to use taxis to travel between sites to meetings – but now they are saving money (about 12,000 pounds a year!) as well as reducing their carbon footprint by making time to walk.

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