The Museums Association as a sustainable organisation

How sustainable is the MA?
At the Museums Association we're working to improve our sustainability. We've been around since 1889, nearly 120 years, which demonstrates a certain economic sustainability.

We don't get any regular public funding and have to generate all our income each year. We've had financial ups and downs and we've been supported though hard times because we own a small building in London.

We're taking steps to diversify our income and, in particular, reduce the proportion of our income that comes from selling recruitment advertising and increase the amount we get from less volatile sources such as membership subscriptions.

We're fundraising more than we used to, but try to avoid over-reliance on other organisations (government in particular) by restricting fundraising to special projects rather than using it to support core activities.

We'd like to have bigger unrestricted reserves to carry us through the difficult years and to help us invest in new services - but we're rarely able to make a surplus of more than 2% of our turnover.

We keep a tight control on expenditure and never budget to spend more than we think we will generate in income. We also try to stop staff costs rising as a proportion of total annual expenditure. Occasionally this is painful: we recently had to end our staff's final-salary pension scheme and, at times, have had to make compulsory redundancies.

Social sustainability
It's harder to assess the MA's social sustainability. We are a charity dedicated to improving museums for the public, but our relationships with society are mainly indirect - via museums and people who work in them.

We play a major role in improving the skills of museum staff and helping them be better informed and more thoughtful. Some of our initiatives (such as Diversify, our strong support for access and learning and our earlier work to encourage museums to work with young people) aim to improve the museum sector's social sustainability. We're increasingly working in partnership with other organisations.

Work-life balance
We try to be a good employer and to provide satisfying jobs. We understand that some of our staff have family commitments that mean they want to work part-time or that they occasionally need to take time off at very short notice. We want our staff to have a work-life balance and discourage excessive working hours.

Our members are heavily involved in making the MA's most important decisions; they elect our governing Council and members, rather than staff, decide things such as who is eligible for the AMA (Associateship of the Museums Association) and what our ethical principles should be.

Recently we carried out our first piece of public consultation as part of reviewing our guidance on disposal.
We engage regularly with politicians and the media, but could potentially engage more with society and with our local community.

Environmental sustainability
We're just beginning to improve our environmental sustainability. A group of staff have started looking at what we do and the resources we use, from energy to cleaning products, from conference venues to coffee. Now we've got a green action plan and some senior managers are looking in detail at our energy use, our print and paper and our waste.

Many of our staff travel regularly and typically use trains. (No one drives to work at our main office.) We're also investigating how we might encourage more of the delegates at our conferences and events to use public transport.

Our office gets very hot in summer and we're determined to find ways to reduce the temperature without resorting to air-conditioning. We have taken advice from an expert in this and have installed reflective material on all our windows and installed ceiling fans.

Reducing waste
We are increasingly doing marketing by email, rather than in print and some of our documents (such as the full sustainability and museums discussion paper) are only available electronically. However, we've got a long way to go and lots to learn.

Our experience so far is that while it might be superficially simple to reduce environmental impact, it's hard to get reliable unbiased advice on all those everyday decisions such as: which photocopier uses least energy, what type of paper is best for the planet, whether the sandwich fillings were produced responsibly or whether a supplier is a good employer.