Sustainability debate is reignited - Museums Association

Sustainability debate is reignited

Sector questions whether it could be more sustainable after arts council report reveals that museums use more energy than other cultural organisations. Gareth Harris reports
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Gareth Harris
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A report published by Arts Council England (ACE) showing that museums use proportionally more energy than other cultural organisations has prompted debate about whether museums can and should be more sustainable.

Maurice Davies, head of policy and communications at the Museums Association, reignited the topic in last month’s Museums Journal: “Perhaps if museums tackled their burgeoning energy use, they would not have to cut services and staff so much.”

Sustaining Great Art
was produced in partnership with environmental organisation Julie’s Bicycle. The report estimated that the total carbon footprint for the 704 ACE-funded organisations in 2012-2013 was about 121,000 tonnes.

The average footprint per major partner museum was 1,346 tonnes. This compared with 140 tonnes for a dance organisation and 41 for a literature organisation.

“One reason is that many museums still wrongly believe that it is necessary to tightly control relative humidity and temperature,” added Davies. 

Radical step

In 2012, ACE took the radical decision to embed environmental sustainability in its major programme funding agreements.

For three years from 2012-13, ACE’s 704 organisations, along with its 16 Renaissance major partner museums, are required to have an environmental policy and action plan. In the first year, 90% engaged with the environmental reporting programme (see box).

But the new report states: “While initial scepticism has largely evaporated, some organisations are concerned about how environmental performance will be linked to future ACE funding.”

Janita Bagshawe, director of Royal Pavilion, Museums & Libraries, Brighton & Hove, an ACE major partner museum, says developing policies and collecting data are “good starting points”, but without performance measures, cuts may not be achieved.

ACE says that its 2016-18 funding agreement will continue to ask organisations to collect data and crucially, develop policies that improve environmental performance and carbon emissions.

Capital investment

Bagshawe adds, however, that for some organisations, there will be circumstances where the major reduction in carbon footprint will only be achieved with substantial capital investment in energy-saving measures.

“This may make major reductions more difficult to achieve in the short term, especially in some historic buildings,” she said.

Other public bodies have also picked up the baton from ACE. Creative Scotland has announced that funding recipients will be required from this year to provide environmental information.

Sustainability is now a pressing issue for the sector, and is gaining momentum.

Carbon footprint by artform*

  • Museums: 1346
  • Music: 315
  • Theatre: 182
  • Visual arts: 141
  • Dance: 140

*Average per organisation in tonnes


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