Developing sustainability policies at your museum - Museums Association

Developing sustainability policies at your museum

A case study from Imperial War Museums
Holiday Donaldson
Imperial War Museum London
Imperial War Museum London

As growing numbers of cultural organisations and institutions across the world respond to the climate crisis, Imperial War Museums (IWM) has achieved a major milestone in its sustainability agenda with the endorsement of the IWM Sustainability Framework Roadmap and the release of an updated Sustainable Development Policy Statement.

These key strategy documents support a 10-year journey to achieve challenging yet rewarding aims for the organisation. 

Notably, IWM’s trustees and executive leadership team have also endorsed the need to match or better the UK Government’s decarbonisation timeline to achieve net-zero greenhouse emissions by 2050.

While IWM has always had a robust sustainability agenda, this renewed commitment is particularly timely. It coincides with both COP26, which will be held in Glasgow this autumn, and the ramping up of net-zero agendas across government departments and industry. 

Despite the challenges of the Covid pandemic, a significant amount of work has been undertaken by IWM’s head of estates, Paul Brooks, and Ben Melham of Mortice Consulting during the past year. They have analysed existing data, benchmarked IWM’s position in the cultural sector and formulated a credible plan for success to present to IWM’s executive leadership team.

This process included securing agreement for a set of strategic themes that are aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. This approach will ensure IWM enhances and complements its current activities, as well as bringing together teams and projects to deliver real change in the most efficient way.


This will result in the delivery of tangible benefits, such as reduced carbon and lower energy/running costs. It is expected that there will be much wider, holistic sustainability outcomes and benefits, including improved access and inclusion, diversity, wellbeing and social value.

The key strategic theme development incorporates:

  • Decarbonisation of the estate
  • Responsible consumption
  • Local impact
  • Building the conversation
  • Protection of heritage against climate change
  • Information intelligence.

These strands of work encompass crucial efforts to reduce IWM’s overall consumption, move to clean energy and ensure its impact on local communities supports sustainability initiatives.

The sustainability agenda will be embedded across IWM, the long-term effects of climate change on collections and operations will be assessed and the organisation will continue to monitor its sustainability data.


The current focus of activity is on developing a decarbonisation roadmap, and IWM is already reporting on fuel combustion and purchased electricity, heat, gas and steam emissions. It has made significant progress in recent years to measure and reduce these, including a recent move to sourcing all electricity from a UK renewables energy tariff in April.

The IWM Sustainability Roadmap lays out strategy and delivery activities for IWM in the near-term (one to two years), mid-term (three to five years) and longer-term (10 years plus) to help meet the broad corporate aims within the strategic themes listed.

Some key next steps in the process are:

  • Developing IWM Sustainability Strategy and Framework Phase 2, including planning, objectives, resources, and methodologies
  • Improving IWM sustainability reporting
  • Engaging with stakeholders.

While there are quite a number of strategy activities yet to complete, some specific initiatives to be delivered in the near term include:

  • The use of solar power at IWM’s sites
  • The removal of fossil fuel heating
  • The installation of electric vehicle charging points at some locations.

IWM has recently received a grant from the Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport to support the installation of decarbonising infrastructure, such as electric boilers supplied wholly by UK renewable, green, zero carbon energy at IWM Duxford.

IWM is currently in the process of opening up a conversation between internal departments and suppliers, in order to understand what efforts to reduce carbon emissions and other sustainability outcomes are already happening and what more could be done.

This will enable IWM to learn how each department is working with its supply chain, managing waste and reducing consumption, all of which will allow it to further lower its carbon footprint and drive towards more sustainable practices across the organisation and beyond.

IWM is proud of the progress it has made to date and confident that, with further structure, collaboration and activity, it can go even further in supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goals, while also becoming a more sustainable institution to meet the many challenges it will face in the coming years.

Holiday Donaldson is producer, public engagement & learning, at IWM London

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