MA pushes for museums to adopt 'sustainable' approach - Museums Association

MA pushes for museums to adopt ‘sustainable’ approach

The idea that 'museums are forever and collections are for posterity' needs to be challenged, according to Nick Merriman, the director of the Manchester Museum.
Profile image for Sharon Heal
Sharon Heal
Speaking at a roundtable debate on sustainability organised by the Museums Association (MA), Merriman said that museums were fundamentally unsustainable.

'It's already got to the stage where museums are stretching their resources ever more thinly while trying to do more and more and adding to collections at the same time.'

The debate is the first step in the MA's sector-wide consultation about museums and sustainability. Helen Wilkinson, the MA's policy officer, told Museums Journal that museums need to change the way that they operate if they are to develop in a sustainable way.

'The MA is launching a programme of work looking at ways of supporting museums to adopt more sustainable working practices,' said Wilkinson. She said the focus on sustainability was because much of museums' work is about preserving objects and collections for future generations. 'The indications are that few museums have thought seriously about long-term sustainability.'

According to Wilkinson the consultation will not just be about the impact of climate change on museums. 'We will be taking an holistic approach to sustainable development and looking at environmental, economic and social sustainability.'

Speaking at the debate, Sarah Staniforth, the historic properties director at the National Trust, said there were still some in museums who thought that profligate use of energy was not an issue because museums cutting down on energy consumption wouldn't make much difference.

She said that the trust had developed a 'triple bottom line' approach to accounting. 'Instead of just looking at the financial figures at the year end, you find a way of calculating the social and environmental bottom line as well.' The trust has set itself ambitious targets for reducing energy use by 10 per cent a year for the next three years.

May Cassar, professor of sustainable heritage at University College London, agreed, saying that if museums were going to tackle climate change and sustainability in exhibitions they would have to put their own house in order first. 'You cannot risk the bad publicity that would be generated by advocating it and not doing it.'

The consultation will take place early next year and a report with recommendations will be published in 2009.

- Meanwhile the Science Museum in London has withdrawn a Climate Relief Gift Pack after the Guardian newspaper revealed that the pack's claim to 'instantly reduce the amount of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere and help reduce global pollution' was 'nonsense'. A spokesman for the museum said the product had come to the end of its lifecycle.

Sharon Heal

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