The Science Museum Group (SMG) has announced a target to achieve net zero carbon emissions across all five of its museums by 2033.
Following guidance from the Science Based Target Initiative, the group aims to reduce its carbon footprint in three sectors of business: buildings, operations, and goods and services.
SMG director Ian Blatchford said: “As we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, climate change is the greatest challenge facing humanity.
“As well as engaging our audiences with this grave threat, we need to do more to lessen our environmental impact, which is why we’re today committing to achieving net zero by 2033.”
The pledge is complemented by the Science Museum’s new exhibition on carbon capture, Our Future Planet (19 May 2021 – 4 September 2022), and a series of virtual Climate Talks to engage the public in the run up to the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow this November.
But the museum's decision to make oil company Shell a major sponsor of the Our Future Planet exhibition has been heavily criticised by environmental campaigners and groups.
Bill McGuire, professor emeritus of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, said: “It beggars belief that this iconic British institution has freely chosen to link up with Shell to sponsor their flagship climate exhibition at such a crucial time. Clearly they know that they are supping with the devil, as they have existing links with BP and Equinor. I can only conclude that they simply don't care, and have no interest whatsoever in playing a responsible role in tackling the climate emergency.”
Andrew Simms, the assistant director of Scientists for Global Responsibility, said: “This will be seen as tone deaf in the year the international climate talks are due in the UK and will be a decision to haunt the management of the museum for years to come.”
Blatchford has strenuously defended the SMG's position on fossil fuel sponsorship, writing in a recent blog post: “We believe the right approach is to engage, debate and challenge companies, governments and individuals to do more to make the global economy less carbon-intensive.”
He told Museums Journal that "SMG is transparent about its long-standing relationship with a limited number of energy companies and how, in all such partnerships, we retain editorial control."
Carbon reduction plans
The SMG has outlined a series of measures that will help it reach its net zero target. Emissions from SMG buildings and operations account for 10% of the group’s overall carbon footprint; the rest comes from the goods and services. The group hopes to reduce this figure through a combination of cutting emissions and carbon offsetting schemes, such as the 1,000 locally sources trees it plants a year.
Since 2011/12, the SMG has achieved a 69% drop in these emissions from its operations. To further lessen its carbon output, the group purchases electricity from renewable sources, apart from at the Blythe House object store which it shares with the V&A and British Museum. It also hosts one of the UK’s biggest solar farms at the National Collections Centre in Wiltshire.
A number of museum-specific projects are set to increase sustainability and cut carbon usage, such as the £55m project, Vision 25, which is set to transform the National Railway Museum in York and Locomotion in Shildon.
In a statement, director Judith McNicol said sustainable elements are baked into the project: “To reduce energy demands of existing buildings – where roofs are replaced, we will do so with improved insulation and where current heating systems are updated, we will seek to replace these with more efficient systems, lessening our dependency on gas boilers where possible.”
Decarbonising the SMG’s supply chain will be the hardest challenge – 66% of supply chain emissions come from capital goods and 20% come from the goods and services the group buys.
In a statement, the SMG said: “We’re already working with our 10 biggest suppliers in each of these areas to encourage them to go on a journey to decarbonise with us and are developing a sustainable procurement policy for new suppliers.”
Edited to include information and comment about the sponsorship of the Our Future Planet exhibition by Shell.
Edited to include comment from Sir Ian Blatchford.