The British Museum has set out plans to be a net carbon zero museum that is “no longer a destination for climate protest but instead an example of climate solution”.
The London institution is currently developing an ambitious masterplan to redisplay its collections and overhaul its 170-year-old building. The so-called “Rosetta Project” is reportedly forecast to cost around £1bn, which would make it the most expensive museum development in the UK to date. The funds will be raised from a mixture of public and private sources.
At a recent annual dinner for trustees, the institution’s chair George Osborne said environmental sustainability would be a key strategic priority for the museum.
A British Museum spokesman told Museums Journal: “As a major UK visitor attraction we are conscious of the impact of our activity on the environment. We are committed to reducing that impact throughout all aspects of the museum’s operation, from energy usage to waste management, from new buildings to exhibitions.”
But climate activists have questioned how the museum’s sustainability goals square with its longstanding relationship with the oil and gas giant BP, which continues to have substantial investments in fossil fuel extraction. A spokesman for the protest group Culture Unstained said: “If Osborne is serious about being a net zero carbon museum, there’s no way it can sign a new sponsorship with BP.”
The spokesman told Museums Journal that there are signs the museum might be considering cutting ties with the corporation. Its five-year sponsorship deal is due for renewal in February 2023.
A Freedom of Information (FOI) request has shown that there have been “no substantive discussions” between the museum and BP on the possible renewal of sponsorship since late 2021. The FOI also confirmed that the museum has not yet compiled a due diligence report on BP or undertaken a formal assessment of the company.
“If the museum were planning on forming a new partnership, standard practice would mean that it would have surely done this essential due diligence work by now,” said the Culture Unstained spokesman.
A British Museum spokesman told Museums Journal that the institution “does not comment on commercially sensitive matters”.
Climate protests have continued at the museum throughout the year, the most recent of which was a demonstration by the activist group BP or Not BP? outside the museum’s BP-sponsored Hieroglyphs: Unlocking Ancient Egypt exhibition last weekend.
The British Museum spokesman said: “Museums today have a mixed funding model and we need corporate and private money to fulfil our public mission, to deliver unique learning experiences. Support from the corporate sector is essential for museums and arts organisations in times of reduced funding. This support means we can successfully plan exhibitions long-term and deliver public benefit for millions of people.”
The spokesman added that the museum expects partners and contractors to support its efforts to reduce its environmental impact.