Green shoots hampered by weedy efforts - Museums Association

Green shoots hampered by weedy efforts

It’s disappointing that, since the end of the Museums Association’s (MA) consultation on sustainability just over a year ago, museum …
Maurice Davies
It’s disappointing that, since the end of the Museums Association’s (MA) consultation on sustainability just over a year ago, museum support bodies have failed to do much to help museums go green.

On the face of it, our consultation was a success. Our aim was to get people in museums thinking about sustainability. They did: hundreds of people attended workshops and thousands more heard about our ideas.

We looked at sustainability in its broadest economic, social and environmental sense. People came up with great ideas for reducing their museum’s carbon footprint.

Our overall conclusion was that, although almost every museum could think much harder about its long-term purpose, museums were great at social sustainability and well used to considering their economic sustainability.

However, environmental sustainability seemed harder. The consultation identified a clear need for better leadership, advice and funding to help museums go green.

Leadership is still lacking and support is patchy. There’s a summary of a couple of dozen separate cultural-sector climate-change initiatives in Long Horizons, a new report from the British Council.

It reveals a hotchpotch of activity with no central coordination or leadership, a situation made worse as the Department for Culture, Media and Sport appears to have reduced its interest in sustainability.

There are some localised highlights: a couple of years ago the East Midlands Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) produced a green museums guide and the Rural Museums Network did some good things.

The East of England Renaissance hub has taken sustainability seriously for a few years (and has a national conference coming up in July). More hubs, notably the north west, have started to do the green thing. But there are no national schemes to green museums in England, Scotland or Wales.

At the MA, we organised conference sessions and put case studies and checklists on our website. We tried to fundraise to link fragmented museum initiatives and fill the advice gap.

The most disappointing knock-back came after we worked with most of the hubs to devise a way of joining up their green work to benefit more museums – and then MLA banned the hubs from working with us!

There are a few members of MLA staff who explore ways of making museums greener and accreditation may soon have green requirements. But, feebly, the only firm green commitment in MLA’s recently agreed sustainability policy is to develop systems for museums to measure their carbon footprint.

Museums need to get greener– but museum support bodies are failing to step up to the green mark.
Maurice Davies is the head of policy and communication at the Museums Association.

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