Tate Modern is in the bottom 1% of energy-efficient non-domestic buildings in England and Wales.

Museums need to do more to be sustainable

Patrick Steel, 18.12.2013
Research finds museums can be more energy-efficient
Instead of trying to raise more income to keep getting bigger, perhaps museums could stay the same size or even think about getting smaller so they would need less money and less natural resources, Maurice Davies, the Museums Association’s (MA) head of policy and communications, told an audience at the University College London Centre for Sustainable Heritage last Thursday.

Davies, who oversaw the MA's Sustainability report, praised Arts Council England’s (ACE) decision to embed environmental sustainability in its major programme funding agreements from 2012, and singled out the Happy Museum Project for helping museums to create a high-wellbeing, low-energy future.

But, he warned, museums have much to do. According to Sustaining Great Art, an ACE-commissioned report from environmental organisation Julie’s Bicycle published last week, major regional museums have the highest energy intensity of all the organisations profiled.

The report estimated that the total carbon footprint for all 704 ACE-funded organisations was around 121,000 tonnes, representing an estimated total spend of £26m, while over 782 million litres of water was used in 2012, the equivalent of 40 million regular baths.

Quoting research by the Centre for Sustainable Energy, looking at museums’ Display Energy Certificates, Davies said that Tate Britain, Tate Modern and the Arnolfini Centre for Contemporary Arts in Bristol were in the bottom 1% of energy-efficient non-domestic buildings in England and Wales.

And poor buildings management was a real issue for museums, he added, citing one museum in the north east of England that was leaving the heating on in exhibition galleries between shows.

Museums could look to the National Trust, he said, where energy reduction and the introduction of renewables are impressive, and where the director knows the organisation’s energy performance and is willing to speak about it publicly and express concern when targets are being missed.