Posted by: henrymcghie | September 3, 2013

Museums and environmental sustainability

There’s a good piece in this month’s Museums Journal about museums and environmental sustainability. Museums are cautious about the extent which they tell people what to think, and quite rightly. However, there are some things that we do know: many species are declining, habitats are being used unsustainably, people and their environment are often not working in harmony with one another. Museums with natural history collection use their collections to explore ideas around themes of nature and of nature and people. To me, these kinds of museum have to engage with environmental sustainability. If they don’t, it’s like having a collection of Impressionist paintings and not talking about paint. Or a course on Physical Geography that doesn’t talk about mountains. Of course, museums need to be careful about how they work with their visitors- they should be about influence, not manipulation. If museums are clear about who they are, and what they stand for, then people can be clear about who they are working with. As the UK Code of Ethics for Museums says, museums

“Support the protection of natural and human environments
8.0 Collections in museums represent the rich diversity of the world’s natural and human environments.
Museums promote learning without jeopardising this diversity. They contribute to sustainable economic activity and benefit local and wider communities.

All those who work for or govern museums should ensure that they:
8.1 Value and protect natural and human environments. Prevent abuse of places of scientific, historic or cultural importance. Exercise due diligence procedures when acquiring or borrowing items. Uphold appropriate national and international conventions and treaties on protection of natural and human environments, whether or not they have been ratified. (See section 5, acquire items honestly and responsibly.)

8.2 Be sensitive to the impact of the museum and its visitors on natural and human environments. Make best use of resources, use energy and materials responsibly and minimise waste.

8.3 Contribute to the sustainable social and material vitality of the museum’s surrounding area by, for example, attracting users, sustaining economic activity, offering satisfying and rewarding employment and pursuing local purchasing policies.

8.4 Develop purchasing and resale policies that address environmental and human rights’ issues.

8.5 Make all growth sustainable. Evaluate the long-term impact of introducing, operating and maintaining new developments.”

There is a great deal of sense here, and I think it’s a good standard to follow.



  1. Any business or public service provider can be sustainable by making changes as you rightly point out.

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