The phrase about museums being for the future is from the Museums Association Code of Ethics. Museums have such a long-term purpose, often thinking in generations rather than decades, they are clearly involved in sustainability more than many other kinds of organisation. As museums are in the sustainability business, they could think more explicitly about sustainability
Now some examples of what museums might do if they think about sustainability. We had many conversations with museums about different aspects of sustainability. To improve their environmental sustainability museums thought these were the most important things to think about. It is simple to save the first 10-20% of resources but then it gets really specialised – first there are special museum issues (such as protecting collections). It also gets specialised for each individual museum building
To improve their social sustainability museums identified these actions. And many museums are of course getting on and doing them
One way to think about economic sustainability is simply to make sure that your museum will have enough money coming in to support what it wants to do. From this point of view, a museum is likely to be stronger, more resilient, more durable if its money comes from a range of sources. Most museums may not feel they’ve found the answer to economic sustainability, but the truth is many museums have survived for a long time, so they museums may be more economically sustainable than we sometimes think.
But I want to look at economic sustainability in another way. Many museums have thrived by getting bigger and bigger. From one point of view this has been very successful. Until recently museums were very confident about their role and many were confidently building bigger buildings, getting bigger collections, reaching bigger audiences – and spending bigger amounts of money. But as we anticipate, or in some cases already begin to experience, reduced income because of the global financial crisis and recognise the need to reduce our use of natural resources, increasing public benefit through growth looks less likely to be the answer for the next decade. So instead of trying to raise more income to keep getting bigger, perhaps we could stay the same size. Or even think about getting smaller. Then we would need less money and less natural resources
So, this is what museums need to do to improve their Environmental Social and Economic Sustainability Many museums are doing these things, or at least have an idea of how they could do them
So far we’ve looked separately at environmental, social and economic sustainability. Thinking about sustainability as a whole gives many more ideas about what museums could do to be sustainable I hope that it is becoming clear that sustainability is about change . It is not the same as being durable . Darwin said that in evolution the species that survive are those that adapted the best. This meant that they changed in the best way. They were flexible and did not tough it out in a hostile environment. Sustainability is not about being hard and strong and defensive. It means adapting, being flexible and working with society, the environment and the economy. There is a need for innovation If we think more about sustainability, these ideas emerge
In some areas of museum work we’re beginning to understand the full implications of sustainability. One area is collections. There’s a growing recognition that it’s not sustainable to collect for its own sake – collections need to be used. There’s also a growing recognition that the preservation of collections cannot disregard the need to reduce energy consumption. Sustainability means collections need to change, not stay the same. We cannot afford to control temperature and relative humidity too much. In the Netherlands you should not need to use air conditioning.
Many areas of museum practice that need interrogating from a sustainable development perspective – and I know that in the Netherlands some of you are beginning to do this thinking. I hope you might work together to think about some of these areas and let the wider museums world know your thoughts.
The results might not always be what you expect. We imagine exhibitions use a lot of energy with all the travel and the aeroplanes. However, the V&A found: Exhibitions: on site and touring – seen by 2.7 million people for just 5% of the museums carbon emissions And we may think that websites are much better for the planet – quiet, clean, small. However, the V&A found that IT – including web servers – more than twice as much at 11% of total carbon emissions
I have very little time so I will give just two examples of innovation. Environmental innovation. Your Ocean at the National Maritme Museum. A permanent gallery and a touring exhibition. Displays made from cardboard, recycled yoghurt pots, scrap wire.
Museum of East Anglian Life works with many volunteers and offers training for local people, especially disadvantaged people to improve their skills and confidence. More than anything the museum director says he wants to make people happy. It asked staff and volunteers about whether they were happy and found people were making new friends, learning things and were contributing more actively to their community. The museum wants to make links between people and strengthen local society. The director says ‘we should put the museum in the hearts of people... To build the social capital [that leads to] sustainable communities.’
But I think in the Netherlands that by accident you have created a wonderful example of how museums could be more sustainable. For many years most of the Rijksmuseum has been closed. In a small part of the building the greatest works are on show. This small display still attracts many people – nearly 1million visitors a year. And they pay Euro 12.50. And it is a great experience. In a few hours you see wonderful things. I am sure most visitors are extremely happy with the Philips wing, or what I like to call the mini-Rijksmuseum. And the mini-Rijksmuseum must cost far less money to operate than the whole building and it must use much less energy. When the whole building reopens in 2013 it will cost far more to operate and use far more energy. But its social benefits may not be all that much larger – one article I read said it will have 1.5million visitors – but the mini-Rijksmuseum has 1 million. So – perhaps the Rijksmuseum should bravely innovate and stay with the mini Rijksmuseum!
That was of course meant as a joke. But there may be a sensible idea there. Certainly every museum could think about how it will be more sustainable. You need to explore these questions .
I think that to achieve sustainability museums we will have to follow these common principles, or values. These points summarise the draft principles on sustainability that the Museums Association has devised. You can find a fuller version at www.museumsassociation.org/sustainability. Each museum will need to use principles such as these to find what works for it, given its location, assets (knowledge, history, collections, buildings), audiences, opportunities, constraints and other contexts. Each museum will need to learn from others but also innovate in its own way if it is to be sustainable
Sustainability and Innovation Maurice Davies Museums Association UK www.museumsassociation.org/sustainability
Meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs
Museums enhance the quality of life of everyone, both today and in the future Museums are in the sustainability business
Social Economic Environmental Triple-bottom line
Lighting Travel Staff behaviour (“switch it off”) Reuse and recycle (don’t waste display materials) Collections-care requirements (air conditioning?) Environmental
Buy local, green and fair trade Partner with local organisations Involve community Train people and share skills Offer high quality volunteering Diversify workforce (and volunteers) Social
Bigger buildings bigger collections bigger audiences bigger budgets OR… Prosperity without growth Economic - 2 another way
<ul><li>Less energy and natural resources </li></ul><ul><li>More benefit for society </li></ul><ul><li>Less money, less growth </li></ul><ul><li>But there’s more… </li></ul>Becoming more sustainable
A sustainable museum… <ul><ul><li>is not obsessed with growth </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>focuses on quality of experience </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>perhaps works outside its buildings </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>has partnerships with other organisations </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>shares collections </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>has strong relationships with its users </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>has participants not consumers </li></ul></ul>
Collections and sustainability Preserving collection can damage the planet! Energy and money needed by collection must reflect the public benefits of the collection Collections need to be used enough now An asset to the future, not a burden Actively researched, displayed, shared … smaller?
<ul><li>What is sustainable? </li></ul><ul><li>Virtual / online or real? </li></ul><ul><li>Temporary exhibitions – good or bad? </li></ul>
<ul><li>In 20 years time, what will you have done at your museum to make a major contribution to sustainability </li></ul><ul><ul><li>size? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>collection? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>buildings? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>partners? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>audiences? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>purpose? </li></ul></ul>
<ul><li>Common principles </li></ul><ul><li>Protect environment </li></ul><ul><li>Deepen relationships </li></ul><ul><li>Improve what we pass on to the future </li></ul><ul><li>Contribute to social and economic progress </li></ul><ul><li>Look after staff </li></ul><ul><li>Plan long-term </li></ul><ul><li>Work together </li></ul>