How London Museums are Approaching the Climate Emergency

Published on March 24th 2020
As the climate crisis intensifies, the pressure is on for everyone to do their bit and our big cultural institutions are no exception. Thankfully, many have jumped to the challenge – albeit slightly late in the day.
A recent report published by Arts Council England (ACE) highlighted the crucial part our cultural organisations are playing in protecting the planet with half (49%) placing environmental themes at the centre of their programming and more than half (64%) shrinking their use of single-use plastics.
The report also revealed room for improvement. Of the 828 organisations enrolled in ACE’s 2018-2022 environmental programme, only 32% purchased electricity on a green tarrif while just over half 54% have installed energy efficient lighting.
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Arts Council England chair, Sir Nicholas Serota said, “over the past decade cultural organisations have demonstrated imagination, ambition and passion – embedding climate action into the core of their operations, developing creative solutions, forging partnerships and sparking desperately needed conversations on sustainability”.
So, if you’re looking for a fun and eco friendly day out in the city, make sure it’s at one of these forward-thinking institutions.
South London’s Horniman Museum is perhaps best known for its charismatic resident walrus perched atop a fibreglass iceberg. But the Horniman is home to an exciting array of living breathing creatures – as well as slightly awkward looking, overstuffed ones.
Bats, butterflies and the endangered stag beetle can be spotted along its overgrown but carefully monitored nature trail – said to be the oldest in London. Furthermore, scientists here are conducting coral reproductive research in the hope of protecting the world’s coral reefs from the damaging effects of climate change. And this year the Green Flag venue has upped its sustainable credentials by publishing a Climate and Ecology Manifesto.
Building on the success of the Grasslands Garden, an award-winning wildlife-friendly planting scheme in ode to globally threatened landscapes, the museum hopes to create a sustainable gardening zone with planet-friendly planting and a nature-themed play area. While the details are finalised we’ve got our green fingers crossed for organic methods and a no pesticide/peat policy.
While Londoners are lucky to have lots of public green spaces at their disposal, we’ll bet only one is kept hydrated by almost 200,000 litres of aquarium water. Reusing water isn’t the only way the Horniman is reducing waste. The lush 16-acre plot is nourished with garden scraps and composted food waste from the cafe, where plant-based packaging and cans of water have replaced single use plastic. The Horniman also plans on switching to a renewable electricity supplier by 2021 and becoming greenhouse gas neutral by 2040.
But it’s not the only London museum addressing the climate crisis. The V&A has a wildlife-friendly ‘green roof’, where rainwater is harvested. Plus, you can feel a little less guilty about using the V&A’s bins as all non-recyclable waste is converted into energy. And just opposite, you’ll find The Natural History Museum, which recently declared “a planetary emergency”. In response, it is setting a science-based carbon reduction target in line with the Paris climate agreement, digitising its extensive collection and launching an Urban Nature Project by 2031.
As well as providing a much-needed boost to biodiversity, the plans for The NHM’s five-acre plot include “imaginative planting, outdoor activities and citizen science projects”. The NHM will then use its own ecologically revamped gardens to sow the seeds for similar nature sites across the UK’s urban spaces.
Director of the Natural History Museum Sir Michael Dixon says: “In this time of unprecedented threat, we need an unprecedented global response. Our strategy is built around our vision of a future where people and planet thrive. Our ethos is one of hope that by working together we can change the current path. The Museum is well placed to make a difference, it is a world-leading science research centre and our 300 scientists represent one of the largest groups in the world working on natural diversity.”
According to ACE, museums have the biggest carbon footprint out of all our cultural centres so the more of them taking a stand for the environment, the better.
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