Friday, 27 April 2012

Green Museums Project

GREEN SHOOTS: energy efficiency and reducing costs.

Yvette Shepherd, Museum Development Officer, South & West London reports on the Museum of London’s Renaissance Green Museums Project.

Increasing energy costs have forced many museums to review their operations to maximise energy efficiency and reduce costs.  For many this has been complemented by increased awareness of their responsibilities to reduce the overall environmental impact of museum services and to increase awareness of environmental issues. 

The Museum of London’s Renaissance Green Museums Project provided membership of the Green Business Tourism Scheme (GBTS) to five of London’s smaller museums, Bexley Heritage Trust, Bruce Castle Museum, Kelmscott House, Little Holland House and the Whitechapel Gallery, to assist them in reviewing their current operations and assessing where improvements might be made.  From the resulting action plans each museum received a small grant towards its priority project.  Projects were completed within a four -month period after which museums received a follow up assessment from GBTS.

The Projects:

Bexley Heritage Trust’s Wildlife Corner project involved the creation of a new pond and bug hotel in a meadow area on the banks of the River Cray.  An old flower bed near the meadow has been turned into a lavender garden in order to attract butterflies and wildlife and the old nursery shop has been converted into a flexible dry space for teaching sessions and events.

Caroline Worthington, Chief Executive, Bexley Heritage Trust says  'Our new Gardens Interpretation Officer is already inundated with bookings for pond dipping and bug hunting sessions – good practice for the summer when families will be able to experience “Wet and Wild” week, an action packed safari around the pond [see image above].'

Bruce Castle Museum’s Greening the Castle for a Sustainable Future project
achieved improvements across a number of priority areas: energy consumption has been reduced by converting to LED lighting [see gallery image below]; ecologically made goods have been acquired for the shop [see pencil image below]; an educational programme of family activities has been developed highlighting green activities through historical themes; ‘green’ information has been added to the website and a Green Visitor Charter and Information File has been developed.

'We were thrilled to have two young visitors - who had taken part in 'How Green Were The Tudors' back in October 2011 - come back to the museum with 4 little oak saplings. They had heard about Henry VIII getting oak trees planted to ensure a good supply of timber for his ships,and were inspired to plant acorns to grow  their own oak trees. And their attempts were very successful - their acorns sprouted.  Only they couldn't grow the oak trees in their small garden so to ensure the saplings survived they brought them back to Bruce Castle to be replanted back in the park around the museum.' Deborah Hedgecock, Curator, Bruce Castle Museum.

Kelmscott House’s Environmental efficiency and promotion project focussed on replacement lighting within the listed building and printing fair trade cotton bags.  Promotion of environmental issues through walking tours and educational workshops for schools will be addressed when funds become available.

Whitechapel Gallery’s Increasing low energy lighting at Whitechapel Gallery project has been a catalyst for a major new sustainability programme for Whitechapel Gallery.  The grant has been used to fit LED lighting within a gallery space, with the permission of the artist Tobias Rehberger.

'With support from the Green Museums Project, we’ve been able to act on a direct recommendation from the Green Tourism Board, increasing the amount of low energy lighting we use at Whitechapel Gallery [see image above].

The project combined environmental expertise with the aesthetic considerations of a Grade II* listed building. For us the project achieved widespread support for bringing environmental practice to the heart of producing exhibitions, shown nowhere better than through Tobias Rehnberger’s agreement to feature low energy lighting in his 2008 work, Adaption 13, pictured.' Sophie Hayles, External Relations Officer, Whitechapel Gallery.

Little Holland House’s Project to upgrade the Energy Efficiency of Little Holland House provided improvements to energy efficiency by upgrading insulation in the roof and around the water system and replacement of lighting with low energy fittings.  Information was also provided for visitors regarding Sutton Museum and Heritage Service’s commitment to sustainability and what actions they can take to be green, via a Green Information file.

Findings from the initial advisory assessments by GBTS indicated that for all the museums communication is an issue where considerable improvements might be made and all of the participants have indicated a commitment to improvements in this area.  Most of the grant recipients viewed these projects as a starting point for a long term commitment towards environmental sustainability.

Further to the final GBTS assessments, on completion of these improvement projects, all five museums received an award through the scheme:

Bexley Heritage Trust
Bruce Castle Museum

Kelmscott House
Little Holland House
Whitechapel Gallery


It’s clear that aside from the energy savings made through these projects a key impact has been increased awareness and commitment from museum staff.

Bexley Heritage Trust noted that the project “has been a boost for the garden team” and “the organisation has embraced and is promoting sustainability”.  For example, the education team has now opted to send out all booking materials by email and has begun a challenge for schools to be the best at recycling lunch waste.  In addition pond dipping sessions will add another income stream for the Trust.

Bruce Castle Museum also noted an improvement in the awareness of staff. “Staff are now more aware of their own practices and are more conscious about the products they buy for consumption at work.” The project has provided an opportunity for the museum to review and highlight work it has carried out previously and to work with Friends of Bruce Castle and the Parks Service to plant trees and restore a kitchen garden.  Programming has also embraced sustainability with Vintage Fair events which will also assist in generating income.

The William Morris Society also reported an increase in general environmental awareness amongst staff and volunteers.  This is of particular relevance as ideas of environmental sustainability were reflected in William Morris’s own beliefs and writing.


The timetable for these projects was very tight and that resulted in knock-on pressures regarding procurement of suitable equipment and communication between relevant staff and technical experts.  In addition two local authority based museums were affected by Council cutbacks to parks and museum staff, which also impacted on projects.  Ideally museums undertaking environmental improvements should take into account the possibility of delays due to lack of available stock of suitable LED lighting.  It is also clear from the experience of participants that miscommunication can lead to increased costs and museums need to ensure sufficient time to brief/negotiate curatorial staff regarding options.


All four of the museums undertaking energy efficiency improvements as part of their projects are committed to monitoring energy usage and all will be able to compare future consumption with the baseline data from supplied as part of the preliminary GBTS assessment.

The degree to which awareness has been raised through this work will be measured through usage, media coverage, website hits and sales of ‘eco friendly’ shop goods.  The initial findings look promising.

For all 5 participants to achieve an award during their first year in the GBTS scheme is a great achievement and I’m hopeful that armed with their improvement plans and the commitment and enthusiasm of their staff all of the museums will be able to build on this work for a sustainable future.

Guest author: Yvette Shepherd
Museum Development Officer, South & West London
Tel:  020 7001 9831

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