Marches Network – Greener museums

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Project

Reducing bills: Greener museums

Organisation

Marches Network, that manages the West Midlands Museum Development Programme, acting collectively to strengthen more than 130 museums in the region by providing advice and guidance on a wide range of issues.

Aims

  • Group reduction of 20% in energy consumption by March 2015.
  • To reduce individual energy bills across the cohort.
  • Raise awareness within the museums themselves and through them ‘create positive messages’ to the visiting public.
  • Create a bank of best practice case studies to champion and inspire wider change across the sector.

Challenges

  • Monitoring energy consumption, particularly in multi-use buildings occupied by more than one organisation, can be problematic.
  • Sustainability improvements must be balanced with the conservation needs of the museums’ collections, which require certain environmental controls to ensure their long-term preservation.
  • Some participants were working within listed buildings or landscapes, which restricted the changes they could make. Now we have gone through this process, we are struggling to comprehend how we managed before we had a full picture of our consumption! Once you know what you are measuring you can use that as a starting point for setting a challenge on reducing your consumption”.
  • Access to finance to support capital change is especially difficult for Charitable Trust led museums, regardless of size.

Partners

  • The Marches Network Museum Development Officers managed the project.
  • Arts Council England funds the West Midlands Museum Development Programme.
  • Thirteen museums participated in the core project cohort:
  1. Charlecote Park (National Trust)
  2. Chedham’s Yard (Volunteer led)
  3. Compton Verney (Independent Trust)
  4. Coventry Transport Museum (Independent Trust)
  5. Heritage Motor Centre (Independent Trust)
  6. House on Crutches Museum ((Volunteer led)
  7. Marton Museum of Country Bygones (Volunteer led)
  8. Northgate Museum (Volunteer led)
  9. Nuneaton Museum and Art Gallery (Local Authority museum)
  10. Rugby Museum and Art Gallery (Local Authority museum)
  11. Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum (Independent Trust)
  12. Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (Independent Trust)
  13. Shugborough Estate (National Trust/Local Authority)

Project delivery

Most museums get no public funding and local authority subsidies are also in decline. As small charitable companies, museums can rarely take advantage of financial savings open to larger enterprises. Utility and property bills, especially for historic buildings continue to rise. In 2013, thirteen museums began a journey to a more sustainable future through the ‘Reducing Bills: Going Green’ programme. Each received a thermal imaging survey and sustainability assessment. The results created individual action plans of improvements. Museum Development Officers brokered external partnerships and brought in specialist expertise to support participants’ progress. The wide variety of governance models, size and location of the museums showed that anyone can make a difference on a small budget. A strong knowledge-sharing network was created helping best practice case studies and resources to be shared through meetings, project blogs and e-newsletters.

Meeting aims and overcoming challenges

  • Some sites have been able to substantially reduce their consumption and costs very quickly through quite simple measures. Over a year, we have seen an average reduction in our monthly electricity consumption of 8%, with as much as a 32% reduction in usage in some months.”
  • Encouraging a better monitoring regime has had a positive knock-on effect on overall decision-making and policy assumptions, and has raised awareness of how museums might make more sustainable decisions across exhibitions, purchasing etc.
  • Giving Local Authority funded museums the confidence and information to show their worth and lead the way.

Other sitting tenants in the building contribute to energy consumption; they have air conditioning units and fridges and freezers that are switched on 24×7. The bills for all of us tenants are currently split on a m2 basis and not on the amount they consume”.

  • Many museums were already undertaking ‘green activities,’ but not sharing their stories with their visitors. They are now much more aware of what and how this can influence their interpretation strategy.

Learning points

  • The Knowledge Cafes network sessions were incredibly useful and had some great content, but over time, cohort members found it difficult to accommodate these and so attendance was varied.
  • The wide variety of governance models, size of operation and scheduling group events was a challenge.
  • We assumed that reading and monitoring utility bills would be straightforward, but it can be challenging.
  • The ‘green champions toolkit’ is a really useful resource and encourage all museums to take control of their own green journeys.
  • The case study library enables museums to see how other like minded groups have done things simply.

Results

  • The group is on target for an overall 20% reduction and some museums have already seen greater than 20% reduction in bills.
  • Thirteen museums received thermal imaging and environmental assessments.
  • Four training events were organised to exchange information and progress.
  • Thirty professionals trained to improve their sustainability skills and awareness.
  • The ‘Green Champions Toolkit’ was created.
  • A library of online ‘museum friendly’ case studies created.
  • Two DIY ‘Energy Saving Lighting Calculators’ created.
  • Two internships delivered through the University of Warwick’s Green Steps programme.
  • Participant awards achieved, for example Shugborough, who received a Silver Sustainability Award from Enjoy Staffordshire, a NUS Green Impact Bronze Award and a Chedham’s Yard Bronze Green Tourism Business Award.

Awards

  • The website featured as ‘The Best of the Blogs’ in the Museums Journal, March 2013.
  • Individual museums have gained accolades or prizes for their green or organic activities. This project has been a material support, but not necessarily direct cause

SWM Comment

We applaud the way the museums have worked together to show that even very challenging public buildings like theirs, with the consideration of preservation of artefacts and a shortage of funding, can take action to make energy savings.

Contact

Helen Johnson, helen.johnson@staffordshire.gov.uk.

Further information

www.marchesnetwork.org.uk