Case study: Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Preston

The Harris Museum & Art Gallery began focussing on environmental improvements in 2010 and quickly realised that the workforce would be key to its success.

The Harris building was opened in 1893 in the heart of Preston as a free museum, library and art gallery. The building is Grade I listed and still retains most of its original features, including grand, but inefficient and uncontrollable, Victorian radiators. The building has a central rotunda through the middle which acts as a chimney stack drawing up heat, making conditions on the top floors extremely warm, even in winter.

A major contributory factor to heat and energy bills was the amount of electricity used by lighting and computers. Therefore the Harris decided to concentrate its efforts on reducing electricity consumption.

At the start of the project staff attended a briefing introducing them to the sustainability work the museum was going to be doing, and a volunteer was recruited from each section (including the library), to form a Green Champions group. The Green Champions are advocates for sustainability; they provide a lead for others to follow in incorporating small changes to everyday working practices that quickly started to make a big difference.

To begin, each Green Champion went back to their team and worked with the rest of the staff to come up with 3 lists:

  1.  What we currently do that’s green
  2. The “quick wins” we could start to implement straight away
  3. “In an ideal world” thoughts/longer term ideas/ideas with a financial cost

They put these ideas together to produce definitive lists and began by focussing on the “quick wins”. Most of these were based around reducing the amount of electricity used.

To keep the momentum going the Green Champions made sure the work on sustainability remained visible to staff:

  • Monthly electricity consumption figures are turned into a graph which is pinned up in staff kitchens.
  • Greening the museum is a fixed item on meeting agendas so that the Champions can regularly update on what’s happening.
  • Signs have been put on light switches as a reminder to switch them off
  • Staffs have been given plans of the basement marking the locations of light switches including ones which have to remain on and those that are optional

The museum achieved a substantial reduction in a short time from small measures.

In the three months since the staff briefing and formation of the Green Champions Group, our electricity consumption has gone down by over 9,000kWh, or 10%, on the same period last year, which represents a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of 4 tonnes. This is purely through being more diligent about switching off lights and computers. We are also experimenting with different light levels on stairwells, galleries and the libraries.

The Harris then moved on to talk to visitors, explaining what they are doing and why, and to get ideas from them on how their museum could be more sustainable. The museum also used a detailed survey of the condition of the building to begin to tackle larger issues requiring substantial investment, such as replacing inefficient heating and lighting systems.

Source: “Museums & art galleries survival strategies: A guide for reducing operating costs and improving sustainability”

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