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West Midlands Museums are Greener Museums

Caring for collections, cutting costs, cherishing our planet

2013 is the year thirteen museums begin a journey towards a greener future with the Reducing Bills: Going Green, Museum Development programme. This blog will record their journey and provide advice and resources for everyone involved and interested in the programme. It was featured as the ‘Best of the Blogs’ in the March 2013 issue of the Museums Journal.

Contents

  • Why Green?
  • Why Museums?
  • The Green Tourism Business Award

Why Green?

Because green makes sense.

According to the UK Climate Projections published by DEFRA in 2009  the UK is likely to face serious changes to its climate over the next few decades – in fact, it has changed already. The average summer temperature has gone up by 1°C since 1970, and all regions reported an increase in heavy winter downpours – which we in 2013 could certainly add to! Looking forward to the 2080s, the report warns of dramatic changes – a 3 to 4°C increase in average summer temperature, and up to 23% increase in rainfall. Extreme weather conditions such as flooding and drought will be increasingly common.

Nonetheless, the report underlines the crucial difference that a change in carbon emissions will make to our future. For example, in the worst case scenario offered by the projections, which is the highest level of emissions, the sea level in London could rise to up to 68cm by 2080. In the best case scenario, which is with lower emissions, it could only be 16cm.

The prospect of extreme weather caused by climate change here in the UK is of course a huge imperative, but these days a lot of people have another climate on their mind, which is of course the economic one. Fortunately, green makes sense in that sphere as well.

The average recipient of the Green Business Tourism Award saves up to 20% on their energy bills, because green technology can make a huge difference. For example, the Carbon Trust estimates that energy saving compact flourescent bulbs can produce a 75% saving over tungsten bulbs. According to Energy Saving Trust, cavity wall insulation can save a three bedroom semi-detached house up t0 £160 a year, and an insulated roof can save £205. And even simple actions, like turning the photocopiers off at night, can save enough energy for 5000 copies.

Finally, a change to green energy does not have to be motivated by fear of climate change or by the desire to save money. It is also a way to bring communities together. The phrase ‘Think Global, Act Local’ springs to mind – by making changes in our communities, we are all chipping in to the global effort towards sustainability. And that is where museums come in.

Why Museums?

The green movement is all about conserving the world’s resources and treasures for future generations, which is something museums have been doing for centuries. For example, the Market Place museum holds one of the oldest objects found in the West Midlands, a cutting tool over 500,000 years old.

It may be luck that we still have it now, but it is also a concentration of effort and care given to something that might otherwise be taken for granted. Each of us can benefit from the lessons they freely offer us. Museums therefore are in a position to act as role models in the sustainability and conservation movement.

Museums are valued community spaces not only because they preserve our past, but also because they teach it to us. The Happy Museum project goes into detail about why museums are so important in this day and age. To begin with, we live in a time when literally thousands of things demand our attention and money, from 3D films to 100 levels of ‘Angry Birds’, but museums take us away from that for a moment. People come with their families and friends or by themselves to learn as they please rather than to get a qualification. For these reasons, people often value museums deeply and see them as neutral pillars of the community. A lot of the green energy movement is also about community – for example, one way in which museums and other organisations can go green is to demonstrate how to access the site via public transport, or to use locally sourced products. If museums can join the sustainability movement, they are helping to make their communities that bit more eco-friendly. Furthermore, while tourists do not always have the best reputation with regards to the environment, when they visit Green Museums they will be helping a small but exceptionally interesting corner of the world to blossom.

Communities value their museums because of how much they have to teach us. They are quiet spaces for learning in a busy world. They are also, for the same reasons, very popular with tourists, who in turn make a particular contribution to the environmental life of a community. This is why the Green Museums programme will be taking tourists into account by working alongside the Green Tourism Business Award.

The Green Tourism Business Award

Sustainable tourism is about bring the same principles of green that apply to everyday life – recycling, cutting back on energy and using locally-sourced products – to holidays and days out. It is profitable and fun, but does not pose any damage to the environment or local community. It is an idea proving very successful, as more than 2000 locations across the UK are opting to go green.

The Green Tourism Business Scheme is the largest nationally-recognised award scheme in the country, with over 2000 organisations taking part. Here is the quick lowdown.

Any organisation that provides food, attractions or accommodation can join the Green Tourism Business scheme, as long as they are members of a quality assurance scheme such as VisitBritain. Joining the scheme entitles them to an on-site grading by a specialist and advice about green policies. They are given access to marketing and publicity opportunities to help them spread the message to potential tourists, and the scheme continues to check on them and support them after they acquire the award. And they save an average of 20% on running costs.

The award is split into three grades – Bronze, Silver and Gold. There are many ways for a business to go sustainable and the criteria are extensive. However, there have already been successes in the West Midlands area, such as the Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust, which received a Silver Green Tourism Business award in 2008 and Chedham’s Yard, which received a Bronze Award earlier this year.

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