This article was released in the ICOM Canada April 2020 e-newsletter on Sustainable Development. See more articles from this issue here.
Lynsey Jones (Museum Development North West (UK))
Museum Development North West (MDNW) is based in Manchester and funded by Arts Council England (ACE) to support 150 Accredited museums in North West England. MDNW has always had a Green Museums strand in its programme, believing that sustainability is about the triple bottom line of environmental, economic and social justice.
In 2016 we started working with the Carbon Literacy Project. This originated as part of Manchester City Council’s strategy to create a zero-carbon city by 2038. The original aim was to give every person who works, lives or studies in Manchester (approximately one million people) a day’s worth of Carbon Literacy training but the climate emergency has vastly expanded the remit of the project. MDNW has been taking the lead on influencing and using museums to combat climate change using the Carbon Literacy Project.
We have since taken it beyond Manchester: we and our network of trainers have delivered training to over 300 staff, volunteers and trustees, and have also provided advice to other museums, such as National Museums Wales and Science Museum Group, on how to roll it out in their own organisations.
The training gives people an understanding of climate change and effects, giving them information to make their own decisions about what they can do to significantly reduce their own carbon footprint and that of their museums. It’s delivered peer-to-peer, none of our trainers are climate change scientists, but we all work in museums and know how museums work. The emphasis is on what museums can practically achieve.
A weakness of our previous Green programmes was that we would have one person per museum take part – their learning didn’t always get filtered across the rest of the organisation. The key part of Carbon Literacy is that any and all people from an organisation can attend. Whatever position you hold, there are things that are in your power to reduce carbon yourself, and everyone also has the ability to work with and influence others (including influencing up) to make change happen.
Some of the best conversations in the workshops have been where a cleaner has sat next to a senior manager – one has all the knowledge of bad practices within the building, the other has the power to make the changes, and the two generally don’t meet. Our message is that environmental sustainability isn’t in anyone’s job title but it’s in everyone’s role.
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