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Measuring Your Museums Carbon Footprint

Measuring Your Museums Carbon Footprint

In this blog Alex Smith, MGS Climate Officer, gives advice on how museums can measure their carbon footprint. 

Museums as organisations have a crucial role to play in the fight against climate change. While they have significant potential in their unique ability to engage with and educate wide audiences, they also have direct action they can take through the management of their buildings and collections. Given the responsibility that museums have for their collections, a balance needs to be sought between the need to preserve collections and the need to reduce energy use.  

The Paris Climate Agreement set to limit global warming to well below 2°C and preferably to 1.5°C with nations volunteering nationally determined contributions.  

The Scottish government for one, has pledged to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. Scotland has made progress in reducing its carbon footprint so far with a 31% reduction in total greenhouse gas emissions from 2008 to 2018. However, the majority of this came from advances made in renewable energy which tripled in the same time period. As a result, further efforts with tougher action are required for emissions to reduce even further. 

With the need to act becoming increasingly urgent, more and more organisations are acting to reduce their own carbon footprint. Why an organisation would choose to take action to become more environmentally sustainable depends on its own circumstances with a range of factors influencing decisions.  

It can be difficult to know how you practically approach managing such intangible issues and it can seem daunting at first. The first step is to understand what you’re working with- what greenhouse gases your organisation is emitting, what is your carbon footprint? This will help breakdown your emissions to different sectors of organisational operations.  

In general, an organisations emissions are divided into three areas: 

  1. Direct emissions from controlled or own sources such as on-site energy use for heating or powering machinery and the emissions from fleet vehicles. 
  1. Indirect emissions from the generation of your purchased electricity, steam, heating or cooling which are consumed by your organisation. 
  1. Emissions caused by indirect action from your organisational operations such as supply chain, staff/volunteer travel, and anything else upstream and downstream of your operations. 

For museums the main areas of emissions are: 

  • Energy use for buildings/office running 
  • Collection management, storage and care, including freight 
  • Staff/volunteer travel (business and commuting) 
  • Waste management 
  • Visitor travel 
  • Café and retail operations 

To do this calculation, there are several online tools which can be used to calculate your carbon footprint using energy and water bills, trips taken for commuting or business, weight of waste produced etc. Museums Galleries Scotland is currently producing one but there are others available such as: 

Using a carbon calculator will support you in understanding what areas of operations are producing the most emissions and where action and attention needs to be taken. For example, if the purchasing of natural gas for heating is producing significant emissions it would be more efficient to focus on retrofitting buildings, insulating walls and windows, switching to renewable sources of heating, installing new technology, or simply turning the thermostats down if possible. Whereas if the same calculations showed a small proportion of emissions from staff/volunteer travel, focusing on that wouldn’t be the most practical area to invest in.  

All organisations have a carbon footprint of some kind, some may be larger than others but regardless of size, resources or capacity, there are always steps you can take to reduce yours and help in the journey to net-zero. 

If you have any questions or want to get in contact to talk about carbon management or any other environmental issues, please contact MGS’s Climate Officer at alexs@museumsgalleriesscotland.org.uk 

Published 09 November 2021