Museums and climate change


Audience Research

Feedback Postcard


One of the more refreshing aspects of the Museums Australasia conference was hearing from one of our sectors leading thinkers, Robert Janes. I was very excited to be meeting him again (the last time would have been in the early 90s when he was the director at the Glenbow Museum in Alberta, Canada). However, this was not to be as he gave his talk via video choosing not to travel as a stand against climate change and consumption – what a statement that was!

During his address there was plenty of chatter on the Twitter back-channel about what museums can, and should, be doing about climate change. Over the years I have done quite a bit of work in this area and the three observations I have always made are that visitors:

  1. want museums to be addressing this issue
  2. want to know simple things they can do to help
  3. are looking to museums to provide this information and be a sensible voice in the “debates”

However, I personally believe that museums have got this a bit wrong. Inspired by Janes, the issue for me is how can we legitimately talk to our visitors about climate change when we encourage / model practices that support (needless) consumption? Here’s some example across our sector that I could think of:

  • Printed materials that visitors don’t want or don’t use (think what’s on programs, exhibition flyers and posters, paper invitations, etc, etc)
  • Magazines that continue to be posted to people who will be happy with a simple digital version
  • Building expensive exhibitions out of non-reusable materials that are disposed of at the end of the show’s run
  • Sponsorship / funding from organisations with a poor record on climate change. Certainly BP’s sponsorship of the British Museum is coming under fire for just this very reason…
  • Wasteful materials used in cafes and shops. And while we’re on the subject, do museum shops only source from ethical suppliers, while cutting down on packaging and cheap plastic items??
  • Education and learning materials printed out when digital versions will do

And I could go on. So, what to do? Perhaps the answer is as simple as thinking about our everyday practices and taking steps to combat the above, just as visitors would be expecting (and hoping) that we will do.

Wondering if anyone knows of museums who are exemplars in this area??

And, to finish, some background resources on museums and climate change:

Something to think about…


6 thoughts on “Museums and climate change

  1. lyndalllinaker says:

    Museums Australia ( and the UK Museums Association (also have guides out for Sustainable Museums ( I think that there are plenty of things that museums can do to minimise their carbon footprints and improve on sustainability as suggested in your post. It’s a matter of being more aware in our everyday thinking. In a way, the very nature of museums is that they protect and recycle their collections into the future. As far as exhibitions go – it is always good to plan and recycle exhibitions as well in a travelling format, so that they can move around Australia or travel overseas, for example – “On their Own” or “Warships” exhibitions at ANMM. I also feel strongly that museums need to discuss these issues where possible in the conversation with visitors through the use of such objects as “Ghostnet” sculptures or exhibitions that raise awareness, educate and offer solutions about climate change and promote the conversation with visitors within the context of their own collections or locations.

    • lyndakelly61 says:

      Thanks for this Lyndall. We had a really good discussion about it the other day with some ways forward suggested. Thanks also heaps for those links which I’ll share internally. Agree with you about the educating part, as long as we are doing our bit too – ok to preach to visitors but we also must look to ourselves.

      • Bob Janes says:

        Dear Lynda,

        Please send me your new email address – my file is out of date for you. I want to thank you and send you some things.

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