A dozen London museums have won Green Tourism awards for making their buildings more sustainable and bringing the environmental lessons of the past to life.
The museums were supported to take part in the Green Tourism Business Scheme by Renaissance London, a partnership set up to foster diverse, vibrant and sustainable regional museums in the capital.
Each museum was awarded Bronze, Silver or Gold after months of work on improvements to energy and water efficiency, waste management, biodiversity and more.
The Whitehall Museum in Sutton received gold for exemplary practice. It changed all its lighting to LED lights, which will cut its carbon emissions by 4 tonnes to 733kg and save £750 in bills over the next year. It also made links with green community organisations and put on sustainability-themed workshops which attracted a new audience to the museum.
Curator Laura Allan said: “At these workshops we are teaching people who are already interested in green issues about history, and people who are already interested in history about green issues.”
The museum – a Tudor-beamed house in the heart of Cheam – also created school workshops called ‘How green were the Tudors?’. Sutton Council’s museum and historic houses officer Valary Murphy said: “Most people haven’t even thought about environmental sustainability when the Tudors were around. The amount of rubbish they produced was negligible – all they used to leave was oyster shells.”
The Florence Nightingale Museum in Lambeth received a silver award. It brought to life the character of Alex Soyer, ‘the Jamie Oliver of his day’, a chef who lived at the same time as Florence Nightingale. He travelled to the Crimean War to teach the army about healthy eating, and the museum has used the character to work with local schools on nutrition.
An exhibition, All Stitched Up, will begin in April. It links together the history of ‘make do and mend’ in the Crimean War with the present day and features quilts made by local artist Susan Stockwell from recycled material.
The Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe received silver. The noisy, old-fashioned gas-fired heater was replaced with electric fires which are fitted with motion sensors and turn on and off as visitors move round the museum.
Museum director Robert Hulse said: “The museum is a leaky old building – it doesn’t let the water in but it doesn’t half let heat out. We can’t insulate it because it doesn’t have cavity walls and is a scheduled ancient monument. We made a big shift in our thinking from heating the building to heating people as they move around.”
The museum also improved its energy and water efficiency with LED lighting in galleries and toilets. It is estimated that the new lighting uses 50 per cent less energy, saving two tonnes of carbon dioxide and reducing the annual bill by £400.
Brunel Museum is getting the message out to the public. Mr Hulse adds: “Our volunteers talk about it to visitors, they have become advocates for energy efficiency, and see us as illustrating best practice. We don’t consume a lot of energy because we’re a small museum but we are a showcase for reducing consumption.”
The scheme will run again next year with a fund of £20k for improvements for smaller museums.
Head of Renaissance London Fiona Davison says: “Money is tight and although these schemes do pay for themselves, it takes a long time. Renaissance London is willing to put in a bit of money up front to help museums in London deliver long-term savings.”
She adds: “These awards show what can be done with small grants and gradual changes. Some museums are daunted by the prospect of making green improvements, but it doesn’t mean being told off or being given a million and one things to do. What these museums have done is within reach of even the smallest museum and we hope it will inspire others to follow suit.
“The public is increasingly concerned about the environment, so if museums want to respond to their audience this is a good start. Museums can say ‘we’re making an effort here, and if you visit us you’ll be visiting a more sustainable attraction’. “
Green Tourism technical director John Proctor said: “All the museums managed to win an award, and not everybody does that – you have to show real commitment. Being green is not just about technology – it is about telling the story of how people might have lived sustainably in the past, how they created things and found solutions to their problems without relying on a global infrastructure. That’s where museums can have tremendously positive impact, encouraging people to rethink how they deal with green issues even if it’s just one person changing the way they do things after a visit. As each of us starts moving forward, the whole world moves forward.”