Making a move on eco-organisational changes

This post comes to you from the EcoMuseum


Museums and galleries, along with a plethora of other ‘event’ based organisations such as theatres, festivals and so on, have been attempting for many years now, to assess their resource use and reduce it. Sustainability is big news in the world of culture.

To integrate sustainability into an organisation’s core practices it’s important to understand why you are taking the trouble. Don’t attempt to pay a lot of money to eco-profiteers who have no understanding of your core business. Many organisations hope to buy change. Unfortunately all that does is wipe the surface of a problem that may not even be truly understood yet.

There are plenty of companies and consultants out there ready to offer a few impressive powerpoint presentations and one-liners. It looks good on paper to say you’ve had an ‘expert’ in, but what have you really achieved? Introducing environmental sustainability into an organisation where the standards equal unsustainable consumption is never going to be easy. If your colleagues have no reason to go to the trouble of introducing new and alien practises that potentially harm the quality of their output, then who can blame them if they choose to ignore the experts.

An organisation needs to carefully plan each step without rushing into change. One way to utilise external expertise is to pilot organisational change with one department.

A museum for instance, might undertake a thorough audit of practices in the Conservation department across a six month period. Materials, products, energy, and costs should all be examined. This of course can be coordinated in-house by the conservation team themselves.

It is natural for the team to harbour a strong curiosity around the results and their impacts. Don’t waste their curiosity. Build upon it. This is where external expertise – guided by the museum and not the other way around – is invaluable. After a professional environmental sustainability team has audited the impacts one of the most important elements of this exercise comes into its own. In a workshop allowing the team to ‘find’ the solutions, the assistance of professionals explaining where eco perspectives and assumptions are mistaken or correct can be an engaging and transforming experience. Most people are shocked to find out that their beliefs around what’s good and bad are totally at odds with the facts.

Some of the biggest misconceptions involve the risks of higher costs, increased effort and comparable ineffectiveness of alternatives. Your workshop will need to integrate, not ignore, colleagues’ concerns. This might mean prior research on alternatives and even a couple of demonstrations. Peeling back the layers of disguise to uncover what a material or product needs to function can be a powerful tool in altering mindsets. At least it’s an improvement on a bunch of motherhood statements!

For instance, just imagine your marketing team comes to their workshop with a figure related to how much time they spend utilising online resources such as Facebook and Twitter. Their assumption might be that the dematerialistic nature of online communications is extremely eco friendly. Until you explain the impact of cloud computing and the enormous energy needs of data centres that organisations like Facebook require. Then show them this video.

It demonstrates how cheap energy is now being sourced and purchased for some of these data centres. Many of these data centres are choosing to buy renewable energy, but not all. So when your marketing team logs on to Facebook knowing that organisation uses dirty coal to fuel their enormous data centres, at the very least they’re not living in ignorance any longer, and they are conscious of Facebook’s impact on the environment.

The museum or gallery that chooses an educational strategy over motherhood consultants will be able to demonstrate tangible organisational change, not just a meaningless sentence buried in their Annual Report.

the EcoMuseum, is a project of Carole Hammond, Exhibition Manager and museum professional: combining the complex ideologies of aesthetics, culture, objects, entertainment…and environment.

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