A blog from Hannah Guthrie of the London Transport Museum Commission Project about her experience at a recent Operation Green Museum event.

One concern expressed at the Happy Museum symposium in Suffolk a couple of weeks ago was the potential disconnect between the concepts of wellbeing and social sustainability versus that of environmental sustainability. It was a concern I shared about the Happy Museum commission I am involved with at London Transport Museum. Whilst being nowhere near perfect, and definitely far from a green activist, I do consider myself to be more environmentally minded than the average young professional; I recycle, I put an extra jumper on rather than turn the heating on, and I aim to grow as much of my own food as I can in a 30ft garden in Walthamstow. But despite these green leanings I have found it hard to make the connection between my project and the environmental principles of the Happy Museum. The Conversation Hub is certainly about sustainability but it’s more about creating sustainable connections with our local community than our carbon footprint. It was this confusion in my head that led me to attend the Operation Green Museum event held at The Garden Museum.

The event was organised by Jade-Lauren Cawthray, the first of four sustainability trainees at the Museum. The traineeships have been funded through the Heritage Lottery Fund Skills for the Future programme and by 2014 there will have been four, yearlong traineeships. It’s an exciting project that has specifically aimed to engage young people who are interested in sustainability and heritage. After the project, there will be four young, enthusiastic professionals ready to apply their knowledge and skills in the Museum sector. After meeting Jade, I predict these will be four people to watch.

After a tour of the new temporary exhibition at the Museum, From Garden City to Green City we found out more about the impact Jade has had on The Garden Museum since April. She’s focused on sustainability in three areas, social, economic and environmental. This has resulted in change from developing community partnerships to creating and implementing a museum-wide zero waste to landfill strategy. All Garden Museum staff stressed the importance of having someone onsite focusing on environmental sustainability rather than a consultant who gives suggestions and strategies but isn’t always there to ensure plans are carried out.

The rest of the afternoon was chaired by Happy Museum symposium guest, Maurice Davies, the Museums Association’s Head of Policy. We discussed issues of humidity ? the V&A have relaxed conditions for stored collections ? and the reusing and recycling of museum exhibits. The subject of money was raised as a barrier ? with museum shops concerned by profit margins choosing cheap overseas production over costly local alternatives ? and as an impetus, when saving materials and energy are concerned. With representatives from The National Trust and some of the National museums round the table, thoughts turned to the impact of our visitors and the carbon footprint of their journeys to get to us.

I left thinking that our Happy Museum project might be more about carbon footprints than I first thought. It’s not aiming to change the building of the museum or how much we recycle, but it is focusing on our local audience. Maybe this is where the local focus of the Happy Museum really could have an environmental impact; with commissions bolstering their connections to local communities rather than relying on visitors from further afield. For us, the project will explore how we tie our community work into work that already happens at the museum, rather than using resources to create outputs which aren’t central to the museum and get forgotten and thrown away. We’re investing in our relationships with the local community to try and build a more sustainable future with a community more resilient to the changes and challenges which might lie ahead, social, economic and maybe even environmental too.

If you want to find out more about what Jade is doing at The Garden Museum, you can follow her blog.

Hannah Guthrie | London Transport Museum


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