Science Museum's Carbon Actions

For several years the Science Museum has been exploring ways of reducing its energy consumption and carbon emissions. The atmosphere project and the wider Climate Changing programme have given greater impetus to what we do, how we operate and how we develop exhibitions.

Here you can read about:

atmosphere ...exploring climate science

From the start of the atmosphere project we were keen to produce an innovative exhibition which balanced its environmental impact with the ability to inspire and engage our visitors. To help achieve this balance we appointed external sustainability consultants Small World Consulting to help measure and give advice on the carbon footprint of the project.

Mike Berners-Lee from Small World has answered some questions about the work he did for the Museum...

What did the Museum ask you to do?

'Advise on the sustainability and carbon footprint of the atmosphere project.'

What is a carbon footprint and how did you calculate it?

'The carbon footprint relates to the greenhouse gas emissions caused directly and indirectly by the exhibition project, including the activities of contractors and consultants and the emissions indirectly embodied in materials and energy use over atmosphere's lifetime.

'It's very challenging to estimate carbon footprints accurately, because of the complex web of activities that the project entails, and the difficulty of deciding which components to assign to the gallery, and which components to assign elsewhere. Using a pragmatic methodology we based our estimates on predictions of energy consumption from various parts of the exhibition and combined this is with a method called environmental input-output analysis, which adopts generalised assumptions about the emissions associated with every pound spent on the project.'

What had the largest impact on the project's carbon footprint?

'The construction of the gallery accounted for 40% of the footprint, with most of this coming from emissions from the activities of contractors and subcontractors, rather than the emissions embodied in the materials. We estimated that emissions embodied in the exhibits themselves, including electrical equipment, accounted for about 25% of the total. The lighting, heating, air conditioning and projections were estimated to account for about a fifth of the total footprint. The remaining few per cent were down to a range of small things including, for example, the exhibition team's activities and even my own footprint consulting for the project.'

What steps were taken to reduce the carbon footprint of the project?

'To manage the footprint of construction, when appointing contractors we looked carefully at their sustainable practices and the steps that companies would take to reduce emissions in their own supply chains.

'We also looked carefully at materials and made innovative choices where possible. For example, we decide to use Ecosheet, a brand-new material made from unsorted plastic waste, in parts of the exhibition.

'We researched the energy efficiency of different electronic equipment in order to select more efficient models. We applied the same approach to the lighting.

'Lunchtime workshops were run for staff to provide advice on how to minimise their carbon footprint.'

What are your top tips for reducing the carbon footprint of an exhibition and its team?

'These would be my four top tips:

  • Include supply chains as well as energy used to run the exhibition over its lifetime - without this you can't begin to target your efforts
  • Focus most on the big hitters, i.e. the largest contributors overall
  • Be both practical and creative - be prepared to do things a bit differently from normal and to look for solutions in places where they're not immediately apparent; on the one hand it's important not to compromise the quality of the exhibition, but on the other hand it's essential not cave in to problems too soon
  • Create a culture of sustainability so that it finds its way into everything in a coherent way; involve everyone as much as you can; make sure people understand what the issues are and why they matter.'

The wider Museum

Between September 2009 and October 2010 the Science Museum implemented a variety of energy-saving schemes to reduce its carbon footprint. These included:

  • Insulating and refurbishing large areas of the Museum roof
  • Replacing single-glazed windows with recyclable UPVC double-glazed units
  • Introducing temperature settings so that just the right amount of heat is produced
  • Replacing inefficient lighting and extending the use of LED technology

All of these measures helped us to reduce our carbon emissions by 17%, going beyond our 10:10 commitment, which was to reduce our carbon emissions by 10% by 2010.

Future plans

Looking towards the future, we've recently established a Carbon Reduction Working Party and appointed a dedicated Sustainability Manager who will oversee projects to further reduce the environmental impact of the Museum. These include:

  • Renewable energy At the Science Museum we already use a small solar panel array on our roof to provide some electricity. We are investigating the use of both wind and solar power at our Wroughton site.
  • Innovative heating and cooling Along with our neighbours we're investigating the practicability and impact of installing one of the world's first aquifer thermal energy storage systems. This is a cutting-edge, zero-carbon method of heating and cooling buildings by storing heat in water located deep underground.
  • Increasing awareness We're in the process of embedding carbon footprinting and energy awareness training into an induction programme for new staff. This will lead to the establishment of carbon champions in every department.

The Science Museum will continue to take into account sustainability issues when making strategic and operational decisions.