Protecting the environment and promoting sustainable living are paramount challenges facing global society. We are dedicated to leading by example, promoting sustainable practices and inspiring visitors and stakeholders to join us in safeguarding the environment for future generations.
We are currently facing a global climate emergency which is possibly the biggest challenge our planet faces today. Governments, organisations and individuals worldwide have realised the urgency for action.
Museums shape our view of the world, helping us understand who we are and the world we live in. They influence our thinking and behaviour and are uniquely positioned to make a difference.
As custodians of cultural and natural heritage, museums play a crucial role as educators, enablers and beacons of sustainable practice.
Protecting the environment and promoting sustainable living are paramount challenges facing global society. National Museums NI is dedicated to leading by example, promoting sustainable practices and inspiring visitors and stakeholders to join us in safeguarding the environment for future generations.
In 2018/19, we commissioned a baseline carbon audit for our operations which revealed that we emitted 2,004t CO2e for direct and indirect emissions. CO2e refers to Carbon Dioxide Equivalent which is a measure to compare the climate effects of various greenhouse gases.
In 2021/22, our emissions have been calculated as 1,872t CO2e. Carbon reduction is now one of our lead environmental sustainability key performance indicators in our annual business plan. We are committed to a 50% reduction in direct and indirect emissions by 2030 in alignment with the 2015 Paris Accord.
We have also recently signed up to Business in the Community NI's Climate Action Plan and the Pledge to Net Zero, following science-based targets to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.
Our Statutory Responsibility
National Museums NI has responded to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) recent consultation on proposals for public sector body reporting and regulations under the Climate Change Act (Northern Ireland) 2022. We are a specified public body under the regulations and will report to DAERA regularly on our mitigation and adaptation measures.
We are also likely to be impacted by the proposed carbon budgets for Northern Ireland as an arm’s length body of the Department for Communities. The carbon budgets will set the maximum amount of carbon dioxide that may be emitted for a five year period.
Linked to the carbon budgets will be a Climate Action Plan that will contain the policies, programmes and approaches to decision-making on investment that are needed to secure the necessary progress towards net zero (emissions equal or less than emissions removed by the UK from the environment).
Our Natural Sciences team is working hard to unlock the immense potential of the Natural Sciences collection and harness the associated information, reflecting the historic species diversity represented by our specimens. This contributes to understanding environmental change and fosters a deeper appreciation for biodiversity. Our Natural Sciences collection is an invaluable resource which serves as a window into Earth’s past and present, documenting the remarkable diversity of species and ecosystems. New collections continue to build on this foundation, offering ever-expanding resources of great scientific value.
We will use the Natural Sciences collection to educate visitors about the importance of biodiversity, ecosystem preservation, and the impact of human activities on the environment. The documentation of Irish geology reflecting landscape changes over time, including magnificent fossils, reflects deep time changes.
We are collaborating with our partner organisations like the Centre for Environmental Data and Recording (CEDaR), Buglife Northern Ireland, the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI), researchers and other conservation organisations to study and document biodiversity, track species distribution and population trends and monitor environmental changes over time. This research can contribute to better understanding of ecosystems and aid in the development of conservation strategies.
National Museums NI is committed to using access to our collections, on-site wild places and environmental data sets to reconnect people with nature and encourage agency in recording, championing and protecting our natural world.
Reawakening the Ulster Folk Museum
The rich cultural landscape and diverse collections preserved at the Ulster Folk Museum hold important meaning for today’s society and can help promote the wellbeing of society, the individual and the environment. The museum is a dynamic heritage and environment resource which creates new ways to link our heritage with a sustainable future and reconnects people with nature and with the rhythms of the landscape in this time of environmental crisis.
New buildings, as part of our Reawakening Project at the Ulster Folk Museum, will be in tune with both the finest contemporary aesthetics and the best sustainable practice and will be designed and built to BREAAM Excellent and PassivHaus standards.
To spearhead our sustainability efforts, we have created the role of Sustainability Manager who is working to develop a Sustainability Action Plan aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This plan will cover our aims, objectives, targets and planned activities across various areas such as energy, waste, water, travel and staff engagement with climate change and environmental issues.
We have also established an Environmental Sustainability Policy to drive our ambitions of becoming a more sustainable organisation. The policy covers areas such as carbon audit; energy; waste and recycling; biodiversity and resource use.
We are monitoring energy data from utilities across the entire National Museums NI’s estate. This proactive activity enables us to get a good handle on where energy is being consumed through daily, weekly and monthly reporting and to take steps to improve energy efficiency measures where possible.
We will be honouring our sustainability commitments with environmental responsibility in mind when developing exhibitions and displays. A recent example is the Celtic Wave exhibition at the Ulster Transport Museum where the exhibition incorporated PVC-free graphics and reused AV equipment. The structures are built from sustainably-sourced timber, and carefully designed to be reusable at the end of the exhibition’s life.
We are managing our waste in accordance with the waste hierarchy of prevention, reduction, reuse, recycling, and disposal. And we are working to identify how we can improve our processes towards better waste prevention. This will include a waste audit to establish the composition of our waste and an assessment of what we need to do to improve our reduction, reuse and recycling.
No Mow May and All-Ireland Pollinator Plan
At Ulster Folk Museum and Ulster Transport Museum we are establishing new and restoring existing meadows across the Cultra site by reducing the mowing schedule through initiatives such as No Mow May. National Museums NI signed up to the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan in June 2021. The No Mow May initiative is a positive first step towards implementing the actions associated with the implementation of the Plan within our museum estate.
We are building partnerships with like-minded organisations to support our environmental sustainability and biodiversity efforts.
We have been working with The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) to revive previously dormant green spaces across our museum sites, inviting volunteers and visitors to actively participant in initiatives like native tree planting, creating willow walkways and learning about sustainable practice.
We are working with the Woodland Trust to activate and deliver a woodland restoration management plan at the Ulster Folk Museum and Ulster Transport Museum. Some of this work entails identifying specific conservation threats and determining ecological priorities including for example the removal/control of damaging invasive species such as Cherry Laurel and Rhododendron.
National Museums has recently joined Fit for the Future. This is an environmental sustainability network administered by the National Trust with over 150 charities, heritage organisations, cultural venues, public sector bodies and more in its membership. Fit for the Future facilitates knowledge-sharing and collaboration across organisations and sectors so that they can achieve the rapid and far-reaching changes needed to decarbonise, adapt to climate change and drive positive environmental impacts.
Woodland Trust Project
We are proud that the Ulster Folk Museum has recently been awarded the Bronze Award in the Green Tourism accreditation program, with the support of Belfast City Council and Visit Belfast. The Ulster Museum also received a Bronze Award. We are actively working towards achieving Green Tourism accreditation for our other museums.
We have achieved a Silver Level in the 2023 Northern Ireland Environmental Benchmarking Survey by Business in the Community and are committed to improving its environmental impacts. Find out more and download the report at www.bitcni.org.uk/niebs