Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Book Review: Sustainable Museums: Strategies for the 21st Century

Author - Rachel Mandan with case contributions from practitioners around the world.
Publisher - MuseumsEtc, Edinburgh See Book Details Here.
[This publisher  has a wide variety of global-perspective publications...keep an eye on them.]

Sustainable Museums provides solid foundational information for greening museums. It is a mix of the author’s work and a solid list of contributed cases from museums, trusts and agencies in the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Denmark and Kenya.

After an introduction on the key events in literature and politics leading to the current state of sustainability worldwide, author Rachel Madan, a UK museum consultant and Executive Director of Green Museums, provides eight sections addressing the value and design of the foundation for greening your museum: vision, leadership, team development, impact assessment, strategy development, use of targets and milestones, developing policies and plans, and then communicating sustainability practices and messages.

She’s dead on when she points out how the world and the museum field has made too little progress on sustainability, and, sadly, I had to laugh and one of interviewees referring to green team situation as more of an ‘after school club’ than an agent of change. It’s true. Green teams have become common, but rarely do they mature past interest-group status to leadership teams.

Madan’s suggestions on developing vision, identifying barriers and ‘drivers for change’, and creating strategic communication methods and sustainability steering groups, caught my eye. I particularly like that in her suggestions, as well as the case studies, that there is very little green ‘bling’ and very much an emphasis on efficiencies, collaboration, and sound baseline information.

The sales pitch is a bit strong, but the author's solid experience, and the valuable cases, soften the advertisements. Among the cases’ great stories I found many valuable snippets I’d hope the field could emulate. If forced to choose favorites, here they are:

 Shedd Aquarium (US) has evolved from a Green Team to A Green Sustainability Department

 Minnesota Historical Society (US) is tackling a statewide, property-wide assessment for efficiencies

 National Gallery in Denmark creates carbon accounts for exhibits

 United Kingdom museums and trusts are benefitting from collaborative, government-supported, direct-delivery programs supporting energy reduction

 The Design Museum (England), uses a cross-comparison of audience datasets between “GreenAware” and “Mosaic” software for evaluating audience awareness of and commitment to green practice, and the correlation to museum interest and support.

 The highly-efficient Normandy American Cemetery Visitor Center honors the site by also using local materials, respectful profile and emotional planning.

 Renaissance South East’s (England) Green SLIME program (Science Links in Museum Education) for partnering with schools to advance environmental understanding and practice

 Hull House (US) and its Re-Thinking Soup program using local food to provide a weekly soup lunch for discussing food sustainability, security, and resourcefulness

They were a pleasure to read, and a shot of inspiration. Some days I feel I am banging my head against the wall, and others I feel at least I’m not doing it alone!

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