It is often assumed that the cultural sector has low carbon emissions, which is true compared with other industries. But museums and galleries specialise in producing temporary exhibitions, which produce a great deal of waste and which often require the international shipping of exhibits and materials.
The Design Museum has collaborated with URGE Collective (a multi-disciplinary design collective that helps organisations respond to the climate emergency) to produce the first environmental impact assessment for an exhibition – Waste Age, which opened in October 2021 – and used the results to begin developing an Exhibition Design Guide for Low Environmental Impact.
This work is ongoing, and the Design Museum sees this as an opportunity to create an open-source guide that would be freely available across the GLAM sector.
Funding would allow the Design Museum and URGE Collective to expand the project to include feedback from other museums and to test an Impact Assessment Tool with a number of London-based cultural institutions with a view to making it available to the GLAM sector. The goal is to produce a report advising on how museums and galleries can reduce both the waste and the carbon footprint of temporary exhibitions through better design. This would be supported by an Exhibition Design Guide, further substantiated with decision trees, material guidelines and surveys across the sector.
In the future, the Impact Assessment Tool could be made into an easy-to-use web app or online interface that any museum (and DCMS/ACE) could use to calculate and reduce its exhibition carbon footprint.