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V&A announce net zero emissions target

A young visitor at Between Forests and Skies by Nebbia Works, one of the installations for the upcoming London Design Festival © V&A.

Geraldine Kendall Adams, V&A announces net zero emissions target for 2035, Museums Association, 10 September 2021

Commitment is among the plans in the institution’s new sustainability strategy.

A target of net zero carbon emissions by 2035 is among a range of commitments unveiled by the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) in a new action plan aimed at reducing its environmental impact.

The sustainability action plan outlines a “holistic, systems-thinking approach” to embedding sustainability within all V&A operations. Centring around “place”, “people” and “programme”, the plan considers influences across the entire organisation and beyond.

Key commitments include:

  • Reducing the negative environmental impact of the V&A’s operations and estate, with a new target to be net zero by 2035.
  • Embedding sustainable decision-making and practices across all aspects of museum activity, working closely with V&A staff, partners and sector, to share knowledge and skills.
  • Engaging audiences directly with issues of planetary limits and climate justice, through learning activities and public programmes including exhibitions, to help stimulate agency, action, and debate.

Progress will be monitored by the V&A’s executive board and trustees, with results published annually.

The plan was developed by the V&A’s first dedicated sustainability lead, Sara Kassam, who was recently appointed as sustainability trustee for the Museums Association.

The V&A said it has undertaken detailed work to calculate its emissions and map decarbonisation pathways to reach net zero.

Actions on energy, water and materials, as well as procurement, climate resilience, biodiversity and air quality form a central part of the plans. These include the creation of a new low carbon travel policy encompassing object transport, business travel and employee commuting, which aims to reduce the V&A’s travel carbon footprint by 30% by 2022

The V&A will also set operational building performance targets for all construction projects and maintaining a zero operational waste to landfill policy, as well as significantly lowering disposed waste for exhibitions and projects.

The institution will use its public programme to generate greater awareness of planetary limits and climate justice, highlighting design solutions for a sustainable future across exhibitions, educational activities and major events and installations.

Public programming

The V&A’s upcoming programme for the London Design Festival (18-26 September) features a range of installations, projects, performances and events focused on a low-carbon future, the circular economy and climate justice.

As part of Global Design Forum, the V&A has organised a Museums Towards Net Zero online event, sharing best practice on actions museums are taking to reduce their carbon footprint and encourage climate action.

Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature, which opens in February 2022, will celebrate Potter’s passion for the natural world and her work as an early pioneer of conservation. The exhibition will explore her relationship with the National Trust, which she helped to acquire more than 4000 acres of land and 14 farms, with a view to long-term preservation.

Plastic: Remaking Our World at V&A Dundee, due to open in October 2022, will chart the history of the material and explore the challenge of plastic pollution as one of the world’s most urgent issues.

Kassam said: “The V&A was founded in a time of optimistic belief in the power of industry, a seminal point in history which we now know has had devastating consequences for our planet.

“At this critical moment in the climate and biodiversity crisis, it is absolutely the responsibility of the V&A, in collaboration with others, to demonstrate the incredible potential of art and science to build a sustainable future for all. Our research and commitments have been led by the words of William Morris, who once wisely said: ‘We are only the trustees for those who come after us.”’

Gradual progress

Meanwhile, a new Arts Council England report has shown that museums in its national portfolio had one of the largest carbon footprints of the arts and culture disciplines in 2019-20, accounting for 24% of carbon emissions, compared to 17% for theatre and 15% for the visual arts.

The Culture, Climate and Environmental Responsibility: Annual Report 2019-20, which was produced by the environmental charity Julie’s Bicycle, looked at the performance of National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) on environmental sustainability.

The report found that the culture sector is making progress on decarbonising, decreasing its energy use by 12% that year and procuring 47% of its energy on a green tariff. Investment in green tech was up 4% while 66% of NPOs now include environmental sustainability in their core business strategies.

Julie’s Bicycle CEO Alison Tickell said: “This report comprises data collected from 2019-20, a time when international cultural leadership on climate was emerging – yet slowly. However, what was good enough a year ago isn’t so any longer. The urgency that is invigorating creative climate action shows just how much potential there is to accelerate the core goals of this programme: decarbonisation at scale and speed, and restoring nature and centring the experiences of people at the heart of these issues.”

A profile of Sara Kassam will appear in the next issue of Museums Journal.