In what is no doubt a case of professional distortion, it seems the pace to achieve the 17 ambitious Sustainable Development Goals is picking up. When climate action champion Greta Thunberg arrived in New York this week after a carbon-neutral crossing of the Atlantic, 17 brightly colored SDG boats welcomed her. Influential business leaders are trying to redefine the role of business in society — and make it a force for more good. Municipalities are looking into their past to take forward-looking action. This week, I learned the tap water I drink is en route to being 100% green in 2020, making Amsterdam tap water even better than it already was.
For museums — and other heritage institutions — wanting to contribute to this global movement towards a fairer, greener, and more sustainable world, museum activist Henry McGhie published a free how-to guide which I highly recommend you download.
The guide helps museum professionals “put the world on a path to a sustainable future, through working to support the Sustainable Development Goals.” Helpfully, Henry places the Sustainable Development Goals in a broader framework of human and environmental rights and the dimensions of sustainability. The combined agenda of 17 SDGs, 169 underlying targets, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and a full set of environmental rights give museums more than enough opportunities to act in a way that fits their current practice.
The importance of museum and culture in achieving the sustainability agenda is ever more widely acknowledged. As UNESCO states in its pivotal 2015 Recommendation concerning the Protection and Promotion of Museums and Collections, their Diversity and their Role in Society, “The protection and promotion of cultural and natural diversity are major challenges of the twenty-first century. In this respect, museums and collections constitute primary means by which tangible and intangible testimonies of nature and human cultures are safeguarded.”
More specifically, cultural heritage has proven to be vital to achieving food security, quality health care for all, equitable access to clean water, social cohesion and inclusion, and the creation of gender roles and identities that emphasize gender equality, to name a few.
The world needs museums and cultural heritage professionals to achieve its sustainable development goals. Additionally, as Henry mentions in his guide as well, museums need the SDGs as well. As I wrote before, “For museums and cultural organizations, the SDGs are [a] compelling opportunity to show that the world can rely on culture for sustainable development.” It is an opportunity to create engaging programming, put resources to good use, to contribute to global ambitions, build partnerships and collaborations, and create and demonstrate impact. In summary, what are you waiting for?
Near the end of his guide, Henry provides a six-step, seven-activity operational approach for museums who wish to contribute to the SDGs, including examples. For me, this is the highlight of the guide and where it sets itself apart from other publications around the topic, which never get beyond the ‘why.’
Sustainable development is about doing the work. It is comforting to talk about making the world a better place for everyone, yet success comes down to our ability to take action. Museums have enough opportunities to take action, and museum professionals at all levels can play their part. I recommend you download Henry’s guide and decide how you will take action. (Feel free to share your commitment in the comments, it helps!)
If you’re interested in learning more about the role museums can play in sustainable development, please sign up for my 7 October webinar on the topic. It’s free, and it will be fun!