SDG Flag in Leiden

by • 10 Oct, 2019 • Strategy, Thoughts about museumsComments (0)7080

Three approaches for museums to work with the Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of challenges to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all that the world has set for itself for the year 2030. The 17 goals, which include zero hunger, reduced inequality, and climate action, can only be achieved if the world comes together, and everyone takes action.

Museums – and other cultural partners – have been taking up the challenge and are starting to act. With 17 goals and a total of 169 targets, it may be a tough choice where to start, though. This week, in a webinar organized by Nemo, the Network of European Museum Organisations, I proposed three approaches towards the SDGs for museums (and others) and illustrated them with examples both from our own practice as from others around the world.

The three approaches I propose for museums are:

  1. To lead the way (on a select number of goals and targets)
  2. To support others in achieving success
  3. To change internally to make the museum and its practice more sustainable

In an earlier post, I tried to provide an overview of which of these approaches work best for museums for every one of the 169 targets. I included examples of museums and others already taking action.

Each approach demands a different type of action and a different attitude.

Museums can lead the way by choosing a topic and committing to it, by making it local, specific, collaborate with others, tell the world, and strive for significant impact. This doesn’t have to be done all at once. We’re at the start of the decade of delivery. It makes sense for an organization to create a long term strategy for leadership on a specific SDG.

Museums can support others by understanding the value a museum can add to the work of others and then sharing this value generously with others. Museums are typically trusted and respected partners in communities, we are gifted storytellers, have historical collections rich with information and data, and many other things to offer besides. All of this can support others in their work.

Finally, museums can change internally to be more sustainable. Some of the things we may consider are to prioritise local, plant-based food, go smoke and alcohol free, encourage visitors to use public transport, end all gender discrimination, provide free drinking water, use environment friendly cleaning materials, use electricity from renewable sources, employ youth and pay them fairly, and open up and ‘green’ our public space. In the webinar, free drinking water and responsible materials were often mentioned as things museum professionals can quickly achieve.

That’s a lot of to-dos. However, taking responsibility for sustainable development does not mean that you need to do more and more. That would be unsustainable (for you, your colleagues) and go against many of the SDGs. Instead, a focus on sustainable development should enable you to do smarter with less. The question is not ‘what else should we do,’ but ‘what can we do differently?’

The SDGs provide a compelling framework for museums to do things differently, and thereby to claim (or reclaim) a central position in society and the development and thinking about the future of the world. With eleven years left to succeed, this gives us quite some time to take action!

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