A sustainable Museum
As advocates for the planet, we try to think sustainably when making decisions and to operate in a way that’s kind to the environment.
We aren’t perfect, but we’re looking at ways we can reduce our carbon emissions and energy consumption, reuse and repurpose technology and encourage everyone to refill and recycle.
Greenhouse gasses are doing serious damage, so we want to limit and reduce the amount released into the atmosphere through our operations. The UK Government has asked everyone to reach net zero by 2050, but we’re aiming to get there by 2035.
It’s going to be complicated because we care for one of the most important natural history collections in the world, which needs specific conditions to maintain it and keep it safe. Nevertheless, we’ve set ourselves targets to help drive down our emissions as much as possible.
Our plan is to switch to greener technologies and prioritise energy efficiency and sustainable design with all our new buildings being net zero carbon.
Some parts of our work will always generate a small amount of carbon dioxide, no matter how energy efficient we become. Once we’ve done everything we can to tackle our emissions, we’ll explore carbon-offsetting schemes to achieve true net zero, but these will be a last resort.
We’ll always need energy, so we want to reduce how much we use and source it sustainably.
Solar panels were installed in 2020 at our Tring site, suppling enough energy to power the Ornithology Building. In 2022 we also installed a small solar array at our South Kensington site on the roof of our Palaeontology Building.
At South Kensington, most of our electricity comes from an onsite trigeneration energy centre. Although it burns natural gas, it combines cooling, heating and power to reduce waste and is the most efficient way for us to manage our energy needs at the moment. However, we’re looking into how we can decarbonise this energy centre by 2035. Works so far have included equipment upgrades and the introduction of heat pumps, as well as a range of Energy Conservation Measures that’ll help us gain tighter control and management of the energy consumption across our South Kensington site.
Of the electricity we import from the grid, 20% of it is under a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) supplied by wind farms. As well as this, the supply at both our Tring and Wandsworth sites are backed by Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin (REGOs), which certify that the equivalent volume of electricity is generated from renewable sources.
To help achieve our energy saving targets, we’ve recruited an Energy Manager and have committed to reducing energy intensity by 40% by 2030. We’ll do this by making existing systems more efficient and building energy efficiency into all new projects.
Our staff only travel when it’s necessary because we know that planes and cars produce greenhouse gasses.
Sometimes our staff have to travel on planes to transport specimens safely, collaborate with partners effectively or study fragile ecosystems in detail. However, we’re working to reduce our reliance on flights and have introduced a new travel policy that prevents our staff from taking internal flights within the UK (except for reasonable adjustments and exceptions) and business-class flights.
This year, we plan on examining our staff commuting patterns and exploring the possibility of upgrading our fleet to electric vehicles.
You can help too
Small changes can make a big difference. Find out how you can help the planet.
Carbon emissions aren’t everything. Pollution and overconsumption are two big threats to nature.
Our scientists are at the forefront of research into the harmful effects of plastic and chemical pollution. Even on our doorstep, we know that more than a quarter of fish in the Thames Estuary are eating plastic.
That’s why we’re trying to generate as little waste as possible and working to maximise reuse and recycling.
- Visitors can recycle waste in our cafes and at our exits.
- We have an internal reuse page to extend the life of our furniture and other items.
- We provide facilities for mixed recycling as well as cardboard, electrical equipment, scrap metal, glass and food waste.
- We work with suppliers to make use of take-back schemes for specialist equipment and packaging.
- Set works, seating and walls from our temporary exhibitions are recycled wherever possible.
- We transfer mounts and panels to collections spaces following the closure of an exhibition to enhance those areas for research visitors.
- We’ve installed more water stations on our sites to encourage our visitors to refill bottles.
Where does our waste go now?
- None of our operational waste goes to landfill.
- General waste is incinerated to generate useful heat.
- Mixed recycling is sent to a UK processing facility, sorted into its component parts and then sent on to a reprocessing plant.
- Food waste is sent for anaerobic digestion and made into fertiliser. The gas emitted from this process is captured and used for energy.
- Cardboard is taken to a card pulping plant and turned into new products.
- Glass is taken to a glass factory for reuse.
We’d aimed to increase our average operational recycling rate to at least 60% this year but despite an overall reduction in the amount of waste we produce, current projections indicate we’re likely going to fall short of our recycling target and so we’re going to reflect on this and revise our approach.
Our next steps
We want to push ourselves to do better. To help us plan how to get there, we’re going to:
- monitor our waste more closely and undertake a series of waste audits
- find new opportunities to facilitate reuse
- raise awareness of recycling best practice
Water is one of Earth’s most precious resources.
The United Nations (UN) estimates that water scarcity affects more than 40% of the global population, a figure that’s projected to rise even further. By 2030 the UN wants every country to begin using water more efficiently, to make sure there’s enough clean water to go round.
In the past, we’ve used approximately 40 Olympic-sized swimming pools’ worth of water every year. Our water comes from mains water and a borehole at South Kensington.
We’ve gradually been undertaking measures to reduce our water consumption, such as fitting dual-flush cisterns that reduce the volume of water used to flush toilets and installing sensor-controlled or push-button taps, which can reduce water consumption.
By 2026 we’re aiming to reduce our water consumption by 20% against a 2017/2018 baseline, by:
- monitoring our water consumption more closely
- identifying opportunities to reduce consumption
- educating staff
- recycling greywater from sinks and rainwater where we can
Investments and income
Money is powerful, so we want to make our money work for good.
We investigated opportunities to move our investments into a sustainable fund in 2020/2021 and in May 2022 we transferred to a Charities Ethical Investment Fund that’s managed in accordance with the UK Stewardship Code.
All new starters have their pension contributions automatically invested in a new default investment strategy, which invests responsibly and aims to help to contribute to a better future.
Many of our goals rely on cleaning up our supply chains. We want all our suppliers to join us in working in a way that’s kind to nature.
Carbon emissions come from all sorts of places, including our own buildings and the manufacture of the goods we buy.
Emissions are split into three scopes. Scopes 1 and 2 cover the emissions resulting from energy use in our buildings. We’re tackling these right away. Scope 3 covers everything else, including the procurement of goods and services, and is estimated to be twice as much as our Scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions.
We have limited control over Scope 3 emissions and their calculation can be complex, making them more difficult to tackle. For that reason, they’re not currently included in our net zero target, although we’re committed to learning more about how we can include them in the future.
Our future plans include:
- asking our top 30 suppliers for information about their carbon emissions
- introducing sustainable procurement guidance
- building sustainability decisions into our procurement process
New buildings and exhibitions
All our new projects will have sustainability at their heart.
- All new buildings will be net zero carbon, including everything being built for our Urban Nature Project.
- We’ll think more carefully about how to make new projects sustainable from the beginning.
- We’ve established a Sustainable Exhibition Working Group to help us reduce the impact of our exhibitions, share best practice and learn from others.
Case study: The Ornithological Building at Tring
The Natural History Museum at Tring is a unique place, home to internationally important zoological and ornithological collections.
As part of our commitment to embed sustainability in all areas of our work, we’ve made our Ornithological Building more self-sustaining by installing solar panels and improving the thermal performance with better insulation.
Throughout the project, which started in the summer of 2019, we tried to work in an environmentally and ethically sustainable way. We ensured an environmentally responsible design and recycled and reused materials wherever possible. We’re particularly proud that from September 2019 to March 2020, 95% of the construction waste produced was sent for recycling, resulting in 196 tonnes of material being diverted from landfill.
During 2020, we installed 318 solar panels, providing a total system capacity of 88kWp, capable of generating up to 75,835kWh a year - enough to meet the entire building’s annual electricity needs. This saves more than 21 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year, which is equivalent to planting 10,514 trees, and also potentially saves us £9,100 per year in electricity bills.
Our ambition is to become a leader in sustainable retail. This means looking at sustainability in the round, so we’re working with our suppliers to look for solutions to challenges such as eliminating excess packaging and single-use plastics, sourcing more sustainable materials and using more sustainable manufacturing processes.
Here are some of the things we’ve changed in our shops so far:
- All clothing sold through our retail and licensing programmes is made of 100% recycled, BCI or organic fabrics. We’re also working to replace virgin polyester used in our accessories with more sustainable alternatives.
- All soft toys sold in our shops or through licensees are filled with recycled PET. We’re also investigating further ways to make our plush toys even more sustainable, such as using rPET for the outer fabrics and components where available.
- We’ve stopped using bubble wrap and now use a recycled paper alternative onsite and in our online deliveries.
- Our single-use bags are made from 100% recycled paper.
- All our Christmas decorations in 2021 and 2022 were 100% plastic free.
Our retail and warehouse teams are also:
- Sorting delivery packaging to separate paper, carboard, PET and HDPE plastics for recycling. We work with our suppliers to remove delivery packaging where possible and to minimise any packaging used, for example by packing t-shirts and accessories in a larger outer bag, rather than individually.
- Reusing cardboard from deliveries in our ecommerce packaging.
- Focusing our ranges on products that are more sustainably sourced, using carefully chosen materials, water/plant-based inks and finishes and ensuring products are good quality and made to last. We’ve also selected products that help our customers to live a more sustainable lifestyle by reducing their reliance on single-use plastics and throwaway items.
- Working with retail suppliers to reduce packaging and single-use plastics.
- Making our product packaging as easy as possible for our customers to recycle by choosing widely recyclable materials where possible and providing clear disposal information on new products.
With such a large and varied product range, we recognise that we have a long way to go and we’re working hard to find the most sustainable solutions.
Purchases help us to care for our collection of more than 80 million specimens as well as support our 300 scientists, who are studying the natural world.
Benugo cafes and restaurants
The food we eat can have a big impact on nature. We want to ensure everyone who visits us has a range of nutritious, sustainable food options to choose from.
We’re working with our catering partner Benugo to ensure that produce sold in our cafes and restaurants are sourced responsibly with as little environmental impact as possible. Here’s some of the work they’re doing to help advocate for the planet:
- Benugo coffee is 100% Rainforest Alliance certified.
- They have direct trade relationships with all their farmers and cooperatives in Brazil, Central America and Vietnam.
- Their coffee is transported to the UK by boat and electric train.
- There’s a discount in all our cafes and restaurants for anyone bringing their own reusable coffee cup.
Bottled water is sold only in glass bottles.
The sale of every bottle helps fund clean water projects across the globe.
Free tap water is available at all of Benugo’s outlets onsite plus there are now three bottle filling stations onsite at South Kensington in addition to other water fountains.
- Benugo’s fresh meat and cooked chicken are UK Red Tractor approved.
- They’ve removed beef from their grab-and-go range.
- They only ever use fish approved by the Marine Stewardship Council.
- Benugo’s fresh eggs are free-range and only ever from the UK.
- They don’t use palm oil and we avoid stocking items that contain it.
- They’re committed to offering and promoting vegetarian and vegan options.
- China cups, plates and metal cutlery are provided in most of Benugo’s outlets.
- Any disposable cutlery is sustainably sourced wood rather than plastic.
- They only use paper straws.
- Benugo have consistently been working to remove packaging from back-of-house areas with reusable crates now being used. This has led to 17 tonnes of cardboard annually being eliminated from our supply chain.
- Benugo are continually working to remove unnecessary packaging, reduce waste and maximise recycling.
- Juice and lemonade bottles are made from 100% PET recyclable plastic.
- Fruit pots are made from up to 70% recycled plastic and 100% PET recyclable plastic.
- Salad trays are made from 100% bagasse (sugar cane pulp), which is biodegradable under the correct conditions.
- Salad tray lids are made from 100% recycled plastic and are recyclable.
- Their sandwich packaging is made from recyclable cardboard and cellulose - a plant-based plastic that doesn’t require any fossil fuel.
- They use reusable crates in back-of-house areas.
To help you make an informed choice, the carbon and water labelling on food purchased from the fridges in our cafes and restaurants shows the impact your food choices have on the environment. Even the smallest change to eating habits over time can help to save the planet.
What does the label mean?
A: The most climate-friendly choice available
B: Still a great option for the planet
C: Good sustainable effort
D: A less environmentally friendly option, best enjoyed in moderation
E: Least environmentally friendly option
- Benugo is a founding member of the Hospitality Zero Carbon Forum, establishing across the sector an approach and best practice for calculating emissions and developing a route to net zero.
- Benugo has signed a pledge to join the UN Race to Zero, committing to setting a science-based net zero target and contributing to limiting the impact of climate change to 1.5°C.
- We’ve committed to Gold Standard offsets that are Carbon Neutral Protocol approved through the Carbon Neutral Company.
Benugo use ethical supplier networks to help in the selection and vetting of their suppliers, so we can be sure they have sound ethical and environmental practices.
There are no air miles in the supply chain.
Benugo has achieved the following internationally recognised standards: ISO 14001 for its environmental management system and ISO 50001 for its energy management system.
We won’t reach our goals unless we keep an eye on how we’re getting on.
We want to keep setting ourselves new targets and hope our Sustainable by Nature Plan will help us operate in a greener manner than ever before.
In 2021/2022 we:
- Followed the context-based methodology developed by the Center for Sustainable Organisations and set a science-based carbon reduction target, developed in line with the scale of reductions required to keep global warming below a 1.5°C rise from pre-industrial levels. The methodology selected takes into account factors including visitors and staff present onsite.
- Started the procurement process that’ll see us link up with a long-term energy partner to decarbonise the energy centre at South Kensington and drive us towards net zero carbon.
- Received funding from Salix’s Low Carbon Skills Fund and had a Heat Decarbonisation Plan prepared for our site at Tring.
- Achieved recertification to the Environmental Management System Standard ISO 14001.
- Launched our new Travel Policy.
- Relocated a habitat of small heathland from the Wildlife Garden at our South Kensington site in partnership with London Wildlife Trust. This small area was carefully dug up and transplanted to Bramley Bank Nature Reserve, a restored woodland and heathland in Croydon that typifies London’s semi-natural habitats and provides homes for stag beetles and woodpeckers.
- Donated a greenhouse from our South Kensington site to the Growing Friends volunteer group at the Chelsea Physic Garden. Our Head of gardens co-ordinated the dismantling and transport of the greenhouse and then worked with volunteers to re-build it.
Activity in 2020/2021 included:
- Our first onsite renewable generation with the installation of solar panels on the Ornithology Building at Tring, as pictured above.
- Sourcing all the clothes we buy for use or resale from factories that are subject to regular social audits.
- Setting sector-leading sustainability targets with our Urban Nature Project.
- Retail orders shipped directly from our South Kensington site were sent in boxes that were made from FSC®-certified material, printed with plant-based recycled inks and manufactured in the UK with a low-carbon footprint.
- Replacing bubble wrap with a recycled and recyclable paper alternative, plus we recycle all card used in deliveries and packaging.
- Offering single-use bags in our shops that are made from 100% recycled paper.
- Our suppliers are Sedex members, meaning they’ve committed to ensuring a responsible supply chain.
- Only working with companies that enforce CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and prohibit testing on animals, child labour and modern slavery.
Our scientific work
Our expertise in taxonomy, systematics and mineralogy is driving research projects aimed at securing the future of our food, health and natural materials.