Sustainable by Nature

An illustration showing the Museum surrounded by nature.

We're becoming a greener Museum to help create a greener planet. 

Nature is in a state of emergency and it needs our help more than ever. We must act now, together. To create a world where both people and the planet thrive, we're asking everyone to do their bit to protect our planet, and we want to lead the way.

Sustainability is already at the heart of the Museum, but now we're pledging to go even further and head towards net zero as fast as we can. 

Join us on our journey.

Emissions

We're starting by tackling our carbon emissions. 

Greenhouse gasses are doing serious damage, so we don't want the Museum to be responsible for any of them making it into the atmosphere. The UK Government has asked everyone to reach net zero by 2050, but we don't think there's any time to waste. We are 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 need specific conditions to be maintained to keep it safe. But we have set ourselves science-based targets to help drive down our emissions as quickly as possible. 

Our plan is to switch to greener technologies and prioritize energy efficiency and sustainable design. All new buildings will be 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 have done everything we can to tackle our emissions, to achieve true net zero we will explore carbon offsetting schemes, but those will be a last resort.

Energy

We'll always need energy, so we want to source it sustainably.

All electricity that we buy from the National Grid is from renewable sources, and we'll keep it that way. We don't have to buy much: most of our electricity comes from an onsite trigeneration energy centre. Although it burns natural gas, it combines cooling, heat and power to reduce waste and has saved more than 16,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide since its installation. Solar panels were installed in 2020 at the Natural History Museum at Tring, suppling enough energy to power the ornithology building.

To become even greener, we're committing to reducing energy intensity by 40% by 2030, by:

  • making existing systems more efficient
  • building energy efficiency into all new projects

We’ll also be looking into how to decarbonise our energy centre by 2035.

Supply chains

Many of our goals rely on cleaning up the Museum's 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 account for roughly 50% of our 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 are not currently included in our net zero target - although we're committed to learning more about how we can include them in the future. We will:

  • set a scope 3 carbon emissions target by March 2022
  • ask our top 30 suppliers for information about their carbon emissions
  • introduce a sustainable procurement plan
  • build sustainability decisions into our procurement process.

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, and sourcing ethical fabrics.

In the Museum shops:

  • all clothing sold through our retail and licensing programmes will be made of 100% recycled or organic fabrics by 2022
  • all soft toys sold in our shops or through licensees will only be filled with recycled PET by 2022.

Our retail team are also:

  • investigating the means to recycle all plastics received in retail deliveries
  • focusing our ranges on sustainably sourced products
  • working with retail suppliers to reduce packaging and single-use plastics
  • making our product packaging as easy as possible for our customers to recycle.

Waste

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 the Museum's doorstep, we know that animals in the River Thames deal with plastic rubbish daily.

That's why we're trying to generate as little waste as possible.

Where does our waste go now?

  • None of the Museum's operational waste ever goes to landfill.
  • General waste is incinerated to generate useful heat.
  • Mixed recycling is sent to a UK processing facility and sorted into its component parts. It is 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.
  • Used coffee grounds are taken to a processing factory and then turned into products like soil nourisher, fuel logs and even furniture.
  • We work with suppliers on take-back schemes for specialist equipment and packaging.
  • Set works, seating and walls from temporary exhibitions are recycled whenever possible. LED lighting is reused.
  • Mounts and panels are transferred to collections spaces following the closure of an exhibition to enhance those areas for research visitors.

Our next steps

By 2023 we'll increase the average operational recycling rate to at least 60% and maintain zero waste to landfill, by:

  • monitoring our waste more closely
  • finding new opportunities to facilitate reuse
  • educating staff.

Travel

Museum staff only travel when it’s absolutely necessary because we know that planes and cars produce greenhouse gasses.

Sometimes staff have to get on a plane to transport specimens safely, collaborate with partners effectively or study fragile ecosystems in detail. However, we want to reduce our reliance on flights by:

  • introducing a new travel policy for staff in 2021 that halts internal flights within Great Britain
  • stopping all business-class flights
  • starting a Business Travel Working Group
  • examining staff commuting patterns.

Water

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 want every country to begin using water more efficiently, to make sure there is enough clean water to go around.

The Museum uses 40 Olympic-size swimming pools' worth of water every year. It comes from mains water and a borehole at South Kensington.

By 2023 we will have reduced our water consumption by 20% against a 2015 baseline, by:

  • recycling greywater (from sinks) and rainwater where we can
  • monitoring our water consumption more closely
  • identifying opportunities to reduce consumption
  • educating staff.

Investments and income

Money is powerful, so we want to make our money work for good.

At the end of 2019, the Museum's investments were held in the Churches, Charities and Local Authorities (CCLA) COIF Charities Investment Fund (CIF). 

To make our investments kinder to the planet, we will examine where our money is held and move it to funds that support green initiatives, where possible.

Food and catering

The food we eat can have a big impact on nature. We want to ensure everyone who visits the Museum has a range of nutritious, sustainable food options to choose from.

We're working with suppliers to ensure produce in our cafes is sourced responsibly with as little environmental impact as possible. We will:

  • develop new sustainability targets in partnership with our caterers
  • examine the emissions caused by our catering provision

We've already come a long way: 

  • Benugo, who run the Museum's cafes, avoid products containing palm oil and use seasonal and local produce as much as possible.
  • Only British and Irish meat is served, reducing our carbon footprint.
  • We use free-range eggs and egg products, RSPCA assured chicken and sustainably sourced fish.
  • Our coffee is from 100% Rainforest Alliance certified coffee beans sourced in Brazil, Nicaragua, Honduras and Vietnam. The beans are roasted in a carbon-neutral factory.
  • Our food containers are made from 70% recycled plastic and 30% PET plastic, which is 100% recyclable.
  • We have reduced the amount of single-use plastic, and we provide china cups and plates and metal cutlery. We've replaced disposable plastic cutlery with forestry-certified wooden cutlery, and plastic straws with paper straws.
  • In our kitchens, our fresh fruit and vegetable suppliers have moved from plastic packaging to reusable plastic crates for delivery.

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 the Urban Nature Project
  • we'll think more carefully about how to make new projects sustainable from the beginning 
  • we'll establish a sustainable exhibition working group to reduce the impacts of our exhibitions, share best practice and learn from others.

Our science

Our sustainability plan complements our scientific work. 

Researchers at the Museum are studying the impact of human activity on some of the world’s most precious ecosystems. Our world-leading collections and databases are:

Our own research has shown us the importance of cutting carbon emissions, reducing consumption and being careful with our waste.

Our progress

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 we hope this plan will help us operate in a greener manner than ever before. This page is regularly updated so you track our progress.

In the last year, we've come a long way.

  • Our first on-site renewable generation started with the solar panels on the Ornithology building at Tring (pictured above).
  • All the clothes we buy (for use or re-sale) are now sourced from factories that are subject to regular social audits.
  • The Urban Nature Project has set sector-leading sustainability targets.
  • Retail orders shipped directly from the Museum are sent out in boxes that are made from 100% ethically sourced FSC® certified material, printed with plant-based recycled inks and manufactured in the UK with a low carbon footprint.
  • We have replaced bubble wrap with a 100% recycled and recyclable paper alternative, and we recycle all card used in deliveries and packaging.
  • Single-use bags offered in our shops are made from 100% recycled paper
  • Our suppliers are Sedex members, meaning they have committed to ensuring a responsible supply chain.
  • We only work with companies that enforce CITES and prohibit testing on animals, child labour and modern slavery.

Last year, the Museum generated 10,743 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Read our latest sustainability report.

How this plan was created 

This plan was created so that the Museum can do its bit to tackle the emergency our planet is facing. 

The current state of Museum’s carbon emissions, energy consumption, waste, water, travel, investments and procurement process were reviewed, and external experts were consulted. 

We are creating science-based targets to provide a clear route to reducing our carbon emissions. A target is defined as science-based if it is developed in line with the scale of reductions required to keep global warming below a 1.5C rise from pre-industrial levels. 

Our long-term plan must include a net zero ambition. Initially, our science-based target will push our emissions as low as possible, and then we’ll make decisions on how to remove the residual emissions. 

Last updated 

This page was last updated on 3 December 2020. 

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.