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Creative Carbon Scotland

This month COP26 was due to be held in Glasgow, but as a result of COVID-19 is postponed to 1-12th November 2021. To mark the date and continue the vital conversation about museums and galleries’s response to the climate emergency we invited Caro Overy, Creative Carbon Scotland’s Carbon Management Planning Officer, to outline the part Scotland’s museums sector can play.

Culture and Climate Change

In our work at Creative Carbon Scotland, we understand the unique influence of culture in responding to climate change. When individuals engage with culture, they engage with the world beyond their own existence. Culture gives us the space to imagine what a low carbon future looks like on our own terms and beyond. Like any other business, cultural organisations can reduce their direct emissions. In addition, they can build on this learning in encouraging their audiences to engage with climate change on a behavioural level and deeper than this on an imaginative and creative level. The museum sector can play a significant role in this, bringing with it the very important element of our shared heritage and understanding of our communities.

The Role of Carbon Emissions in Climate Change

Before we can understand the best way to change our behaviour or adopt new technologies to reduce climate change, it’s important to understand which of our activities produces the greatest carbon emissions (or carbon footprint).  It’s not always clear what means what in the carbon world, so here are a few key notes to help you understand how it all fits together:

  • Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most common greenhouse gas and is largely the product of burning fossil fuels, along with methane (mostly caused by rotting waste matter – and burping sheep and cows), nitrous oxide (produced mostly in agriculture) and rarer industrial gases. Each of these has an impact on the climate from 25 to many thousands of times greater than CO2.
  • When reporting and talking about carbon emissions you’ll often see the unit CO2e, which stands for ‘carbon dioxide equivalent’. This means that the ‘global warming potential’ of all the other greenhouse gases has been included and is measured in terms of the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide.
  • Most activities in our day to day lives produce a complex mix of emissions and we can calculate the impact, or carbon footprint, of these (from transport, power generation, manufacturing etc)
  • In the UK, emission conversion factors, in Kg CO2e (per passenger mile travelled or kWh of gas or electricity used etc), are provided by the UK Government and are updated every year to reflect changes in the way infrastructure works such as how we generate electricity or how we fuel vehicles.
  • For example, 1000 kWh electricity used multiplied by the emissions conversion factor for electricity (0.34kg CO2e per kWh) gives us the carbon footprint of 340 kg CO2e from the electricity used in that time.
  • The average annual carbon emissions of an individual living in the UK is 10 tonnes CO2e (10,000kg). This includes all our home energy, commuting, and holiday travel. It is worth bearing this figure in mind as a sense check for other figures.

The Carbon Challenge in the Culture World

At Creative Carbon Scotland, we have been working since 2014 with Creative Scotland to help the organisations they support to understand and manage their carbon emissions. With 121 organisations that receive long-term funding from Creative Scotland (RFOs) reporting their emissions since 2015-16 we now have a good picture of what different types of organisations might expect to see in their carbon footprint, and what challenges they face in managing their emissions. Many of these arts organisations have enough similarities with museums to make their experience useful for the museums sector.

The chart below shows how emissions from different emissions sources have changed over the last four years among the organisations reporting their emissions. Overall, you’ll see a reduction in emissions over the past years even though organisations are getting better at gathering and reporting data and so are reporting more accurately and completely.

Within the cohort of RFOs we support, there is a small number of accredited museums, including Timespan, Pier Arts Centre, and Glasgow Women’s Library. All these organisations are doing great work reducing their emissions and working with their programmes to engage staff, artists, and audiences with climate change.


A bar graph detailing the 2015-2019 total emissions by source. Electricity and gas dominate, followed by flights in a distant third. The emissions from other travel, landfill, oil, LPG, water, and recycling are all comparatively low.

How to Get Involved

Museums and heritage organisations are very welcome and encouraged to join our Green Arts Initiative. Current members include TimespanBiggar Museum Trust and the Scott Monument – and many more can be found through our interactive map. Being part of the community is free, and you can find out more about membership and benefits over on the Green Arts Initiative page. Our Carbon Management tools and resources are free and could help any museum or gallery building an understanding of their carbon emissions.

Here are some of the more specific actions taken by cultural organisations with active carbon management plans which could also apply in a museum context:

  • Rolling out LED replacements for more efficient lighting
  • Replacing boilers with more efficient models
  • Fitting secondary glazing on windows where double glazing isn’t an option
  • Investment in electric vehicles
  • Not flying for work within the UK (some organisations take this wider to not flying within Europe) and encouraging visitors to do the same

Active carbon management planning like this shows us that carbon reduction can be an opportunity rather than a barrier.

We look forward to seeing more museums sharing their practical and creative responses to the climate challenge as the sector continues on its journey.