Being Small is No Problem At All!
By Tammy Bradford, Manager of Creston Museum
Sustainability: it’s one of those words that can mean a lot of different things. And for precisely that reason, it can be very difficult to figure out just how to put it into action in our museums. For those of us in small museums, this can be even more challenging as it’s yet another thing on a never-ending to-do list.
You could absolutely take the go-big-or-go-home approach. The Oliver & District Museum and Archives have—with solar panels at both their facilities that produce electricity. According to Curator and Acting Executive Director Rebecca Rizzo, “The Archives panel alone has produced enough energy equivalent to 768 trees, over 63,000 lights, and offsetting over 15 tons of CO2 emissions.”
What a wonderful way for a museum to take on a leadership role in environmental sustainability! For a public institution taking on a leadership role in environmental sustainability, such an initiative presents some pretty unique opportunities to share information about solar power and its benefits. In a similar vein, the Revelstoke Railway Museum has recently installed an electric-vehicle charging station on one side of their parking area. Now, having looked into the possibility of solar power for the Creston Museum, I know the cost of equipment can be significant. Thankfully, there are quite a few environmental sustainability grant and rebate programs out there that can help offset the cost of acquiring new equipment.
But if that feels like a bit too much for you to tackle, try something smaller instead. There are the obvious ones: Put out more recycling bins than trash cans, and make a point of using real dishes instead of disposable ones whenever you can. Take it up a notch by turning underutilized corners or laneways into community-accessible green spaces, as the Revelstoke Museum has done with their Heritage Garden; bonus points if you focus on native plants, xeriscaping, or pollinator varieties. Here in Creston, we’ve been working with the local organization Creston Climate Action to incorporate more climate-conscious messaging into some of our exhibits. Grandfather’s Barn, for example, turns a random assortment of tools, hardware, and farm implements into a look at the resourcefulness of repair-and-reuse over break-and-replace.
And that’s just in terms of environmental sustainability. Every small museum in the province does a lot of work to support social sustainability too, even if we might not define or even recognize it as such. Do you take presentations into seniors’ homes? With that simple program, you’re building social interactions between individuals and connecting them to the broader community. You’re also helping the care homes meet their mandates and consequently supporting their sustainability. With every school program you deliver, you’re ensuring teachers can fulfill their educational goals. That exhibit you create for the premier summer event in your community, the signage you design for the new park or trail, or the walking tour you offer to clients of the local welcome service? All good ways to get the word out about the museum, yes—but also essential strategies for building dynamic, engaged, interesting communities. And every time you get out of your own facility and into other spaces, you’re building inclusivity and welcoming all members of the community to participate and share their own stories.
Every small museum in the province does a lot of work to support social sustainability too, even if we might not define or even recognize it as such… every time you get out of your own facility and into other spaces, you’re building inclusivity and welcoming all members of the community to participate and share their own stories.
While we’re on the topic of sustainability in action, let’s talk a little bit about organizational sustainability. After all, that’s a big one for many of us as we grapple with the aforementioned endless to-do list, which inevitably includes the priorities “find more money to do what we do” and “find more people to do it”. I know even tackling small sustainability initiatives can feel overwhelming (I’m there right now, with a severe staffing shortage and school or seniors programs booked almost every day for the next six weeks), but remember this absolutely crucial fact: people support organizations that promote a cause they can get behind. Cataloguing and dusting off old stuff, essential tasks though they may be, are not a cause many people will embrace. Connecting people with each other, building a sense of community, and ensuring our environmental health absolutely are.
Finally, remember this: we might be small, but we are already doing so many things that support sustainability in action. Take a look at all your programs and activities, and articulate their benefits not from your point of view but from that of the people, organizations, and communities you serve. The more you can emphasize those outward benefits, the more you will find your community supporting you in turn and helping ensure your own sustainability.