Otago Museum: Stepping up to Sustainability

By Rebecca McMaster, Project Coordinator, Otago Museum.

At the Otago Museum sustainability lives and breathes under a different name: Responsible Operations. We embraced this term in an all staff strategic planning session several years ago and it is now synonymous with all things sustainable. We chose to look at sustainability holistically, not just in terms of environmental impacts. We felt it was important to consider the whole picture of environmental, economic and social impacts we are faced with as a successful Museum within our community.

Otago Museum office area
We have our Responsible Operations guiding principle displayed prominently in our office area so to keep it ever present in our minds. We also have two chalk boards for staff to recognise particularly awesome Responsible Operators or actions for nominations for the highly coveted monthly awards.

Although operating responsibly became one of our strategic objectives in 2010, we still very much consider ourselves at the beginning of our sustainability journey. Our progress has been slow but steady, focusing on three main areas initially; 1) staff awareness, 2) baseline analysis,  and 3) identifying and acting on small to medium scale initiatives with positive outcomes.

Firstly, to create staff awareness in the area of sustainability:

  • we hold annual brainstorms where individuals and teams can identify areas for improvement within any part of the Museum’s operations. The ideas generated in these sessions are investigated, actioned, and tracked through to completion
  • at a recent strategic planning workshop we collectively identified a ‘Guiding Principle’ for each of us to work towards every day, in all that we do. This has created a great sense of buy-in and pride amongst staff, knowing how high we’ve set the bar for ourselves:  “We choose to lead by example with a consistent focus on the social, environmental and economic impacts of our actions, in order to be responsible proactive contributors in our local and wider communities.”
  • we also have coveted ‘Switch Off’ and ‘Responsible Operations Champion’ trophies awarded at our monthly all staff meetings. Staff are recognised for saving energy by switching lights and appliances off when they’re not needed, and for identifying smart, responsible ideas or demonstrating what it means to be a Responsible Operator.

Secondly, we recently identified six areas of the most impact within our operations: emissions; health, safety and wellness for our people and collection; waste; usage of consumables; societal and ethical; supply of goods and services. We’ve started monitoring these areas in order to form a baseline analysis that we can use to further plan our Responsible Operations journey.

Otago Museum strategy planning day
Staff taking part in one aspect of a Strategic Planning event in 2012 where we all travelled to Quarantine Island in Otago Harbour to assist Department of Conservation staff watering native saplings during drought conditions.

Thirdly, some of the small to medium initiatives we’ve put in place are:

  • we’ve changed our office paper stock to a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) approved product
  • we review and monitor energy usage, while still maintaining strict environmental conditions for our object storage and display
  • in a recent office refurbishment, we removed individual desk bins and have created one central rubbish and recycling area, encouraging staff to consider their resources and waste more carefully
  • we’ve changed our fixing system for temporary exhibition walls to ensure we can reuse MDF sheets repeatedly
  • we’ve always had a focus on buying local goods and services wherever we can to support the local community, so we continue to actively promote this
  • we’ve changed our paper-based payslips to a secure electronic format
  • we’ve installed automatic hand driers in our high-use bathrooms – halving our paper towel consumption.

While we’ve been working on these and many other initiatives we’re proud to have been awarded Qualmark Enviro Gold for the last two years. We’ve also been involved in a sustainable business programme with the Otago Polytechnic, actively talking to local sustainability champions to capitalise on what other organisations are doing. We have also been meeting with energy engineers and waste management teams to improve our Responsible Operations performance.

Otago Museum wall system
Our annual Otago Wildlife Photography exhibition where we use, and reuse, Xanita X-Board as a wall-system to hang photographs for display. Xanita X-Board is a lightweight kraft composite board manufactured from recycled cardboard box and sugar cane waste.

Recently I attended a very worthwhile, three day, intensive sustainability management course while on extended leave in Washington, D.C. The course covered everything from the beginnings of the sustainability movement right through to global measuring and reporting tools. One of the topics covered in the course was the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). The GRI provides a reporting framework for the economic, social and environmental facets of sustainability on a global stage. On returning home to Otago and sharing this information with both the Responsible Operations Team and the Museum Management Team, we’ve decided to submit our first GRI report as soon as we can compile all the data and information required. It is a very thorough and data rich process that will allow us to:

  • structure our data monitoring and reporting
  • form some of the core components of our new corporate sustainability report which will outline our social and environmental outcomes and progress
  • benchmark ourselves against other comparable organisations across the globe
  • reveal our baseline data to plan, measure and improve upon in the years ahead.

It is both an exciting and slightly daunting process that we are genuinely looking forward to undertaking.

Right now our main focus is updating our Responsible Operations Strategy. We’re actively stepping up our commitments and putting in place a thorough system for identifying, assessing, prioritising, implementing, monitoring and reporting on all of our initiatives. We’re putting these steps in place so as each opportunity presents itself we have a standard process and criteria to judge and implement each worthy initiative. Having a standardised process in place means we don’t have to rethink the process each time, so we can spend our time and energy on implementing some great initiatives. We hope it will be a sustainable strategy in more ways than one.

1 Comment

  1. Great work!

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