How Can a Green Recovery Strategy Help Museums?

Over the past 18 months, museums and other cultural organizations have been forced to adapt and adjust their strategies in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and social justice turmoil. Forced closure, visitor restrictions and economic dislocation have impacted museum financial positions, and is forcing new creative approaches to organizational financial sustainability.

One of the approaches that some museums are considering is the adoption of “green” energy and building management approaches. These strategies can have multiple benefits – they can reduce costs by reducing energy and maintenance costs, and they can help the institution reduce its carbon footprint, helping their community to reach environmental goals and objectives. They also have an opportunity to engage and educate donors and visitors who have an interest in environmental sustainability.

To learn more about how these strategies are playing out in the museum sector, Indigo JLD and Econsult Solutions collaborated to build a survey to collect information about augmented funding and turnkey project development and execution, all with an emphasis on best practices in the museum sector. Our Green Recovery survey positioned museums to address climate justice and diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) issues, which are subjects on the minds of today’s donors and the visiting public.

The survey questions varied around the organization’s overall carbon footprint, to if they had an in-house “Green Team”. We were fortunate enough to collect data from 25 museums based in the U.K and U.S and would like to thank the respondents for taking time out to fill in our survey.

Now, let’s take a closer look at some of the answers.

A surprising 44% of the survey takers didn’t know their organization’s facility or overall carbon footprint, while only 12% replied yes and 24% said no, but that they knew where to look. What should museums do to tackle this conundrum?

One of our questions asked was regarding if an organization’s ‘green team’ was in-house. A majority (48%) of respondents answered that this was “not yet in place”. If a museum can bring together a team or outsource members to help them with this, more museums would know their carbon footprint. Several smaller museums don’t have the tools and facilities, or investment to overcome this hindrance and require some sort of assistance.

We were impressed by the fact that 68% of our survey takers were employed at a leadership level and 32% were mid-level employees. However, it was disappointing to observe that only 16% of respondents would retain or hire a sustainability manager.

To be able to achieve long-term environmental improvement goals, organizations need to have a capital master plan with an understanding of how investment can assist them in different areas. We asked our survey takers the outlook of their organization’s capital master plan. 42% of the respondents replied that they were 1-5 years ahead and only 25% answered 5-10 years ahead. If museums want to be sustainable, they need to plan and think further ahead in support of long term community climate change goals. We also asked respondents what their organization’s most needed capital assistance was.  We were not surprised to see that 57% needed weatherization of buildings, as most museum buildings are old and require maintenance.

What should museums in the cultural sector do expediate green recovery? Museums need to pivot to be more sustainable and they can do so by addressing energy saving retrofits. Over 20% of surveyors did not know if their organization had done energy saving retrofits in the past ten years.

Solar energy is a renewable form of energy everyone is taking advantage of,  we observed that 42% of respondents said that their organization has done energy saving retrofits for at least some of the lighting within their organization. Hence, company’s need to formulate capital masterplans or campaigns to identify problems. 42% of respondents said that they had one ongoing plan and 17% said they were planning one soon.

If museums continue to keep an outward looking perspective, they can help tackle climate change reduce their overall carbon footprint.


Joyce Lee, Senior Advisor

Joyce is a leader in sustainability and institutional real estate with a focus on cultural facilities. She developed policy expertise as Chief Architect at the New York City Office of Management and Budget under Mayor Bloomberg working with PlaNYC and a City Charter asset management program. Her work on health and sustainability continues in her practice today.  Her past portfolio includes the US Green Building Council, International Well Building Institute/Delos, Queens Botanical Gardens, Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of the American Revolution, and the Tech Museum.


Shaum Arora was a Drexel University Co-Op and Marketing Assistant with ESI from April-September 2021. Shaum is currently majoring in Economics and minoring in Philosophy.


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