A sustainable move | Sarah-Jane Newbery, Moves Project Manager


Sustainability and climate change are very much at the forefront of all our minds at the moment, and especially when planning for the largest specimen move ever undertaken by the Museum.

Last year the Museum launched its environmental sustainability plan, Sustainable by Nature, setting out new and ambitious sustainability targets for all our sites and activities, including becoming net zero carbon by 2035. This week we also announced that we have set a science-based carbon reduction target, in line with the scale of reductions required to keep global warming below a 1.5°C rise from pre-industrial levels.

The move to Harwell Campus is no exception to these targets. The transport of approximately 28 million specimens, 9500m of Library & Archive material, and a range of high-spec laboratory equipment from South Kensington and our storage site in South London will enable us to safeguard the collections for generations to come and expand the science we can do and support, and we want to make sure we achieve this with as little environmental impact as possible. That’s why we’re starting now.

Powering the move and reducing carbon

With the UK government looking to phase out fossil fuel vans from 2030 and trucks starting from 2035 – the need to decarbonise a fleet has never been more prominent. It’s also the most important consideration in reducing the carbon output of the move, which could require thousands of journeys between London and Oxfordshire. We need to make sure that the move company we work with are looking at ways in which they operate a sustainable fleet and are looking toward the future when it comes to sustainable vehicles to make our move as environmentally sound as possible.

Forewarned is forearmed so with all this in mind, myself, Jennifer (Move Leader) and Vicky (Move Project Support) headed off to Alexandra Palace – not to ice skate or look at fireworks – but much more excitingly, to attend the yearly Freight in the City Expo: a free to attend, one-day event that brings together anyone involved in helping to make transportation as clean, safe, environmentally friendly and quiet as possible. Promoting sustainable urban deliveries is the core focus of Freight in the city – it’s not all about sitting in lorries!

The event was split up into different zones. The Knowledge Zone had exhibits from industry experts to advise on compliance and vehicle operation standards, whilst the Exhibitors section had the Charging Zone, and exhibitors showing us their latest vehicles and advances in technology.

The Charging Zone was especially helpful in terms of looking to the future of the Museum. Not only did we find out what would be involved in fitting vehicle chargers to our existing sites, but also the necessity of this – how far can an 18t vehicle fully loaded with collection items go without being charged? (Again, results vary depending on payloads and traffic!).

It was eye-opening to discover in the Exhibitors Hall the different types of sustainable vehicle in use, including electric, hydrogen powered, and hybrid, but also how effective these are and where we’ll be in about five years’ time when the move will commence, to make sure we are futureproofing. We also excitingly discovered the existence of an extra-large 26t lorry which would really help us reduce the number of vehicles needed for the move… if only we could fit it into our loading bays!

To increase our knowledge further, we headed to one of the variety of talks and presentations that happened throughout the day in the Seminar Theatre. We opted for ‘Electric Unplugged – Taking your first steps with electric CV’s’ (Commercial Vehicles). This had speakers from Harris Maxus, Campbells Consultancy, the Managing Director of Renault Trucks, and the Director of Charging at Siemens. I think we learnt more about electric vehicles in this session than is humanly possible.

Packing and stacking

We spent the remainder of the afternoon checking out some advances in crates and trolley development – it’s not all lorries and chargers! There are a few great ideas in development – from stackable, reusable crates to a new innovative electric trolley which is designed for heavy and difficult loads to be manoeuvred easily and smoothly.

We finished up the day with the interactive panel Q&A of the Future of Urban Deliveries which included speakers from Volvo, and Hovis.

Alongside the lorry shaped memory sticks and coffee, we picked up some invaluable literature which will go far to help us put together detailed sustainability requirements for the move company we eventually work with, as well as making sure the building at Harwell is futureproofed for electric-powered deliveries.

We are also actively looking at how to effectively meet the Museum’s sustainability targets when it comes to packing for the move. This includes the reuse of containers where appropriate or avoiding single use plastics where possible without compromising the safety of the collections.

It was a really enlightening day, and I can’t wait to go back next year and see how far sustainability in fleet operations has come.


To find out more about the Natural History Museum at Harwell and to sign-up for email updates, including information on collections closures, visit our website . If you enjoyed this blog please do feel free to share with your networks or on social media – you can also follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.


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