Sustainability Makes Sense – New Year, New Targets | Kimberley Lewis, Interim Head of Sustainability

Sustainability. Makes. Sense.

To me, environmental management and sustainability has always made sense for organisations – if we work more efficiently and waste less of everything, we can reduce the negative impacts on our environment as well as save both time and money. No brainer, right?

But it’s taken longer than it should have for many to realise the benefits of sustainable decision making and how it can help future proof an organisation. In the past, process improvements across industries were predominantly financially motivated with little recognition of the environmental and societal benefits that were being achieved. And without looking at processes holistically through a sustainability lens, additional opportunities were missed, wasting valuable resources and money.

However, over the years the realities of climate change and the depletion of finite resources, together with increasing government regulations and rising consumer demand, has thankfully driven a significant shift in how organisations view environmental management and sustainability. There has been a move from reducing environmental impacts internally with the help of Environmental Management Systems (EMS), to contributing more outwardly and supporting society, through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), and more recently to a more holistic approach, ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance), which is based on social and environmental factors, and is high on the priority list for organisations today.

Regardless of an organisation’s sustainability approach, the important thing is that action is being taken, progress is being made and benefits are being realised.

Sustainability is already at the heart of the Museum and we’re becoming a greener Museum to help create a greener planet.

When we launched our Sustainable by Nature plan last year, we committed to reach net zero by 2035 and to make sure all new projects and buildings have sustainability embedded from the beginning – and this is exactly what we are doing with the Natural History Museum at Harwell.

Ensuring we build an infrastructure that has the highest levels of sustainability possible has been fundamental to our planning since we set out to develop the new 30,000sqm science and digitisation centre. And we’re pleased to share that the start of a series of targets for the design, construction and operation of the Natural History Museum at Harwell have now been developed, helping to ensure we deliver a sustainable building throughout its entire life cycle. Whether that’s designing a building that is highly energy efficient, reusing furniture or protecting local biodiversity, here’s some of our new year ‘resolutions’ (targets) for the build of the Natural History Museum at Harwell…

Delivering on net zero

We have pledged to deliver a true net zero carbon project in construction and operation, which will remove as much carbon from the atmosphere as it contributes. This means the building will need to be highly energy efficient, with minimised embodied carbon and fully powered from renewable energy sources, including ensuring a diesel-free site during construction. We will also design the building to achieve an EPC rating of A, the highest rating of building energy efficiency. As a last resort for any remaining, unavoidable emissions we will cover this with carbon offsetting – but this really will be a last resort.

Solar panels were installed in 2020 at the Natural History Museum at Tring, supplying enough energy to power the ornithology building.

Water and waste

Availability of water is already a global concern due to climate change. We’re aiming to minimise our reliance on mains water as much as possible and will be developing a water budget to inform design and deliver a facility that is fit for purpose with the lowest possible environmental impact.

To minimise waste and protect nature, the design team will be adopting a circular economy approach, which includes ensuring that at least 30% of furniture involved in the project is re-used, salvaged or refurbished and, the development of an end-of-life strategy for the building. We have also committed to no non-hazardous waste being sent to landfill and ensuring our chosen contractor is fully educated in strategies to reduce waste.

Sourcing materials responsibly

We will ensure that 100% of key materials are responsibly sourced and tracked to protect people and the environment in the project supply chain. This includes all major building materials to have EPDs – Environmental Product Declarations and 100% FSC timber (timber from well-managed forests), with UK grown timber targeted where possible. We will also only use 100% BES “Very good” certified concrete, steel, plasterboard and insulation as a minimum, which indicates responsible sourcing.

We will also be ensuring that strategies are in place to mitigate the risks to human rights in our supply chains. Our contractor will be required to be a member of SEDEX – a membership organisation that supports companies to improve their responsible and sustainable business practices by managing and improving working conditions in global supply chains, and sourcing materials responsibly.

A sample of submerged rubbish trapped in fyke nets deployed in the Thames. Natural History Museum scientists are at the forefront of research into the harmful effects of plastic and chemical pollution.

Protecting and enhancing local biodiversity

Biodiversity is important to us – it’s what we work every day to protect. This project will therefore have a net positive impact on local biodiversity. To achieve this, we will carry out ecological site surveys to identify protection and enhancement measures and utilise the expertise of Museum colleagues to input and comment on the design with nature in mind.

At ground level, any proposed movement of existing areas of habitat will be supported by independent translocation plans to minimise the risk of biodiversity loss as much as possible. Any new habitats created should also have a strong likelihood of successful establishment and maintenance e.g. using plants that are local to the area. We will also time construction activities with wildlife in mind, for example this may mean avoiding certain activities at nesting times.

Prioritising health and wellbeing

We want the new centre to be a place where people enjoy spending time and where health and wellbeing is prioritised. The building will be designed with areas for reflection and relaxation both inside and outside. Relevant WELL design principles will be incorporated where appropriate and indoor environmental quality (IEQ) monitors will be installed in regularly occupied staff areas.

Climate resilience and adaptation

We are living in a changing planet which we need to be resilient to. We are ensuring that the Natural History Museum at Harwell is future-proofed against climate change for at least the next 100 years. This means the design will be fit for purpose for a 2C temperature rise and could be adapted to work in a 4C scenario, although hopefully we will never see this. We’re still at the early stages of planning what this might look like, but we will be working with a sustainability consultant to undertake a climate risk impact assessment to ensure we identify and address everything.

Delivering positive social impact

We want to engage people with this exciting project and give back to the community we will be a new part of.

Every project team member will undertake at least one volunteering day per year and we will be looking to develop opportunities for community/educational engagement, work experience placements and apprenticeships during construction and operation.

School students investigate Hyde Park as part of the Museum’s Explore: Urban Nature programme which will support young people across the country to track and monitor the nature closest to home.

Be a leader in the industry

We want a building that will be fit for purpose, adaptable to future needs and built to last with as little impact on the environment as possible. There are several existing assessment tools and standards available to help assess environmental performance, and each of them has their own specific strengths across varying areas such as energy, carbon, waste, water, transport, biodiversity and health and well-being. We’re looking to apply best practice from across these standards rather than opting for a particular accreditation. The reason we’re taking this approach is that for us, it’s not about the label, it’s about striving to achieve what is truly best for delivering our requirements, providing a stable environment for the collections, with the smallest environmental impact possible and with the greatest positive social impacts.

By 2060, the world is expected to build and/or renovate over 230 billion m2 of buildings – adding the equivalent of Paris to the planet every single week. We must act now, transforming the buildings we design, build, and occupy (LETI). Developing these targets for the Natural History Museum at Harwell is the first step on a long journey to reaching our ambitions. Whilst some targets are fully defined, we’re still very much at the early stages and further targets will be developed, and existing ones refined, as the project progresses. We look forward to sharing future updates with you all!

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, why not share with your networks or on social media? You can also follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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