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Towards net zero

Science is vital to understanding the damage being done by greenhouse gases and science is driving our approach to tackling our own carbon emissions.

Setting a robust target

Following the science demands a commitment to tackle both our direct emissions and those in our supply chain. We have signed up to the respected Science-based Target Initiative which splits emissions into three scopes and requires us to deal with all three.

Scopes 1 and 2 cover emissions from our buildings and operations, which make up less than 10% of our overall carbon footprint. The rest of our emissions come from the goods and services we buy and are known as scope 3.

We will work closely and urgently with our partners to drive down all emissions. We recognise that our work will always generate a small amount of carbon dioxide, so once we have cut every emission we can, we will use high quality carbon offsetting schemes.

Building on our Sustainability Policy and innovating every year, we will achieve net zero by 2033.

Decarbonising our operations

Reducing the energy we use in caring for our visitors and the seven million items in our collection isn’t straight forward. Adding to the challenge is the nature of our older buildings: some of profound significance for the nation, others in poor condition through historic under investment.

But we have already achieved a 69% drop in direct carbon emissions from our operations since 2011/12. That’s despite a 24% increase in floor area through two museums—Locomotion and the Science and Industry Museum—joining the Group.

We purchase our electricity from renewable sources and host one of the UK’s biggest solar farms at the Science and Innovation Park in Wiltshire.

Sustainability is a core focus as we continue to transform our museums for our visitors and improve our collection storage facilities:

  • We recently completed our most energy efficient building yet at the Science and Innovation Park, with sector-leading innovations in low energy intensity collections care.
  • We are embarking on a visionary project to combine our globally significant heritage assets with the latest green technologies to lower carbon emissions at the Science and Industry Museum.
  • The operational carbon footprint at the National Railway Museum will be reduced by 80% through our transformational masterplan project.
  • We are currently working on delivering Local Energy Action Plans, which identify decarbonisation opportunities across each of our six sites. These were produced by using funding we successfully secured under a public sector decarbonisation fund. The plans will see us move from fossil-fueled heating systems, to less carbon-intensive solutions, for example, heat pump technologies.

Through these and other projects we will learn—and share—vital lessons in how to reduce the energy we use across our organisation.


We are supporting biodiversity at all our sites.

This includes improving natural habitats for wildlife such as bats and birds and planting a further thousand native, locally-sourced trees a year throughout this decade, joining 45,000 native trees already planted.

At the Science and Innovation Park, rainwater at the facility is captured to create a large wetland area encircled by Clouts Wood, a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Meanwhile, more than a hundred bird and bat boxes together with log piles, hibernacula, beehives, and four acres of wildflower meadows are all providing habitats and homes for reptiles, insects and other wildlife. 

Reducing waste, more recycling

We’ve eliminated single-use plastic bottles from our museum shops and cafes and we are increasing the number of recycled product ranges in our retail outlets.

We’re changing the way we put on exhibitions to reduce the number of single use materials needed. Colleagues now follow robust guidelines in how to deal with any leftover materials, upcycling and recycling within the Group and with local communities, institutions and individuals. Our touring exhibitions are also developed with sustainability in mind.

Pollution is also a big threat to nature, so we’re trying to reduce the amount we throw away. None of our operational waste goes to landfill:

  • Our museums encourage waste segregation and recycling throughout our buildings for both visitors and colleagues.
  • All museums have facilities for recycling cardboard, glass, electrical, batteries and mixed recycling and our mixed recycling is processed by Materials Recycling Facilities to be used again by manufacturers instead of raw materials.
  • For specialist equipment, we work with suppliers on take-back schemes and we donate furniture, paint and other reusable items as much as possible to charities, schools or other organisations in need.

Read more about our approach to reducing waste.

Food and catering

We’re working hard to minimise our environmental impact and working with suppliers towards more sustainable options across our operations:

  • We have removed all plastic bottles from our catering outlets and reduced the amount of single-use plastic.
  • Crockery and metal cutlery are offered as first choice before disposable options, and discount schemes for reusable cups are offered across our museums.
  • Recycling points are installed across our catering outlets and a pilot food digester is installed at the National Railway Museum.
  • Our catering offer focuses on locally-sourced and seasonal produce, designed to minimise our carbon footprint, with vegetarian and vegan options widely available.
  • At the Science Museum Group, we made the conscious decision to remove beef and lamb from our menus, in conjunction with our catering partners. This is in support of our mission to reduce the carbon emissions in our supply chain.


Across our retail function, we’re working hard to minimise our environmental impact and increase the amount of sustainable products we sell to our consumers:

  • We do not sell single-use plastic carrier bags nor plastic water bottles.
  • We’re moving our exclusive Adults T-shirt to 100% organic cotton.
  • We are growing our product range made from recycled materials.
  • We are working with suppliers to encourage ways to minimise packaging associated with retail deliveries and product packaging.

Our supply chains

Decarbonising our supply chain won’t be easy—but it’s by joining others in tackling these scope 3 emissions that will help to create the critical momentum for change across the world.

Looking at our current supply chain emissions, 66% come from capital goods and 20% come from goods and services we buy.

In support of reducing our scope 3 emissions from our supply chain, we published the SMG’s Sustainable Procurement Policy for new suppliers to follow. This policy will be reviewed annually, and updates to the policy will reflect more stringent guidelines as we move towards our journey to net zero. We work with our top 10 biggest carbon emitting suppliers each year to encourage them to go on a journey to decarbonise with us.

Part of this process will be getting our suppliers to report on their scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions.

Each year, we will work with a further 20 suppliers, until the majority of our scope 3 emissions have been tackled.

And of course we will learn a lot from our suppliers. One of our new partners, CBRE, who provides maintenance services, is recognised as a leader in sustainability. We are already learning from them about how we can accelerate work to reduce carbon emissions from our estate.


Planes and cars produce greenhouse gases, so we are seeking to reduce travel wherever possible.

We have an internal sustainable travel policy for staff to refer to when considering travelling. This promotes the use of public transport, over private transport options. Our travel booking system also shows the carbon emissions for each trip, which shows colleagues their impact, and which is the most carbon efficient way to travel.

The coronavirus pandemic has helped us to develop more flexible working practices, which will mean fewer journeys between our sites.
We have also introduced a cycle-to-work scheme to support colleagues who want to come to work under their own steam.

Outside our new collection management facility, dedicated electric car charging points encourage more sustainable transport methods, complementing electric vehicles already in use at the Science and Innovation Park. Recycled plastic road materials provide sustainable surfaces for access roads and the service yard, aiding drainage and reducing carbon emissions. 

Sustainability networks at the Science Museum Group

To support our journey to net zero, there is an active community of sustainability champions across SMG.

An Executive Net Zero Committee, compromising of the executive lead for sustainability, museum directors, department heads, and other colleagues, meets monthly. Its primary purpose is to co-ordinate all SMG work towards meeting the Net Zero by 2033 commitment, as set out in our SMG Sustainability Policy. The Committee will communicate on progress and upcoming initiatives with all SMG colleagues at regular intervals.

We have also established a network of over 70 SMG colleagues, across our six sites, who are part of local Sustainability Guiding Groups. They bring their own unique perspective, listen to others and bring solutions-focused ideas. They are advocates for sustainability and promote sustainability discussions and actions across SMG. The groups are currently working towards producing local sustainability action plans.