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Towards net zero

Setting a robust target

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

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 (except at the Blythe House object store in London, which we share with the V&A and British Museum) and host one of the UK’s biggest solar farms at the National Collections Centre 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 National Collections Centre, 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 Vision 2025 project.

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 National Collections Centre, rainwater will help create a large wetland area which we hope to include within a wider nature reserve. We’ve also installed 100 bat and bird boxes, made habitat improvements and will plant four acres of wildflower meadow for bees and insects.

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 installed at the National Railway Museum, which is soon to be rolled out at all our museums;
  • Our catering offer focuses on locally-sourced and seasonal produce, designed to minimise our carbon footprint, with vegetarian and vegan options widely available.

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.

We’re already working with our 10 biggest suppliers in each of these areas to encourage them to go on a journey to decarbonise with us and are developing a sustainable procurement policy for new suppliers.

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.

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.

At our collections care facility we’ve introduced electric car charging points to encourage sustainable transport and are already using hydrogen and electric vehicles. We are also using recycled plastic road materials and grasscrete to provide sustainable surfaces for access.

Header image: SMG staff tree planting at the National Collection Centre with the Woodland Trust