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Taking care of our environment

The National Museum of Australia remains committed to the conservation of natural resources through ongoing improvements to its energy management and the implementation of a number of other initiatives aimed at minimising environmental impact from its operations. The promotion of ecologically sustainable development (ESD) principles is woven through the content of the Museum's programs and administrative and decision-making processes.

Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, all Commonwealth agencies are required to report on their environmental performance and contribution to ecologically sustainable development. The Museum's key activities, citing the relevant paragraphs of the Act, are described on the following pages.

Environmental management systems

How the Museum's activities accord with the principles of ESD (Paragraph 516A(6)(a))

The Museum's Environmental Management System incorporates guidelines for all Museum activities to reduce their impact on the environment. It also promotes the management of energy, waste and water on all Museum sites. The system was developed to meet ISO14001:1996 'Environmental Management Systems — Specification with guidance for use'. It was designed to be as accessible as possible for all staff to allow them to minimise risks to the environment. The Environmental Management Policy, which was reviewed during the year, highlights the Museum's commitment to operate within the principles of ecologically sustainable development wherever possible.

The Museum continues to contribute to the protection and improvement of the local environment through the Lower Sullivan's Creek Catchment Group, in partnership with The Australian National University, Australian National Botanic Gardens, CSIRO Black Mountain, Environment ACT, and the National Capital Authority. This nationally significant ecological survey focuses on the development of a biodiversity management plan for the area.

How the administration of legislation by the Museum accords with the principles of ESD (Paragraph 516A(6)(b))

The Museum's functions, as set out in the National Museum of Australia Act 1980, continue to remain consistent with the spirit of ESD principles. These include programs that 'improve the total quality of life, both now and in the future, in a way that maintains the ecological processes on which life depends'. The Act also specifies that the focus of the Museum's exhibitions, collections, programs and research should be on three interrelated themes: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture, Australia's history and society since 1788 and, most specifically, the interaction of people with the environment. Stories related to Australia's environment appear throughout the Museum's permanent and temporary exhibitions, education programs, public programs, publications and the website. In particular, the Old New Land gallery, one of the Museum's five permanent galleries, is devoted to the interaction of people and the environment, and includes displays on bushfires, farming practices, Indigenous land management practices, endangered and extinct species, drought and water management.

During the year the Museum held a public workshop, 'Collection connection', which again emphasised the connection between the Museum's displays and the environment. This workshop was entirely based on recycled materials collected from Museum staff and from Reverse Garbage in Marrickville, Sydney.

How the outcomes specified for the Museum in an Appropriations Act contribute to ESD (Paragraph 516A(6)(c))

The Government's Portfolio Budget Statement specifies that Australians should 'have access to the Museum's collections and public programs to encourage awareness and understanding of Australia's history and culture'.

Although not directly contributing to ESD, an increased awareness and understanding of Australia's history — including its environmental history — and culture by the public is still relevant to ESD principles.

How the Museum's activities affect the environment (Paragraph 516A(6)(d)) and the steps taken to minimise this (Paragraph 516A(6)(e))

The Museum's activities have the potential to affect the environment through consumption of energy, waste production, and the impact on local waterways, flora and fauna. A number of ongoing strategies, with relevant targets and objectives, have been put in place to reduce the Museum's environmental impact. These include:

  • the reduction of energy consumption
  • increase in waste recycling
  • decrease in water use
  • the use of environmentally friendly cleaning chemicals.

Mechanisms (if any) for reviewing and increasing the effectiveness of those steps (Paragraph 516A(6)(f))

Monitoring and reviewing performance are integral to the Museum's Environmental Management System. Ongoing reviews are carried out on targets and objectives to ensure they remain relevant to Museum operations and continue to meet changing government requirements.

A man rides his bike on a path outside the National Museum.
National Ride to Work Day, October 2008.

Environmental initiatives

Reduction of energy consumption

The Museum continues to purchase 10 per cent of its electricity from renewable energy sources, and in addition has reduced overall energy consumption through:

  • accurate tracking of energy usage across the Acton site — the Museum's energy monitoring system enables independent monitoring of the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system
  • ongoing replacement of older lights, such as bathroom lights and outdoor lights on the Museum building, with energy efficient LED lights. These require less maintenance and replacement, further reducing their whole-of-life environmental impact. Existing light fittings were also modified to improve energy efficiency
  • ongoing review of newer technologies to optimise energy usage and whole-of-life environmental impact of Museum plant and equipment
  • changes to the building management system to ensure that the chillers operate at optimum efficiency, which has also resulted in savings in energy costs
  • ongoing installation of additional photoelectric cells on external lights for greater energy efficiency.


The Museum continues to recycle paper, cardboard, toner cartridges and glass/plastic bottles in the administration areas. Specific activities included the implementation of a recycling program for fluorescent tubes and bulbs, and installation of recycling bins in the outdoor public areas and in staff amenity rooms.

Water use

The Museum continued to reduce levels of water usage through the use of hybrid semi-waterless urinals in high-use public toilets, as well as dual-flush toilets and water-saving showerheads in leasehold buildings. Water meters were also installed in critical areas, including cooling towers, to help track and monitor water consumption. In line with current water restrictions in the Australian Capital Authority, watering of the gardens and external facade of the building was reduced.

Environmentally friendly cleaning chemicals

All cleaning chemicals used by the Museum's cleaning contractors meet the specifications set out in Australian Standards AS/ANZ ISO 14001:1996 'Environmental Management Systems — Specification with guidance for use' and AS/ANZ ISO 14004:1996 'Environmental Management Systems — General guidelines of principles, systems and supporting techniques'.


The Museum continued its membership of this non-profit organisation that plants trees in nearby forests to offset carbon emissions from its vehicle fleet.

Staff action

The Green Museum group, a voluntary group of environmentally conscious Museum staff, assisted in raising awareness of environmental issues by promoting activities such as:

  • organising regular ride-to-work days including participation in the National Ride to Work Day
  • providing tips via the Museum's intranet on ways to reduce work and home environmental footprints
  • setting up a car-pooling roster
  • collecting ideas from staff on ways to make the workplace more sustainable and acting upon these wherever possible.