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Taking care of our environment

Environmental management systems

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.

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 ISO 14001:1996 '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 highlights the Museum's commitment to operate within the principles of ecologically sustainable development wherever possible.

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.

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'."

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.

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

The Government's Portfolio Budget Statements specify that the Museum should contribute to an 'increased awareness and understanding of Australia's history and culture by managing the National Museum's collections and providing access through public programs and exhibitions'.

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:

  • reducing energy consumption
  • increasing waste recycling
  • decreasing water use
  • using environmentally friendly cleaning chemicals
  • using a vehicle fleet that offsets carbon emissions
  • supporting environmentally conscious staff initiatives.

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. The targets include 10 per cent annual reductions for both water and energy use over the baseline year of 2007–08 by October 2011. Waste to landfill will be reduced by 5 per cent over this same period. The Museum has already met the water reduction figure with a reduction of 13 per cent in annual consumption when it introduced hybrid semi-waterless urinals within the public areas of the building.

An electronic sign outside a museum, at night. The sign is at the right of the photograph. It has a display which is headed 'Water Usage', in white letters. Under the heading, in a light readout, is 'Target 150 ML'. The letters in the readout are yellow. Behind the sign is part of the museum's exterior. It is a curved wall that is lit up by a row of lights in the ground. The wall is orange in colour. To the far left of the photograph can just be made out what appears to be the entrance to the museum.
ACTEW Corporation dam level indicator at the National Museum entrance during the Water: H20=Life exhibition.

Environmental initiatives

Reducing 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 (HVAC) system
  • ongoing replacement of older lights 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
  • changes to the building management system to ensure that the air conditioning chillers operate at optimum efficiency, which has also resulted in savings in energy costs.
  • further revision of chilled water plant programming to provide better environmental conditions within the Acton exhibition areas while reducing energy consumption. This was achieved through improved sequencing of the HVAC plant and has resulted in significant reductions in energy use and operating costs.

During the year the Museum engaged an independent consultant to undertake an energy audit of the Museum's property portfolio. The consultant identified a number of initiatives to further reduce energy consumption. These included modification of the HVAC plant and equipment to ensure it is operating to its maximum efficiency, replacement of existing lighting with new, more efficient lighting technology, and the installation of additional power factor correction to the electricity supplies that feed into the Acton building. The Museum is currently examining the feasibility of implementing these initiatives with a view to incorporating them into future building upgrades and refurbishments.

Increasing waste recycling

The Museum continues to recycle paper, cardboard, toner cartridges and glass/plastic bottles. 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.

Decreasing 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 Territory, watering of the gardens and external facade continued to be minimised.

Using environmentally friendly cleaning chemicals

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

Offsetting carbon emissions

The Museum continued its membership of Greenfleet, a 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:

  • a blog on the Museum's intranet where staff can discuss environmentally sustainable ideas and events
  • 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.