Caroline Johnson, Head of Projects and Facilities at Hampshire Cultural Trust, shares how the organisation’s efforts to increase climate literacy have created a movement for holistic sustainable change. By promoting internal engagement at every level of the team, she believes that cultural institutions can deliver on both personal and team pledges to protect our planet.
With a lifelong passion for sustainability and years of experience under her belt, Caroline joined Hampshire Cultural Trust in 2019. One of her first tasks after joining the organisation was to offer to rewrite the trust’s environmental policy – a job she admits was bigger than she imagined.
“I thought it would take a few days, but it turned into a project of about eighteen months with a steering group of representatives from all departments across the trust contributing to its development. It involved building an Environmental Action Plan alongside, and now as Head of Projects and Facilities, I oversee the delivery of our environmental strategy.”
One of the key outcomes of these efforts is the implementation of the Carbon Literacy Project’s Roots and Branches toolkit, which aims to accelerate the museum sector’s ability to respond to the climate crisis.
The Carbon Literacy Project: making sustainability a team effort
Despite securing both board and leadership commitment to sustainability early on, progress within the trust was initially slower than anticipated.
This all changed with the Carbon Literacy Project, which tailors climate action and education on an organisational, departmental, and individual level. Caroline explains:
“The Carbon Literacy Project pushed our internal engagement forwards. It spread throughout the organisation, and created conversations in all areas and departments about what steps could be taken to improve sustainability.”
The project’s success highlighted a common issue in commercial environmental planning: a top-down approach alone isn’t enough.
“Sustainability is a united effort. It’s the actions of everybody that make a difference, so it can’t just be a top-down approach. Communication is one of the most challenging areas in any project. We use the project to get the engagement of people on the ground in our venues, because they’re the ones closing those venues, switching things off, planting things, and encouraging visitors to think about biodiversity.”
Knowledge is power
An initial staff survey in 2020 found that the majority of staff and volunteers wanted to see more climate action from the trust, so Caroline and her team set out to create a sense of direction, giving the movement focus.
“The majority of people understand that there’s a climate crisis, and they want to help, but they don’t know where to start. Our climate literacy courses tackle this, offering a good understanding of climate change, climate justice, and how you can make a difference.”
Though still early in their sustainability journey, the steps taken by the trust are already having a positive impact.
“Knowledge is power, and climate literacy helps us understand which actions make the biggest difference. It’s about empowering people — that’s the best way to engage them.”
Carbon Literacy Action: going for gold
The Carbon Literacy Project creates courses for different sectors, from local authorities to the NHS. One such project – Roots and Branches – was specifically targeted towards the museum sector, providing the trust with a solid foundation for their sustainability efforts.
“We had a core team trained through the South East Museums Development Programme to deliver the training. From there, we ran the course in-house. The course is updated regularly, and you can also tailor it with your own case studies.”
The team’s in-house training team started delivering the course to external sector colleagues on 4th December: Carbon Literacy Action Day. The trust has already achieved bronze on the course’s ranking system, and they’re setting their sights even higher.
Caroline says: “We’re confident we’ve met the criteria for silver, but we’re thinking of going straight for gold. We will make a decision in the next few weeks”.
Our training is also now opened up for others from the museum sector to join and we urge those interested to get in touch to find out more about the online and in person courses that we offer.
Contact Environmentalpolicyandactionplan@hampshireculturaltrust.org.uk to find out more.
Switch Off: making personal and team pledges
The Carbon Literacy Project comes with homework for those institutions involved, as users are asked to make both a personal and team pledge to sustainable action. With all the pledges in place, the project then reveals how much of an environmental impact all the combined pledges could have.
“We track our pledges so that we can support people if they’re hitting brick walls. We also identify where some people have made similar pledges and link them so they can work together. This helps to create that sense of empowerment, creating action within different areas of the organisation that you couldn’t achieve with a top-down only approach.
“You don’t forget your pledge. It gives you that drive to make sure change happens.”
The team has already seen huge benefits as a direct result of these pledges, especially with their Switch Off Campaign, launched in May 2023.
“Recyclable ‘switch off’ stickers have been placed on plug sockets, light switches, and more. In the three months following the project’s launch, we saw a 17% reduction in electricity use compared to the previous year. That was just from one week of pushing, then letting teams get on with it themselves.
“We see results venue by venue, which creates a sense of competition. Some reduced their electricity by as much as 38% as a result of the Switch Off campaign.”
The Green Team: championing climate action
Acting as a springboard to inspire staff to implement similar schemes, a team was created in 2022. The aim of this Green Team was to increase and improve sustainability and biodiversity by enabling change and action across the trust.
The actions of the team form part of the trust’s Environmental Action Plan, engaging stakeholders for climate advocacy.
Caroline says: “The team is now starting to go to venues, to network, to create more green teams across the organisation. What started off as a team of five at our head office has grown to a much larger group. They’ve spearheaded a lot of initiatives, from EV bikes to gardening.”
The roadmap to net zero
Despite the government’s goal of reaching net zero by 2050, the trust has set their own, more ambitious goal of net zero by 2030. While Caroline describes funding as “the main challenge” to their net zero roadmap, the results are looking promising. Just last year, the trust received enough funding from the University of Sussex to work with leading carbon accounting platform, Greenly.
“It is a real struggle to invest huge amounts internally. Inevitably, we need to fundraise. But while the roadmap is not direct, we’re making great strides.”
Advice for other museums? Structure is everything
By making climate action a team effort, the trust has embedded environmental sustainability into their mission and purpose, from board level to every job description. This, Caroline explains, requires a strong structure.
“Structure is vital for delivering on an environmental action plan. Initially, we had a single Environmental Sustainability Manager, but it was challenging for them to get everybody’s input.
“Now, we have a representative from every department instead, and everybody in that Action Plan Group dedicates half a day a week, or two days a month, to delivering on the Environmental Action Plan. This is a great way of spreading action and responsibility throughout the organisation. Sustainability is a team sport.”
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