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Making Digital Sustainability A Priority For Museums

Above: The Supercool team running a workshop

Above: The Supercool team running a workshop


James Coleman, Managing Director of Supercool, shares how he and his team have worked to bring digital carbon footprints into the spotlight as part of their work, helping cultural institutions tackle sustainability online in the process.

Supercool is a digital agency specialising in crafting websites and digital strategies for a range of clients across the arts and culture sector. From the likes of Sheffield Theatres to Bristol’s Old Vic, famed dance theatre company New Adventures to the Midlands Art Centre, Supercool know more than most about partnering with cultural institutions.

Having originally set up Supercool as a graphic design business, James and his team now collaborate with theatres, museums, heritage, opera companies, ballet companies and more to enhance their digital presence. But as the importance of sustainability has become ever clearer in recent decades, Supercool has also made environmental responsibility a core component of the agency’s service offering.

“Everyone on our team has a passion for the arts,” says James. “In fact, half the team have experience working in venues. We get to work with passionate and interesting people, while also helping them do their part for the planet by taking our own responsibility seriously.”

Digital Sustainability Is Now A ‘Genuine’ Concern

Sustainability and digitalisation are two staples of modern society, and for Supercool, they must work in tandem. James says:

“Ten years ago, people wanted to tick a box, often through a page on their website highlighting green values. Now, organisations are doing a lot more, and that comes through in the websites we’re building.

“Organisations want their websites to do more for them. Whether that’s a ticketing pathway for smoother user journeys, or educational materials about what the institution is doing behind the scenes. There’s a lot more genuine activity that comes through the website, and it’s become a more meaningful and thoughtful platform, both in terms of sustainability and wider institutional concerns.”

Above: Edinburgh International Festival website by Supercool


Tackling The Digital Carbon Footprint Of Museums

“A decade ago,” James says, “no one had any sense what their digital carbon footprint was. Now, a lot of our clients have heard of the concept, but the vast majority still aren’t certain what it means or how they can impact it.”

Supercool aims to change that. They spend time and resources, supporting clients to better educate themselves and take steps to reduce their digital carbon footprint. James explains, “One of the easiest changes a business can make is to content. Turning off pieces of content that aren’t being used, and cutting back on redundant archives, can greatly benefit your digital carbon footprint.

“Think about the value of content that you add to pages. Do you really need 25 images on a single post, or three videos when a single, shorter video would get the point across better? These are easy starting points for tackling website energy.”

Implementing Strategies To Improve Digital Carbon Emissions

“Five years ago, we put in place changes that would make us, as a business, a carbon positive workforce,” says James. “Since then, we’ve communicated that effort . . . the outcomes and challenges.”

This is part of Supercool’s effort to practice what they preach when it comes to sustainability, which includes putting in place an “annual set of goals” that cover how the team builds websites, the technology they use, and the services they host – all viewed through a green lens.

“We communicate this though blogs and emails and social media,” says James. “We’re very transparent. We also have resources for existing clients because, whilst we can improve websites going forward, we’ve still got a host of legacy websites to consider. These resources provide features to add to websites, key processes, housekeeping tips, and more.

“These are things clients can implement themselves without huge cost.”

The Lockdown Effect

During the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses and institutions across all industries were forced to take their services online. While James says many clients have returned to “business as usual”, there has been a knock-on effect attached to lockdown in terms of digital capacity and approaches to sustainability. He says,

“Everything went digital during lockdown. There was more budget to do video and follow through with digital initiatives. In some ways, things have returned to normal, but there was definitely a cultural shift. We do things remotely now that were unthinkable before 2019.

“Institutions want people in their buildings, which is understandable, but lockdown was an opportunity to consider what you’re doing outside the building. What is your outreach? How are you fundraising? What are you asking people? What is your digital presence, and does it reflect your brand?”

Above: Chichester Festival Theatre website by Supercool

Above: Chichester Festival Theatre website by Supercool


This logic applies to sustainability too, James says. By thinking about the wider impact of their business – rather than confining thinking to the walls of an institution – organisations can start to make more impactful green changes.

More Sustainability, Less Greenwashing

For Supercool, honesty is the best policy. James highlights a degree of nervousness among clients when it comes to sustainability:

“Businesses think they need to be perfect before they can talk about their efforts. But the truth is that no one is getting it 100% right all of the time. It’s not about saying, ‘Oh, look at us, we’re brilliant.’ It’s about being transparent about what you do.

“At Supercool we try to be honest and authentic about progress – both successes and failures. We’re not perfect, but conversations about sustainability are important and we shouldn’t shy away from that. Even as a small business, we still have the power to decide who our suppliers are and who we work with. It’s important to really think about sustainability on an infrastructural level, to avoid greenwashing.”

Advice for Museums? Don’t be Afraid to Start Small

Looking ahead is important for Supercool, especially when it comes to sustainability. Having put a sustainability working group in place at the start of this year, they now operate “under the assumption that sustainability is a key factor in everything we do.”

James says: “We have a ten-year objective which says that, in the next three years, we’ll put in measurable parameters, and over the next ten years, we want to be making the most sustainable websites within the sector. Ten percent of our development budget is now being dedicated specifically to sustainability.”

While these changes may sound large, James’s advice to museum professionals is “don’t be afraid to start small” when going green.

“Large changes are important, but you don’t need to start there. You don’t need to make huge changes in order to make changes at all. By making little changes to a website, you can actually make a big difference over time.”

The Green Museums Summit will be held from 26th – 27th February 2024, and will feature inspiring ideas and case studies from those championing sustainability in museums and galleries. Click here to book your tickets now, to make sure you don’t miss out.

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