Miraikan, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, ranks sustainability as one of its most important themes to guide activity and outreach programmes. This is, of course, to be expected of a science museum. And Miraikan frames sustainability in a variety of ways to suit its audience – including education, events and interaction with specialists in the field.
While encouraging greater interaction within the many different aspects of sustainability amongst visitors, the museum came to realise that its business activities required attention in order to make messaging more convincing.
Yasushi Ikebe is Principal Investigator for Science Communication at Miraikan. In his recent presentation for MuseumNext, he discussed how the museum came to shine a light on its own sustainability measures to give new significance to their environmental goals.
Promoting Sustainability as a Science Museum
The team at Miraikan set up a sustainability promotion project team dedicated to examining how business activities in the museum could be made more sustainable. Firstly, in order to get the most out of the project, the team defined their sustainability goals. Principally, the main goal as a museum was to help society as a whole change and improve by contributing to the realisation that the sustainable development of society is only possible through a change in awareness and behaviour of citizens. Secondly, the team looked at how to publicise sustainable measures implemented by Miraikan to showcase how valuable the policies implemented by the museum could be to the public. The third goal of the project team was to maintain an open dialogue with people about proposals for a future society model.
The sustainability promotion project is, in essence, a science communication activity to share thoughts with people about the shape of the future.
Switching the Museum to renewable energy
In the first initiative, the team focused on reducing the impact of human activities across the four main areas of energy, water, food and materials. This led to a detailed assessment of how the museum receives and uses energy which, out of the four factors identified, had the greatest impact by far on the environment and was therefore deemed highest priority.
The museum entered into a new contract with an electric power company to supply 100% renewable energy – primarily generated through wind power. This means that the museum will reduce energy related CO2 emissions of 2,000 tonnes to almost zero. This was a major step forward. Unfortunately, district heat systems in Tokyo are under government control so, to help offset this area of energy usage, the museum plans to improve the thermal insulation performance of the main buildings and the entrances.
A sustainable menu for the Museum cafe
Food production generates a quarter of worldwide greenhouse gases. As a consequence, museum food outlets are trialling sustainable menus using meat alternatives such as soy-based meat substitutes. Customer feedback has been positive and the goal in this area is to help visitors consider the future of food through trying the menu, but also by supplying related information.
Reducing plastic at the Museum
Waste generated by materials is another factor in the sustainability strategy of the museum. Plastic plays a vast role in global pollution, particularly in the natural and marine world, and can have a devasting impact on ecosystems. Initially, the museum has installed plastic-free drinks vending machines and supplies free drinking water taps for refillable containers. However, reduction in the use of plastic containers and packaging is an ongoing part of the museum’s sustainability project. This includes surveys with museum visitors on waste generated and reduction proposals as well as looking at ways to install, transport and renovate exhibitions in a sustainable way.
With plenty of work still to do, Miraikan is well on its way to establishing new ways to create a greener museum.
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.
About the author – Tim Deakin
Tim Deakin is a journalist and editorial consultant working with a broad range of online publications.