Author: Caitlin Southwick
This year, the International Council of Museums has established a Working Group to address the issue of sustainability. While “sustainability” is often associated with environmental issues and climate change, it is a much broader issue. Encompassing all aspects of socio-ecological relationships amongst society and between the planet and mankind, sustainability includes social justice, gender equality, poverty, indigenous peoples, biodiversity, etc.
“Sustainability” acknowledges the interconnectedness of environmental, social and economic aspects that encompasses three imperatives: limits, needs and justice:
• Respecting environmental limits by mitigating climate change and safeguarding
• Satisfying human needs by eradicating poverty and enhancing human capabilities.
• Ensuring social justice by attaining fair distribution.
How sustainability applies to the museum sector might seem abstract, but it is more interrelated that it might appear. The impact that climate change has on our cultural heritage, the changing role of conservators and museum professionals as we become first responders for cultural heritage after natural disasters, and the issues surrounding repatriation and the rights of communities to their cultural heritage, are just some of the very real ties that museums have to issues of sustainability.
But the role of the museum goes further than just a house for our cultural heritage when it comes to sustainability. As centers of knowledge and reliable information, museums are in a unique position to be leaders in the sustainability movement. By partnering with lead climate scientists and indigenous peoples, the ICOM museum network, with over 55.000 museums worldwide, can provide centers for educating the public about the issues on a global and local level, as well as provide space for dialogue and resources for coping with the impending realities of the future. The ICOM-WGS is a group of 14 leading professionals from around the world who are dedicated to finding solutions to incorporating sustainability into ICOM and the international museums network. SiC Founder, Caitlin Southwick, is the secretary of the working group.
ICOM-WGS will primarily be working with collecting data and information and composing recommendations for the next phase of a sustainability group within ICOM, which could possibly take the shape of an International Committee. The findings of the Working Group will be presented at the ICOM triennial conference in Kyoto next year.