U.S. Cultural Institutions Are “Still In” (And Joining Global Climate Action Summit September 12-14!)

Today’s Guest Post is by Sarah W. Sutton, LEED-AP, Principal, Sustainable Museums / Sector Lead, Cultural Institutions, We Are Still In.

United States cultural institutions are taking their work to the world stage at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco this September 12-14. Our goal is to raise awareness of the untapped potential for climate action through heritage sites, museums, zoos, gardens and aquariums. We want to convince decision-makers from other sectors (investment, business, higher education, government) that working with cultural institutions will help them advance sustainability, resilience, and climate action issues in their communities. We will be there because we believe that United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals and The Paris Accord (Agreement) must be fulfilled. Whether or not the US government supports the Agreement is irrelevant.

On June 1, 2017, when President Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the Agreement* we chose not to follow.

Trump Paris withdrawal
Image courtesy Sarah Sutton

#MuseumsforParis began a grassroots demonstration that cultural institutions’ work would continue uninterrupted: we are going right ahead educating the public about science and environment, culture and society, heritage and humanity, art and engineering, and life on Earth; we are continuing to engage the public to the point of choosing to change perceptions, understanding, and actions on behalf of a more just, healthy and peaceful world.

We Are Still In

Time to Step Up
Image courtesy Sarah Sutton

Other sectors felt the same.

On June 5th We Are Still In (WASI) became the largest US coalition of “subnational actors” in support of the Agreement. Twenty-two organizations lead the coalition, including Bloomberg Philanthropies, Ceres, Climate Mayors, Climate Nexus, Rocky Mountain Institute, Second Nature, Sierra Club, We Mean Business, World Wildlife Fund and Sustainable Museums. Its leadership team has point people from each sector (higher education, faith organizations, health care, business and investors, state and tribes, and cities and counties). They coordinate the participation of 3000+ signatories. Each institution chooses among established climate commitment or adds its own. It can edit them at any point. It can request information, join or create a collaborative project, and offer expertise in any area of climate action, and  use the network to learn from and engage with others as much as needed. There is no cost or requirement; only opportunity.

This April, WASI adopted #MuseumsforParis, creating the Cultural Institutions sector. Now the sector can announce its responsibility and ambitions in this work, aligning the public influence of museums, zoos, gardens, aquariums, and historic sites, and their physical and intellectual resources, with the climate work and resources of other sectors.

Museums for Paris
Image courtesy Sarah Sutton

The sector has 29 signatories so far, ranging from small museums in Maine (two actually) to major institutions in California (California Academy of Sciences and Monterey Bay Aquarium). The American Association for State and Local History to the Arizona Association of Museums have joined. The American Alliance of Museums endorses participation, and promotes and hosts online information sessions and institutional participation through its Environment & Climate Network.

As institutions sign on they select actions, skipping some, and selecting others they have been doing, are doing now, or plan to do. These include familiar commitments to GHG (Green House Gas) measurement, and to reduction through energy efficiency, renewable generation, and use of renewable and alternative fuels. These also include a review of collections care needs for more responsible management of exhibit and storage conditions. Other options are climate interpretation with the public and community-wide engagement in resilience planning. I look forward to seeing what other goals they add.

The Global Climate Action Summit- Sept 12-14

E_2016_SDG_Poster_all_sizes_without_UN_emblemTen cultural signatories are attending Global Climate Action Summit events in San Francisco, September 12-14, 2018. The Summit is a United Nations-related meeting of parties who have a stake in climate outcomes. Some will be attending to learn how to network across sectors for climate solutions, others will be showcasing new commitments to reducing their climate impacts. All are ambassadors to those outside the cultural sector who do not yet realize that we can enhance and amplify their work on climate, resilience and sustainability.

You Can Attend Events Virtually!

I’ll be buying carbon offsets for my travel from Climate Neutral Now, a UN-sponsored clearinghouse for carbon mitigation efforts worldwide, and you can attend carbon free by live stream. Please drop in and explore what’s going on. This global issue needs global participation, but many of us are unfamiliar with the process. By listening and watching you will build your own awareness of how the World forum works, and discover pathways for connected action on any scale.

Sign On!

The subnational model is spreading and may reach you if you are outside the US.

Japan, Mexico, and New Zealand have announced coalitions like We Are Still In (WASI). I encourage you to guide your institution to throw its weight behind the Paris Agreement and its sustainable development goals whether it is with WASI or another coalition. Cultural institutions have such important roles in their country’s climate action. As creative, cultural, scientific, and social agents of positive change, we are perfectly-suited partners in this important work.

*According to the charter, withdrawal is a multi-year process and cannot be completed until January 2021, after the next presidential election.


Sarah Sutton

Sarah Sutton is principal of Sustainable Museums, a worldwide consultancy for museums, zoos, gardens, and historic sites addressing environmental sustainability and climate response. She is the author of Environmental Sustainability at Historic Sites and Museums, and co-author with Elizabeth Wylie of both editions of The Green Museum, a Primer on Environmental Practice. You can find her using @greenmuseum on twitter, and “sustainablemuseums” online and on Facebook.

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