Skip Navigation or Skip to Content
AW Great Yellow Bumblebee Orkney


Our Vision for Sustainable Development

The global environmental emergency - not only the climate crisis but also large-scale biodiversity loss - is the biggest challenge facing the world.

Our new Strategic Plan 2022-2027 sets out our commitment to sustainability. It is centre stage as one of five strategic priority areas, underpinned by our new Vision: Inspiring People: Addressing the Challenges of Our Age.

Our Strategic Aim is: We will be well advanced on the path to a carbon neutral footprint and a respected resource for understanding climate and biodiversity challenges.

Three Strategic Actions support it:

  • Achieve carbon reduction targets
  • Improve biodiversity and habitat quality at our sites
  • Become a respected resource for understanding climate and biodiversity challenges.

In turn, these Strategic Actions direct our annual Action Plans ensuring that this year’s activities effectively tie back to the progression of our Strategic Aim.

A thistle (Cirsium vulgare) at the National Museums Collection Centre

Our commitment

We are committed to changing our approach to address the climate and biodiversity challenges. Our actions will be based on robust holistic thinking about the whole organisation: our culture and practices, people and estates. 

We have developed an Action Plan for this year that focuses on three areas:

  • Building an organisational culture for sustainability based on a knowledgeable and confident workforce
  • Bringing together a holistic visitor offer that is engaging and motivating, underpinned by good practice and reducing target emissions
  • Delivering an investment plan that balances the demands of future building standards, backlog maintenance, and carbon emission reductions for our current estate.

We will continue to improve our environmental performance as part of a wider commitment to sustainable development, through a framework of targets, monitoring and reporting. And we will use our exceptional natural sciences collections, world-class scientific research and multi-disciplinary approach to give us a platform from which to inspire and educate our audiences to work towards a better world.

Our statutory responsibility

International and UK legislation sets the pace for our response to the climate emergency. In particular, the Climate Change Act (Scotland) 2009 (April 2019 updates) sets Scotland’s targets at 75% net carbon emissions reduction by 2030. This Act (part 4) clearly states that public bodies have a climate change duty, that we must reach targets and act in the most sustainable way.

As a Public Body, our carbon calculation must cover:

  • All waste and recycling
  • All purchased goods and services
  • The use of all sold goods
  • All fuel
  • All travel: all domestic (including owned, hired and leased cars) and international aviation and shipping
  • Including production and waste
  • And there can be no third party off-setting to net against our emissions.

We know that we have a long way to go and we believe that in the process of meeting our targets and contributing to a zero-carbon society we will be making a contribution towards changing society itself.

Under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act (2004), all public bodies in Scotland are required to further the conservation of biodiversity when carrying out their responsibilities. The Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act (2011) requires public bodies in Scotland to provide a publicly available report every three years.

Every year we report on our sustainable development work and carbon emission reductions to the Scottish Government. Describing our work from April 2021 to March 2022, read the latest Climate Change Report.

Some of the activities our staff have been involved with between January 2018 and December 2020, both in research and public engagement, are highlighted in our Biodiversity Report 2018-2020. This is a report we submit every three years to the Scottish Government.

Operating sustainably

Through a long-term investment plan in our estate and infrastructure we have made energy efficiencies and year on year reductions in our carbon emissions.

Our baseline year for energy-related carbon emissions was 2012/13. We are pleased that ten years on in March 2022 our carbon emissions have been reduced by 85.6%. This year a total of 1,647.84 tonnes of carbon dioxide was produced from our energy use, which is our lowest emissions footprint to date and is a reduction of approximately 2,400 tonnes of carbon dioxide compared to 2019/20.

There is more work to do, however, especially in terms of Scope 3 emissions, and we prioritise:

  • Continuing to adopt and promote energy efficiency and the use of renewable resources throughout all our operations
  • Setting targets for minimising waste and maximising reuse and recycling opportunities
  • Reviewing our procurement processes to ensure social value is built into our activities
  • Ensuring the promotion of sustainable materials and services, and stopping the use of materials with harmful production and disposal processes.

Proactively using our collections

Tracking biodiversity 

Our collection provides a rich resource for creating knowledge and understanding. In particular, our natural science collection represents almost 300 years of collecting, providing invaluable data sources for measuring biodiversity change over time.

The physical description of species (phenotyping) by taxonomists underpins all we know about biodiversity. However, we know that this is woefully incomplete and current estimates indicate that there are about 15 million species living on earth today, yet only 2 million are described. Recent advances in genetic techniques (DNA extraction and barcoding) have opened up our natural science collection to a range of new opportunities for understanding and monitoring biodiversity. The continued development of our Biobank over the past year is therefore key to the future growth and use of the collection.

As well as storing samples, we undertake scientific fieldwork to provide rich evidence-based research into environmental change and biodiversity loss. The work of the Natural Sciences team and the breadth of collections-generated information contributes to the effort in the UK and around the world of better understanding human impact on the environment.

In response to the pandemic we shifted survey work and monitoring of biodiversity to areas around Edinburgh. One of our most important collections of insects was made by Edward Pelham-Clinton in the 1900s with many of the biodiversity collecting sites being local. Over the past year our Invertebrates team has started to return to many of Pelham-Clinton’s collecting localities to re-sample them. This can be used to record how changing land use has impacted on biodiversity in our own ‘backyard’.

Centred at the National Museums Collection Centre we are collaborating with local community groups, schools, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and the National Galleries of Scotland to increase awareness of urban biodiversity. The team has begun a baseline biodiversity survey with plans to continue recording seasonal variations. As part of the community engagement programme, we aim to demonstrate the role of modest interventions in enhancing local biodiversity and to celebrate the urban environment.


Collecting innovations in sustainability

We are developing a research and collecting initiative to represent smart and sustainable transport within our collections. As transport becomes more user-centred and incorporates advances in online technologies, the aim is for public and private to become integrated, sustainable and seamless. The three strands of transport history that we already house in our collections – vehicles, systems, and infrastructure – are all changing rapidly, so we are liaising with public and research bodies to acquire samples and prototypes to reflect this development.

The LUTZ Pathfinder is a pioneering research and development project run by Oxbotica, carrying out the UK’s first trials in public pedestrianised areas of fully-automated vehicles. This is one of three pods used for trials in Milton Keynes in 2016, now in store at the National Museums Collection Centre. It is currently on display at the National Museum of Scotland.

Involving our audiences

Museums have always had an important role to play in creating spaces for people to debate, learn and share ideas and hope for a better future. We embrace our role in promoting awareness and conservation of the natural world and cultural heritage through our exhibitions, education and activities and by engaging our audiences in dialogue about changes beyond our walls.

We are developing exhibitions for our 2023 programme that include a look at sustainability through the lens of fashion and art.

Meanwhile, Monkey Business is a touring exhibition, currently in Europe, that shows how primates have evolved and adapted over time. It explores the relationship between humans our closest living relatives. With over 7 billion humans on the planet, primates have been forced to live with an expanding human presence. Human activity is putting many primate species at risk of extinction and the exhibition makes the case that it doesn’t have to be this way.

In the last year we developed:

An exhibition called Scotland’s Precious Seas which explored the diversity of life on the coasts and in the seas of Scotland, as well as the threats it faces and how the national collection supports biodiversity research and conservation.

A refreshed gallery for young children, Adventure Planet, offering hands-on engagement with biodiversity issues and habitat protection.

Empowering our team

As an employer, we are working with our teams to better understand and quantify the carbon impact of our work, and to develop and adopt new ways of working. By raising and maintaining awareness and providing the necessary resources and training we aim to deliver long-lasting change. We encourage active participation, corporately and individually, and have established an Advocates Group - green ‘champions’ from within our staff and volunteer teams - to help share and promote best practices and information.

Centred at the National Museums Collection Centre we are collaborating with local community groups, schools, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and the National Galleries of Scotland to increase awareness of urban biodiversity. The team has begun a baseline biodiversity survey with plans to continue recording seasonal variations. As part of the community engagement programme, we aim to demonstrate the role of modest interventions in enhancing local biodiversity and to celebrate the urban environment.

Grey dagger moth caterpillar, Acronicta psi, at the National Museums Collection Centre

If you have any queries regarding our work on sustainability, please email our general enquiries team on and your query will be passed to the relevant person.

You may be interested in

Back to top