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2 minutes to read Posted on Monday July 10, 2023

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

portrait of Marco Fiore

Marco Fiore

Policy and Project Officer , Michael Culture Association

Embracing sustainability: insights from the Europeana-Ki Culture sustainability workshop series

The Europeana Network Association’s Climate Action Community recently ran a series of workshops in collaboration with Ki Culture which explored climate action, better digital information management practice and more! Discover learnings and reflections from the workshops.

Small purple flowers and leaves
Dyschoriste erecta
Berlin-Dahlem Botanical Garden and Botanical Museum

Now is the time to act for our planet and for us.

Easy to say, but taking action requires concrete steps. In the time of need, knowing what there is to do to take climate action - and how to do it - becomes a central issue. There is a need for a framework and practical advice on how to act in our daily lives, not only as individuals, but also as cultural heritage professionals. The Climate Action Community wanted to address this need by developing a series of three workshops together with sustainability expert Caitlin Southwick, Founder and Executive Director of Ki Culture. The aim of the workshop series was to explore key topics, share best practices and discuss the role of digital cultural heritage in the fight against climate change. With an interactive approach, Caitlin took participants to address the elephant in the room: what is our role and what can we do?

Part 1: Introduction to sustainability

Before we could talk in detail about what can be done to address climate change, we needed to clarify the concept of sustainability to recognise its importance. Caitlin opened the workshops with a few key concepts, useful tools that enabled us to embark on this journey. From UNESCO Sustainable Development Goals and the basic concepts of sustainability, to practical strategies to implement, the workshop provided a much needed overview.

Key strategies then discussed included reducing consumption, transitioning to renewable energy, measuring energy consumption, and reducing digital footprints. The five R's —reduce, reuse, recycle, rethink, and restore— were also highlighted as practical steps to promote sustainability. The role of museums and culture in driving change was emphasised, focusing on education, co-creation, belonging and decolonisation to promote inclusivity and equity.

Caitlin summarised how, ‘Engaging with conversations about sustainability is one of the most important things we can do. Talk about it. The most important thing we can do for sustainability is to talk about it because then it starts becoming part of our everyday conversation and everyday narrative.’

Watch the first workshop.

Workshop 2: Climate action

At this point in the discussion, the role of the cultural sector became a key issue. The second workshop delved deeper into this question and gathered ideas from participants to get to a practical (and also idealist) answer.

Key discussions revolved around the lack of understanding and guidance among professionals, the need for sustainable standards and green data management, and the ethical dilemmas faced when accepting funding from non-sustainable sources. Participants emphasised the power of art, storytelling, and museums' influence in driving narrative change and influencing leadership for a sustainable future.

Many inspiring messages came from the breakout sessions, with one participant saying, ‘We can achieve better awareness by sharing different perspectives through our collections, relating to different realities, and becoming drivers of sustainability, since museums have the power of creating narratives.’

Watch the second workshop.

Workshop 3: Digital management for sustainability

Digital, digital, digital! At the Europeana Initiative, it is a key word. However, there are several aspects of digital practices that can be considered in relation to climate action - and not always positive ones. The final workshop, with the help of Patrick Ehlert, Senior Software Developer and Green Team Lead at Europeana Foundation, highlighted the environmental impact of digital technology and explored strategies to reduce carbon emissions in the digital sector.

Participants discussed the carbon footprint of digital devices, data centres, and internet usage, along with the potential of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and responsible digital waste management. They recognised the benefits of digitisation, including increased access, preservation, research opportunities and cultural exchange. However, they also identified challenges such as cost, accessibility barriers and the need for long-term preservation strategies. Caitlin analysed how to make better use of the possibilities opened by digital, in the direction of a more socially sustainable world, such as accessibility and co-creation.

Nevertheless, the positives need to work together to mitigate the negatives. We must remember, as Patrick said, that, ‘The environmental impact of digital and internet usage is significant and often hidden... However, digital technologies also offer advantages such as reaching a wide audience, facilitating access to information, enabling collaboration, and preserving cultural heritage. To mitigate the negative impacts, it is crucial to prioritise repairability, energy efficiency and responsible disposal of electronic devices.’

Watch the third workshop.

Four main takeaways on the series

  1. Collaborative action: The workshop series emphasised the importance of collective action in addressing sustainability challenges. Collaboration among cultural heritage professionals, organisations, and policymakers is crucial for driving positive change and creating a more sustainable future.

  2. Awareness and education: Raising awareness and promoting education on the environmental impact of cultural heritage practices is essential. By disseminating knowledge, sharing best practices and encouraging responsible consumption, cultural heritage professionals can contribute to a greener and more sustainable sector.

  3. Balancing priorities: The workshops explored the need to balance the mission of cultural institutions with sustainability targets. By adopting sustainable practices, including energy-efficient operations and responsible digitisation, professionals can find a harmonious equilibrium between preserving cultural heritage and reducing environmental impact.

  4. Digital transformation: Digitisation offers tremendous opportunities for the cultural heritage sector, including increased access, preservation, and research capabilities. However, professionals must navigate the challenges of digitisation, such as environmental impact, accessibility barriers and long-term preservation strategies, while maximising its benefits.

What’s next?

The Europeana-Ki Culture Sustainability Workshop Series equipped cultural heritage professionals with valuable insights and practical approaches to integrate sustainability into their practices. By incorporating sustainable storytelling, promoting educational initiatives, adopting energy-efficient practices, and leveraging digitisation responsibly professionals can play an active role in mitigating climate change and preserving cultural heritage for future generations.

Would you like to get involved? Then join the Europeana Climate Action Community today!

If you are a digital professional working in a cultural heritage institution, part of a heritage institution IT team, or involved in any way in the digital preservation or management of digital content in your organisation, you can also contribute to sector wide understanding by taking the Community’s Environmental Sustainability practice survey.