Australia’s Green Museum Project: A pathway towards sustainability for Victorian small museums [Case Study]

Today’s Guest Post by Simone Ewenson, Green Museum Project Manager, Museums Australia (Victoria). Five Victorian museums are pioneering small-scale climate change responses, by reducing energy use in heritage buildings and changing the way they think about energy use and waste reduction.

The Green Museum Project, a Museums Australia (Victoria) initiative supported by the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, and Creative Victoria is working with five small regional volunteer museums.

The Project steps museum volunteers through a simple process to audit their energy use and lux levels to reduce organisational costs, cut carbon emissions by between 20% – 40 % and build collection care best practice.

While initially conceived to assist these small community organisations to change old halogen lighting to LED technology, we quickly realised that each museum required a tailor-made solution due to the considerable variations in style, age and fabric of the buildings. More holistic solutions have been devised with each museum to consider thermal performance, human behaviour, lighting and appliance efficiency and the care of significant items within their collections.

Museums Australia (Victoria) represents 1,000 organisations that hold 43 million artefacts. 85% of these organisations are run by volunteers many on budgets of less than $20,000 per year. Of these, 100 are accredited under the Museums Australia (Vic) Museum Accreditation Program – also known as MAP and have already undergone a process of consultation and capacity measured against the National Standards.

One such museum is the Benalla Costume and Kelly Museum in Victoria’s north east.  The museum is recognised as being one of the premier volunteer museums in the State due to the historic, aesthetic and research significance of its costume collection, and the depth of skills and knowledge of their dedicated volunteers developed over forty years.

It is ‘Comparable to the handful of other costume collections across Australia in professional museums or in private collections that exhibit to the public’ (Emma Russell, Significance Report 2015)

Wedding Dress
Wedding Dress c. 1930. Benalla Costume and Kelly Museum. Photo MAVic 2017

Housed in an 1869 Mechanics Institute building, the museum’s main concern was the seasonal fluctuation in temperature and relative humidity in all three of their exhibition spaces.  This resulted in not only a lack of visitor and volunteer comfort, but also a less than optimal environment in which to house and display their significant costume collection. This includes a silk sash gifted to the notorious 19th century outlaw Ned Kelly as a ten year old for an act of bravery.

To understand how we could improve the internal environmental conditions while reducing energy consumption and carbon footprint, a baseline energy audit was undertaken by the Green Museum Project Manager Simone Ewenson and Museum Secretary Alan Monger. The audit identified lighting and heating as the biggest energy uses within the building. This led us to list three actions:

  • a lighting changeover from fluorescent to LEDs,
  • reviewing ceiling insulation, draughts and window coverings,
  • to suggest behavioural changes such as ensuring all appliances are turned off at the end of the day.
Exterior Benalla Costume and Kelly Museum
Exterior Benalla Costume and Kelly Museum. Photo MAVic 2017

Understanding and prioritising which of these three aspects would provide the best efficiencies can be difficult. As such, much time is spent talking to industry environmental, lighting and building specialists who can help calculate and advise on options.

We are also working closely with Benalla Rural City Council, the building’s owner and key supporter of the changes, to ensure that they understand the needs of the museum and its collection.

We hope to see this case study used to promote the achievements of the council and the museum together and to inspire more regional councils and cultural organisations to see that environmental action is both desirable, and possible.

For more information on Museums Australia (Victoria) Green Museum Project, please visit

Now, over to you … tell us about the small-scale climate responses your museum is making. (Or large-scale responses, if you’ve made them!) What are you doing? Who are your partners? What will “success” mean for you? Leave your “Reply” below.

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