Yesterday we hosted a lively live chat about environmental sustainability and what it means for the heritage sector. We were joined by a panel of expert guests and also received questions and comments from external contributors, which we've summarised below.
"Sustainability can be defined as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same."
Why is environmental sustainability improtant for the heritage sector?
If we care about the buildings and places that have been handed down to us from the past then it is important that we do all in our power to ensure that we look after them effectively so that our children and grandchildren can enjoy them too.
To put it more starkly, in 2014, the National Trust spent £6.5 million on energy bills, since then energy prices have risen by more than 10%. Historic buildings are being mothballed because its unaffordable to keep them open. Finding innovative ways to move them away from being fossil fuel-dependant and making them more resource and energy efficient will ensure the buildings can be resilient and fit for the future.
What are the benefits of making sure heritage projects are environmentally sustainable?
Environmental sustainability often goes hand in hand with financial sustainability. For example, after installing LED lighting, sheep’s wool insulation, smart meters and replacement boilers at Edinburgh Castle, Historic Environment Scotland have saved a whopping £100k a year from their energy bills.
But it's not just about the built environment, landscapes need to function as a whole and so to protect the ancient woods and trees that are real heritage gems, we also need to think about how we treat the wider landscape - fragmentation, climate change, pests and tree disease - all need to be acted upon
Many aspects of environmental sustainability have knock-on effects. For example, installing green roofs improve the energy efficiency of a building, while improving species biodiversity by providing benefits for bees and other pollinators.
What are the key issues applicants should consider from the outset?
- If you're dealing with a building, take the time to get a thorough understanding of it, its built fabric, and its present and future use
- Set benchmarks so you can see the difference you have made as your project progresses
- Embrace the quick wins: low-energy light fittings; low flow taps; programmable heating controls
- Who's going to be managing the systems and building once the work is complete? Do they know how to use the new energy efficiency system that will be installed?
- Fact: damp building fabric could be about 30% less energy efficient compared to dry building fabric and therefore keeping building fabric in good condition is an important energy efficiency measure
Common mistakes and how to avoid them?
- The most common problem is not thinking about environmental sustainability at an early enough stage in a project - the best time to think about it is right at the beginning
- Do you have an environmental policy and how will it inform the work you undertake?
- Make sure you get your energy usage right down (through behavior change, energy efficiency measures) before installing renewables
- Communicate and celebrate your project and the work you're doing to engage with environmental issues - you might encourage others to do the same!
Where can people find advice and support?
- Fit for the Future: a network of sustainability practitioners within non-profit organisations who are all about sharing practical solutions and honest ‘lessons learnt’ from our own environmental sustainability projects with other members who are about to embark on a similar project.
- Historic Environment Scotland's guide for climate change adaptation for traditional buildings
- Cynnal Cymru/ Sustain Wales
- The Sustainable Traditional Buildings Alliance
- Various guides and fact sheets produced by Julie’s Bicycle for Arts Council England
- The Green Guide for Historic Buildings produced by the Princes Regeneration Trust
- Mr Brown’s Green Directions is a sustainable travel toolkit, produced for the Capability Brown Festival, which is aimed at helping sites consider and improve access for non-car owners
- The John Muir Trust's Sustainability Resource Guide
- HLF's own Reducing (Negative) Environmental Impacts guidance
We'd love to hear more from you about your experience of, and tips for, delivering environmentally sustainable heritage projects. And if you have any further questions and/or comments, please do post those below, too.
This is an incredibly useful blog from Conservator Tobit Curteis on understanding and tackling environmental and conservation issues facing projects in historic buildings. Definitely worth a read if you are thinking about or even in the process of applying for funding for a project.
And you can watch Tobit's lecture on environmental surveys for historic buildings on the UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage YouTube channel.
Environmental sustainability and heritage protect our identities. With the emerging global connectiveness the heritage of those who were previously considered "others" are now more joined up with our own and although there are different heritages, we also have opportunities to draw on these and develop our links to them. Being sensitive to the past is also about thinking ahead for our children and into the future.