Greening the halls of heritage: This Bengaluru-based initiative empowers museums with tools to combat climate change

Bengaluru's ReReeti Foundation is unveiling a handbook offering practical sustainability advice for museums amid climate change.

ByShailaja Tripathi

Published Aug 13, 2023 | 9:00 AMUpdatedAug 14, 2023 | 2:10 PM

ReReeti Foundation climate change: The handbook will be accessible to museums across the country.

The urgent climate crisis is casting a solemn shadow over our cultural havens — the beloved museums and historic treasures that hold our past.

Museums located in coastal zones or disaster-prone regions face a direct threat from rising sea levels and extreme weather like hurricanes and floods. Such events can harm buildings, wreck exhibits, and endanger historic sites, risking the loss of our cultural legacy.

Recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports have sounded the alarm about severe weather and rising temperatures.

Previous floods in cities like Chennai and Mumbai have already damaged precious art collections, highlighting the pressing nature of this issue. The impact of climate change is far-reaching, affecting industries worldwide and transforming into an urgent emergency.

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Shaping sustainability

Taking up this critical challenge, the ReReeti Foundation, a Bengaluru-based museum management organisation, is about to release a practical handbook for museums in India titled Sustainability Management: A Practical Guide for Museums.

Tejshvi Jain, Founder-Director of the ReReeti Foundation, states, “When we discuss climate change, we often overlook insights into the operations of museums. This handbook provides a roadmap for museums to integrate sustainable practices into both their backend operations and their engagement with visitors.”

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A comprehensive approach

The handbook offers a comprehensive analysis of a museum’s carbon footprint, macro management, vendor awareness and engagement, and waste management through a SWOT approach.

Scheduled for a digital release next month, the handbook will be accessible to museums across the country. Jain emphasises its accessibility by noting, “It’s free of jargon, making it comprehensible to all.”

Last year, the ReReeti Foundation launched the Indian Museums Against Climate Change (IMACC), India’s pioneering museum network focused on addressing the climate emergency.

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Museums unite

Initially launched in seven museums — Museum of Christian Art in Goa, Museum of Art & Photography in Bengaluru, Indian Music Experience Museum in Bengaluru, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in New Delhi, Arna Jharna in Rajasthan, Kerala Museum in Kerala, and Museo Camera in Gurugram — this network aims to foster dialogue on climate and ecological issues within the museum community.

The handbook serves as a step in this direction.

Jain explains, “Last year, the focus was on how museums could address climate change through their collections, reduce their carbon footprint, and manage waste. This year, the network plans to intensify its efforts, expanding the cohort to include 14–15 museums.”

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Beyond the guide

According to the non-profit organisation, cultural institutions such as museums can actively contribute to addressing the climate emergency. To assess their impact, the seven museums in the cohort have been conducting waste audits.

Jain observes that while museums have invested substantial effort individually, many lack organised methods for implementing sustainable practices. The tools provided by IMACC offer a systematic approach to museums.

“Museums may now begin to provide a platform for exploring our past, present, and future through dialogue, engagement, learning, and intersectionality. The audience, a museum’s most valuable asset, can thus be harnessed to drive change and promote regenerative practices,” notes Jain.

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Pioneering dialogue

Eight years since its inception, the ReReeti Foundation’s primary vision — audience engagement for museums, capacity building for museum professionals and heritage awareness for school students — remains steadfast, now more clearly defined.

The organisation has conceptualised remarkable exhibitions, such as The Undivided Identities: Unknown Stories of Partition, an online exhibition shedding light on people resettled and established homes across the borders, during the Partition.

Additionally, the travelling exhibition Entrenched in 2018 unveiled the untold stories of South Indian soldiers in World War I.

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A sustainable chapter

As the climate crisis intensifies, our museums and cultural heritage face a precarious future.

However, this unfolding story paints a different picture — museums shifting from passive observers to proactive leaders in tackling climate change.

So, next time you visit a museum, remember, it’s not just about art and artifacts — it’s a frontline in the battle for a more sustainable planet.

To be part of the movement, visit Instagram @rereetifoundation