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November 2, 2020

NetworkGet to know ICOM: WGS, the Working Group on Sustainability

In 2015, both the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement were adopted. Despite the commitments made by governments, the world’s population is still consuming the equivalent of 1.6 planets a year.

As representative of the global museum community, the vision of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) is a world where the importance of natural and cultural heritage is universally valued, and museums can play a key role through education and democratisation.

In this context, ICOM established a Working Group on Sustainability back in 2018 to consider how to mainstream the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement across its range of activities. We spoke with the members of the WGS to know a little more about their goals and expectations.

What is the role of the Working Group within ICOM?

In the 2018-2019 mandate, the Working Group was tasked with investigating the possibility of establishing an International Committee on Sustainability for ICOM. The group was asked to investigate the current status of sustainability within the scope of ICOM and ways that ICOM could address sustainability and support achieving the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. The Working Group spent 18 months conducting surveys, collecting data and investigating what sustainability meant: globally and in the context of the museum sector. The group also prepared an active participation at the Kyoto triennial meeting in September 2019. The conference contributions included a workshop on sustainability, a plenary session with three expert panelists (Sarah Sutton, Bonita Bennet and Cecilia Lam) and a Resolution that was passed with near unanimous support.

Following the extraordinary support that was received for the topic of sustainability in Kyoto, the ICOM Working Group on Sustainability has been given a second mandate period to continue its work from 2018-2019 term. The Working Group has added additional members, and has been tasked with outlining its mandate.

Can you tell us about one of WG biggest achievements/most important projects?

Based on the Resolution and the research conducted over the 18-month period, the group formulated a framework for addressing sustainability for ICOM, which was delivered to the Executive Board in December 2019 in the form of a Report. The Report addressed the next phase of the Working Group, the possibility of forming an International Committee and included a list of recommendations for how to incorporate sustainability into ICOM: at the secretariat and organizational levels, within the national committees, within the membership, and for the museum sector as a whole. The WGS concluded that sustainability is something that needs to be integrated throughout the entire organizational structure and in every facet of ICOM, therefore it was not recommended that an International Committee be formed. There were concerns of this resulting in sustainability being seen as a separate issue, rather than integrating it at all levels, which was the expressed desire of the Working Group. The WGS did not feel that the current ICOM structure allowed for an adequate entity to address sustainability and that the urgency of the matter required a new, innovative approach. The WGS suggested that a new type of entity be formed for specifically addressing this issue – one that would have the capacity to engage with all levels of ICOM, would be able to receive financial support and would have the power to form partnerships and endorsements.

The imperative recommendation was that the work of the WGS continue in some form, until this new entity is decided upon. The WGS achieve great recognition and support in Kyoto and the momentum from this success required immediate expansion.

In addition to this, the WGS compiled a list of recommendations which outlined activities passed on four pillars inside and outside ICOM: People, Organization and Operations, Collections and Public Communication, Partnerships and Cooperation. The first section addressed the ICOM Executive Board, their responsibilities and roles both within ICOM and as leaders of the sector on a global platform. The second section listed activities to be undertaken within the ICOM organization and membership. Highlights included addressing the carbon footprint of our conferences and events, and institutions, addressing the language barrier, effectively collecting and disseminating information and engaging more youth.

What are your WG future plans (and how do they follow ICOM’s general strategy)?

The Report was submitted in December 2019 to the Executive Board and the WGS was given a new mandate in January of 2020 that continues until December 2022. The task of the WGS is now to create a mandate, which may include an Action Plan for ICOM. The Action Plan will outline the majority of the work to be done and its implementation for 2020-2022 and 2020-2030. The WGS will be heavily involved with implementing the Resolution from 2019 as well as inform the Museum Definition. The group will work with the Prague Coordinating Committee to implement more sustainable policies for the next triennial. The group will focus on more open lines of communication and dialogue with the ICOM membership, starting with this article and including social media engagement and establishing a mini website to house information for members. The WGS will also facilitate more participation of ICOM at international events, such as COP 26.