The National Archives strives to be an outward-looking, relevant and bold organisation. We are therefore proud to support the ambitions of the UK government and the international heritage community, in tackling one of the biggest global challenges of our generation: climate change.
As the official archive of the UK government, we are responsible for preserving the nation’s heritage. We recognise the importance of climate and environmental stability for safeguarding our collections, and for the overall security of communities, cultural heritage and ecosystems across the world.
The climate challenge is immense, so our response must be meaningful and far reaching. In 2019, legislation was passed committing the UK to reduce all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, and The National Archives is supporting the government to reach this target. Our sustainability activities stretch across our multiple functions, from operating our day-to-day activities to our engagement with visitors and the heritage sector.
Making our day-to-day activities more sustainable
Our site is an important ecosystem for birds, bees, small mammals and other invertebrates. We have adapted our grounds to create a welcoming environment for the local wildlife, by installing bat boxes, beehives, a log feature, bird boxes and softer outdoor LED lighting. We are in our third year of holding on site biodiversity surveys, which we use to conduct year-on year comparisons and to make recommendations for improvements. Our 2019-20 survey was cancelled due to the COVID-19 restrictions, but we look forward to resuming the annual survey for 2020-21.
The National Archives, as a non-ministerial government department, has been working to achieve the Greening Government Commitments – a set of targets and outcomes that help ensure that central government meets its vision for sustainability. The National Archives has met each target and in many cases we have set more challenging internal commitments, demonstrated in the table below. 2019-2020 is the final year of the Greening Government Commitments and a full report on The National Archives’ performance is available from our Annual Report and Accounts for 2019-2020.
|Indicator||GGC target (2019-20)||The National Archives' target (2019-20)||The National Archives' target baseline year||Change against the baseline 2019-20 (+/-%)||Change compared with 2018-19 (+/-%)|
|Greenhouse gas emissions||-32%||-65%||2009-10||-74%||12%|
|Operational waste||Less than 10% waste to landfill||Zero waste to landfill||2010-11||0%||0% (Zero waste to landfill since 2010)|
|Reduce waste generation||-30% *||2010-11||-51%||-11%|
|Increase recycling rate||Increase recycling rate||2010-11||-0.4%||14%|
|Water||Reduce water consumption||-25%||2009-10||-30%||-6%|
|Domestic flights taken||-30%||-30%||2009-10||-77%||-10.5%|
* We have our own target for waste reduction beyond the previous 25% Greening Government Commitment (GGC) target against the 2009-10 baseline, to aspire towards 30% reduction in waste generated.
We are continuing to set ambitious targets to reduce our environmental impact. Since 2019 staff regularly meet through our Green Champions scheme to explore new projects that will inspire everyone to be more sustainable in the workplace and at home. Initiatives for staff have included a bike loan scheme and also a Stationery Amnesty, where staff handed over stationery that was no longer used by their own team to other colleagues to re-use, as a means to reducing waste. We also support local initiatives where we can, for example the Richmond Idle-Free Borough Initiative, whereby we encourage everyone who drives to our site to switch off their engine when their vehicle is stationary.
While we are proud of these achievements, we are not complacent about the need to continue to be ambitious about the targets we set ourselves. Looking ahead, we will investigate opportunities to minimize our environmental impact in our procurement of goods and services, while delivering value for money to taxpayers.
Working with visitors, the heritage sector and government to adopt more sustainable behaviours and practices
The National Archives’ education and outreach programmes connect people to the histories in our archives. Through the archives, we tell the stories about how people’s relationship with the environment has changed over time. We have successfully opened these histories to school pupils, families and young people in creative ways:
For the school trips that we welcome each year, we have made available a suite of educational resources on wartime food, which were developed from our allotment project in 2017, funded by the Friends of The National Archives. Through the then on site allotment, we brought to life the ‘Dig for plenty’ campaigns of the Second World War to over 200 children. Pupils participated in a variety of interactive sessions and learned how households across the country grew fruit and vegetables, as part of the Home Front. These experiences on the allotment, as well as the educational resources, have supported pupils to learn about how we can live more sustainably.
Our Time Travel club offers family events, including annual events that makes links to the environment and our outside space. In 2019 we ran a session for 8-11 year olds on how bugs are represented in the archives, followed by a bug hunt in the grounds outside. We held a variation of this session for younger children that involved sensory storytelling.
For the past four summers, we have organised stop-motion animation film projects for young people. As part of these projects, young people have creatively built film sets using recycled materials, collected by our staff.
The National Archives is committed to enabling opportunities for learning that also increases children’s understanding and positive interactions with the environment. Looking ahead to 2021, we will be making the following changes:
- Under our Nude food initiative, we will encourage school children to make their pack lunches, as much as possible, packaging free
- We will source at least 30% of our craft materials from a provider where materials are recycled and/or sourced sustainably
- We will launch our Time Travel Club nature trail to connect families to our outside grounds
The Heritage Sector
Over the last 15 years, The National Archives has worked with partners to develop collection care standards that both ensure the preservation of collections and lowers the energy consumption of repositories. In collaboration with University College London’s Institute for Sustainable Heritage, our work on simulation modelling led to the production of ground-breaking standards for managing the environmental conditions for storing cultural collections. These revised standards have led to greater energy efficiency by shifting practices away from maintaining rigid artificial temperatures and relative humidity targets, towards maintaining stable annual temperature and relative humidity levels, in storage facilities.
This greener approach to protecting collections is now widely used internationally. We continue to collaborate with leading practitioners in the field to further improve on the sustainability of the sectors’ approach to preservation.
In November 2020, The National Archives announced its membership of the Climate Heritage Network, joining an international community of arts, culture and heritage organisations committed to climate action and collaborative working to support the ambitions of the Paris Agreement.
In this 2020 Year of Climate Action in the UK, we are committed to serving as both a custodian of the government’s records and for the environment, for the enrichment of future generations.