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By Freya Barry on

Virtuous circle discusses clean growth in Science Museum

The Science Museum recently held the first thought leadership event for its STEM Circle corporate membership programme. The theme for the event was sustainability.

Our mission at the Science Museum Group is to inspire futures, helping create a more STEM engaged society which is better equipped to tackle the world’s biggest challenges. It is an ambitious mission and one we cannot achieve without the ongoing and invaluable support of our STEM Circle partners.

Earlier this month we held our inaugural STEM Circle Thought Leadership event. Our ambition for these events is to provide a space for academics, researchers, business, government, education to come together to share insights and discuss hard-hitting issues.

Speakers at the inaugural STEM Circle Thought Leadership event which took place in the Smith Centre at the Science Museum.

This month we discussed clean growth and how we can inspire the Attenboroughs, Goodalls and Thunbergs of tomorrow.

The timing of our discussion could not have been better, coming the day after the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, the Italian PM and Sir David Attenborough gathered in the museum’s Smith Centre to announce the UK’s year of climate action leading up to the biggest, and most important, meeting this year, perhaps this century, COP26 in Glasgow.

In the same spot where the world’s media had listened along with leading figures such as Lord Stern, Mark Carney, Lily Cole and Government ministers, we welcomed guests from our STEM Circle corporate membership programme, which includes Cisco, Bloomberg, BT, MathWorks and Sanofi.

What was heartening was the sheer range of industries represented at the event, from communications to finance to civil engineering. It just highlights how many organisations are investing in different types of STEM initiatives and the importance of events like this to help our partners and patrons share best practice and inspire change.

Ian Caveney, Head of Tech for Good at BT Group, discussed the large numbers of companies doing positive work towards making their businesses more environmentally sustainable and how they can share their progress with the public. In particular, how the use of the UN’s strategic development goals as a guide and setting science based targets could provide a focus for their sustainability ambitions: ‘We need to inspire children (and all of us) as to how science and technology can play an absolutely pivotal role in solving the climate crisis.’

Low-carbon buildings and e-flex – a scheme to encourage more electric vehicle adoption by making them an economically and environmentally viable choice in future – were among the portfolio of Innovate UK clean growth projects undertaken by STEM Circle Premier Partner Cisco.

Nuno Guarda, Head of Corporate Affairs for the UK and Ireland at Cisco talked about how the ‘luck of being profitable creates a buffer’ to explore and invest more in sustainable initiatives without having to demonstrate return of investment to investors. However, he also stressed the need for a balance between writing off millions on “pie-in-the-sky schemes” to ensure the effective measurement of sustainability successes.

With us was also Tanya Morton of MathWorks, a mathematical software company. ‘We are supporting engineers and scientists to prepare the world for clean growth by providing technology for mathematical modelling, machine learning and system-level design.’

Which lead nicely onto the hot topic of AI and the ways in which it can impact urban and rural industries.  Either through making agriculture greener or revolutionising how cities operate through projects like the Toyota Smart City, where AI can help us capture and store carbon and live more sustainably with hydrogen-powered infrastructure, among other innovations.

Tanya added, ‘To achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, transformation is needed. We need to electrify transportation, change how we produce, transmit and store energy, and improve energy efficiency across all industries.’

We were also joined by Jo Robinson-Cheale, Sustainability Partner for the Science Museum Group, who talked about the work we have done and continue to do to reduce our carbon emissions.

Since 2011/12, the Group has cut energy usage by 25% even with two additional museums (the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester and Locomotion in County Durham) joining the Science Museum Group. We also host a large solar farm at our National Collections Centre in Wiltshire and source all our electricity from renewable sources.

In November the Science Museum will open a free exhibition exploring carbon capture technologies and we are also rolling out carbon literacy training for all staff.

Aerial view of the solar farm at the National Collections Centre

After the discussion we were joined by Ian Meikle, Director of Clean Growth and Infrastructure, Innovate UK, part of the research behemoth, the UKRI. The organisation covers a range of areas key to green growth, from the role of Innovate UK in Research and Development to the challenges of particular sectors, such as the aviation and car industries, to nuclear fusion and the importance of citizen science.

Then there was a lively Q&A with questions from leading figures such as Science Museum Group Trustee Dame Fiona Woolf and Emer Murnaghan, Head of Responsible Sustainable Business at GRAHAM, that focused on how we ensure that the STEM skills gap in the UK is met and encourage the green innovators of tomorrow.

Last year with the support of our STEM Circle partners we were able to continue our work to inspire futures. We are the most visited group of museums in the UK by education groups, with 603,000 booked educational groups and over 1.5 million children under 16 visiting our five museums in 2018/19. Away from our museums, the public participated over 300,000 times in learning activities delivered by our colleagues. We also held the museum’s first STEM Skills Fair, where over 360 students from across London got the chance to engage with our partners and meet innovators in a range of fields.

Over the years the Science Museum Group has engaged visitors and staff with climate change through interactive galleries, topical public events and using our estate in innovative ways.

Discover more about our work on the SMG sustainability blog.

Find out more about corporate partnerships here.