Training Module 2

Ecomuseums & Sustainability


TM2: Ecomuseums & Sustainability




Module’s Guideline for the User

The United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent the greatest and most 'global' effort to effect change capable of setting humanity and the biosphere on a path towards a sustainable future. Alarming disasters, caused by environmental changes reflection on what ecomuseums do, or could do, to achieve them and respond to the climate emergency is needed. The role of museums in this field is internationally recognized and growing. Ecomuseums, defined as a “community-led heritage or museum project that supports sustainable development” (Davis 2011;85), are in a privileged position among cultural institutions (Dal Santo et al., 2021). Ecomuseums can locally empower people in the sustainable use of their heritage and promote a culture of sustainability (Duarte, 2012; OECD and ICOM 2018; Brown 2019; Riva, 2020; Dal Santo, 2021). Globally they can lead the world towards a sustainable future by working to support the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (Lanzingher & Garlandini 2019; McGhie 2019; Brown 2019) and develop actions to fight climate change (McGhie 2020).

Module’s Overview

The module introduces the issues of sustainability as a direction of ecomuseums and community museums action in facing today’s world challenges. It helps you to understand sustainability, mainstream sustainability by SDGs in plans and projects, monitor impacts and report results.

Module’s Aims & objectives

This training module aims to improve skills needed to develop holistic projects of participatory management of the living heritage in a sustainable way, considering their economics, social, environmental, local, and global impacts. The learning objectives are:

  • Understanding the concept of sustainability, and SDGs, and how they are related to museums and ecomuseums.
  • Learning to plan sustainability by fixing measurable goals and thinking at the inside and outside impacts that museums and ecomuseums could have.
  • Giving museums and ecomuseums the instruments for measuring and reporting the sustainable actions they are carrying on.

Module Learning Outcomes

The expected results of this module are:

  1. Learning to implement participatory living heritage management models for local development linked to global sustainability”.
  2. Developing managerial skills for holistic and co-creative projects (co-learning, subsidiarity, local empowerment, and global networking).
  3. Being able to use the 2030 UN SDGs as cross-cutting objectives in ecomuseums activities.
  4. Integrating the SDGs into ecomuseums policies.
  5. Understanding the role of ecomuseums in the “climate action” goal as a transversal objective.
  6. Implementing self-assessment tools to monitor ecomuseums outcomes and inside and outside impacts.

Knowledge: You will be able to understand sustainability and Sustainable Development Goals, to learn examples of best practices in other ecomuseums and how they can be part of your strategies.

Skills: You will be able to develop specific SDGs-related policies and actions and to evaluate and report cultural impacts of your work.

Competences: You will increase your competence in managing cultural heritage in a participated and sustainable way with the purposes of local development.

Learning Unit 1

Understanding sustainability and SDGS. Among Global and Local

Short Description

Understanding sustainability: new skills for ecomuseum staff to interpret the concept of sustainability, presenting the today’s poli-crisis challenges (the Anthropocene, global/local culture vs planetary boundaries) and opportunities (become cultural catalyst to help cultures imagine flourishing, inclusive futures for the entire planet and all its inhabitants). 

Understanding SDGs:

  • Understand the SDGs as a useful tool to guide ecomuseums towards meaningful cultural impacts. 
  • SDGs as cross-cutting objectives in ecomuseums activities to 
    1. clarify the nature of the local/global challenge/opportunity and
    2. develop an ecomuseum’s own approach to a sustainability vision and plan.

1. The roots of the sustainability discourse.

We are living in a challenging world, in a dystopian scenario characterized by inequality, massive population growth, climate change, globalization. These are the results of years of resource extractions, humans’ exploitation at the service of a demanding economic sector. Our time is characterized by new and old negative effects. It has been 75 years that we are living in a new geological era, known as Anthropocene: the significance of this epoch is that it is characterized by humanity having become the largest single factor in how planetary systems are changing (Janes, 2009). Man lost the contact with nature, using and exploiting planet resources, which are limited; from the mid-20th century onwards, humanity has been systematically violating the ‘planetary boundaries’ (Worts, 2022).

Identifying and quantifying planetary boundaries that must not be transgressed could help prevent human activities from causing unacceptable environmental change. These boundaries define the safe operating space for humanity with respect to the Earth system and are associated with the planet’s biophysical subsystems or processes. If you want to know more about planetary boundaries, visit this site.

An example for understanding how humanity transgressed boundaries, is the concept of ecological footprint, which indicates how much area of biologically productive land and water an individual, population, or activity requires to produce all the resources it consumes and to absorb the waste it generates, using prevailing technology and resource management practices. The Ecological Footprint of a place is usually measured in global hectares and must be compared with the biocapacity of that place. Since Humanity’s Ecological Footprint is 2.7 global hectares per person (of which 60% is carbon Footprint) and the planet biocapacity is 1,5 we are living well above the Earth limits, and we are using the planet’s natural capital in the very near future if it does not undertake a policy of sustainable development. 

Unfortunately, according to recent studies Global warming triggered by anthropogenic emissions is bringing us ever closer to points of no return that cause irreversible global climate destabilization. The UN general secretary, Guterres, asked ministers from 40 countries for a meeting to discuss the climate crisis in July 2022: “We have a choice. Collective action or collective suicide. It is in our hands.”

For more information, visit this site.

Climate change is just one of the many problems the world is facing; respect for the environment has very deep historical roots. 

The environmental issue began in the 60s and 70s and was focused on the controversies of a development model mainly centered on the objectives of modernization, progress, and growth (Borrelli, Mela, Mura, 2023). In fact, economic development has been based only on economic rules centered on growth, modernization, and progress, and considers the environment from an “extractive” perspective.

As concern for the future of the Earth was growing, also governments began to collaborate in defending the planet and the environment, and many conferences were organized to reach such an aim.

In 1987 the Brundtland Report addressed the issue of the close connection between economic development and environmental quality. Sustainable development was defined as: “the satisfaction of the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future ones to respond to theirs”. Economic development must therefore be planned “in the long term”, respecting the environment.

One of the effects of the Report was the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 (Earth Summit) which aimed to “develop strategies to stop the state of environmental degradation [and] confront each other to create political strategies for environmental, social and economic rebalancing “(Zabbini, 2007 in Borrelli Mela, Mura 2023). The definitions of sustainable development share a focus on the three pillars of sustainability: economic, social, and environmental. Sustainability is a balance between these factors. A very evocative example is that of Young’s stool (1997): the three pillars are the legs of the stool and to remain in balance they must all have the same length. However, the stool metaphor has been criticized because the environment should be the floor on which the stool rests, as it is the most significant for humanity.

Subsequently, the focus was instead on the analysis of the points of contact and intersection between the three pillars that are no longer represented as isolated entities (Gibson 2002 in Borrelli Mela Mura, 2023).

Therefore, increased the awareness of having to deal with environmental issues globally, through the activation of partnerships, and cooperation. The principles developed during the Summit laid the foundation for the thinking of the following years, in particular:

  • The need for a holistic relationship (finding the balance between the economic, social, and environmental dimensions) in dynamic balance, attentive to details and to the whole, with a view to interaction between the parties.
  • The logic of the long term, with the planning / evaluation time horizon.
  • Equity: intra-generational, equal access to resources, with a view to justice and equal opportunities between subsequent generations.
  • Efficiency in the use of resources.
  • Ecological sustainability: conservation of the stock of resources and the creation of wealth without damaging the systems, respecting their carrying capacity.
  • Participation, through the activation of cooperation: sustainable development is participatory development (Borrelli Mela Mura 2023).

One of the documents that emerged from the conference was Agenda 21, a programmatic-operational agreement aimed at the complete integration of environmental protection and development through international cooperation.

Since 1992, the experience developed with the first meeting in Rio is repeated every ten years, to review and update proposals and directives based on new challenges and opportunities.

Agenda 21 guided the governance of sustainable development until 2015, when it was replaced by the 2030 Agenda.

A more sustainable and equal world has always been a priority for UN. One of the first attempt, from 2000-2015, were the Millennium Development Goals, which introduced a public- and sector-friendly approach built around goals. The innovation was that rather than complex planning processes, a set of eight goals were set out. 

This goal-based approach was recognized as a success, and consequently incorporated into the successor programme, Agenda 2030 and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

2. Agenda 2030 and the SDGs: A Goal-based approach

Agenda 2030 is “a plan of action for people, planet, and prosperity. It also seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom” (McGhie, 2021 pag. 8).

The Agenda is universal (for all Countries); prioritize disadvantaged; it is interconnected (goals have to be reached at the same time); it is inclusive (everyone can play a part, as a right); it aims to create partnerships for reaching the goals (McGhie, 2021 page 9).

The Agenda 2030 refers to the 5Ps: people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership. The 5Ps take the three classic dimensions of sustainability (social, environmental, and economic) and turn them into goals; moreover, peace and partnership are other two dimensions added to sustainability (McGhie, 2022, page. 2).

Agenda 2030 is based on the 17 Sustainable development goals

To understand SDGs, it is necessary to bear in mind some aspects. The SDGs are the results framework for Agenda 2030 itself; second, the SDGs are not a checklist, but they are a to-do list that we help achieve as a programme for positive change; third, the SDGs are a connected set of goals that are to be achieved together and in working to achieve one or more, we must check that we are not achieving progress in one area by creating problems elsewhere; fourth, in many ways, the SDGs are not a new Agenda, but the latest attempt to put the world on a path to sustainable development. Fifth, the Agenda is not a programme of new agreements, but a mechanism to better achieve a wide range of existing multilateral agreements. The Agenda aims to achieve goals simultaneously. Sixth, although the Agenda and SDGs are set out as an invitation to all sectors to collaborate as an innovation for multilevel governance, they are too readily subsumed into an old-fashioned mind-set of information flowing upwards to inform national reporting” (McGhie, 2022 pag.2)

The SDGs, are also known as the Global Goal and they are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity.

The features of the programs are:  

  • a rights-based agenda, and an attempt to promote multilevel governance of complex challenges. 
  • universal values and human rights are a common direction of all Countries and sectors. 
  • collaboration between different sectors helps create new sustainable development outcomes. 

In this sense, a broader approach has been adopted, and the collaboration was one of the pillars of the programs. Moreover, these goals must be considered as a whole, and reaching one of them doesn’t mean that another goal will be neglected.

GOAL 1: No PovertyExpand support for the poor and address the root causes of poverty, especially in developing Countries.
GOAL 2: Zero HungerEnsure everyone has access to safe, nutritious food on a regular basis and a healthy diet; and that agriculture is resilient and operates in harmony with nature.
GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingEnsure universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, prevent infectious diseases, and tackle public health issues.
GOAL 4: Quality EducationEveryone has good-quality education that enables them to participate fully in society.
GOAL 5: Gender EqualityEliminate all forms of sexual discrimination, violence and harmful practices against women and girls, and uphold sexual and reproductive health and rights, so they can participate fully in public, economic and political life.
GOAL 6: Clean Water and SanitationEnsure everyone has a reliable, safe water supply and good quality sanitation.
GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyEnsure everyone has access to electricity, clean fuels and technologies for cooking, and increasing the use of renewable energy everywhere.
GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthProtect employee rights and promote safe and secure working environments for all workers, especially those in precarious employment. Support the development of economies.
GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation, and InfrastructureDevelop good-quality, sustainable and resilient infrastructure. Foster innovation and research that will advance sustainable development.
GOAL 10: Reduced InequalityReduce inequalities in income and opportunity between and within countries, linked with gender, age, disability, ethnicity, or another shared characteristic.
GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesDevelop cities, towns and communities that are sustainable as places for people and communities to live and work in, and in harmony with nature, in the context of rapid social change and a changing climate.
GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and ProductionAchieving a wide range of other Goals, embracing the challenge of producing and consuming less, encouraging reuse, and reducing waste, reducing pollution, and using natural resources in sustainable ways.
GOAL 13: Climate ActionTake urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
GOAL 14: Life Below WaterConserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development
GOAL 15: Life on LandSustainably manage land-based habitats and natural resources such as forests, restore damaged landscapes and halt the spread of deserts. Safeguard biodiversity and ecosystems
GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong InstitutionsEnsure everyone has access to justice and information. Transparent and accountable institutions are necessary for achievement of this and other goals.
GOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the GoalPartnerships within and between communities, sectors and countries are essential to achieving the SDGs.
Figure 1: The Agenda 2030, and the 17 SDGs.

The Agenda 2030 is largely achieved through the 17 SDGs, which are supported by 169 targets that, if addressed, have been agreed to make the biggest contributions to securing a sustainable future. Progress towards these Targets is agreed to be tracked by 232 unique Indicators.

The targets are a sort of sub-goals, that are the more practical level to work with. The indicators are used for monitoring the activities of each country. The targets and indicators are a way for measuring the sustainability evolution and real impacts. SDG can be considered as the “big goal”, while targets refer to the programmes for activities, indeed, the same SDG can have more than one target. For example, in SDG 4 (Quality Education), one of the targets (4.7) is: “education for sustainable development and global citizenship” (see figure 2 and 3). This means that it is needed to organize specific actions for reaching this aim, for example 4.a): build education facilities that are disability and gender sensitive.

Indicators are the measures of how we are doing in achieving the target, to monitor change and improvement. In practice, many of the official indicators are not particularly relevant to the work of sectors, including museums and cultural institutions. The targets are well suited to practical use, and sectors and organizations can set their own indicators to monitor their progress.

Here a useful guide that you can use for better understanding the SDGs target and indicators:

Figure 2 & 3: SDG 4 (Quality education) target. (2) Source: Mcghie 2021 and this Website. Targets are sub-goals to be reached under the main SDG. This will be more effective for the evaluation and the monitoring

The first step in addressing SDGs targets is making a specific commitment to help achieve their success (Mcghie, 2021 pg 14).

Even though the SDGs must be considered as a whole, and should be reached with the collaboration of all at a geopolitical level, there are various contrasts, which manifest themselves in the imbalance between sustainability strategies and national economic interests. This obstacle limits the cooperation between the different nations to find a common solution on a global level, which however depends on the choices to be applied at the local level, because knowledge of the local reality is fundamental to make the practices effective.

  1. Think global, act local. How cultural institutions and ecomuseums can help in achieving SDGs

A first step towards the sustainable transition is to recognize the role of people as the only beings capable of taking steps towards sustainability. In this sense, culture plays a key role in sustainability practices, and its enhancement can foster positive dynamics towards the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. Cultural evolution occurs when cooperation fosters common behaviors and values. Through social interactions, different cultures meet and clash, modifying and favoring their evolution; in this sense, ecomuseums, in which communities play an important role, can be considered incubators of cultural evolution, capable of creating relationships that enhance the sustainable way of life (Sutter & Teather, 2017 page 53).

The role of ecomuseums as actors able to interpret and satisfy global needs at local level has been already discussed by Borrelli and Davis (2012): “ecomuseums implement dynamic processes that allow communities to identify, preserve, interpret and manage their capital resources for sustainable development “, ecomuseums, communities are involved in decision-making processes with the various stakeholders in the area, acting as spokespersons for territorial needs. The strength of ecomuseums lies in their dynamic nature, capable of adapting to socio-cultural changes and of finding solutions at the local level. Ecomuseums strengthen the sense of place and the positive relationship between culture and nature both at the local level, through participatory processes, and at the governance level, where they can have positive influences in implementing a culture of territorial governance (idem).

Sustainable development activity in and with museums and other cultural institutions can be considered as the quest to progressively improve the ways in which they empower people to claim their human rights through their institutions, such as their Right to Participate in Cultural Life, Right to Education, Freedom of Expression and Right to Information, Right to Participate in Public Affairs, Right to Development and other rights (McGhie 2022).

Self-reflection questions

  1. Why is the goal-based approach important?
    Answer: As the issue is to use the goal-based approach to find verifiable and measurable means. maybe to connect the strategies developed locally and globally to clear ways of managing, monitoring, and evaluating each project to achieving the defined goals
  1. List the three dimensions of sustainability. Which of these dimensions are integrated into your museum / ecomuseum?
    Answer: economic, social, and environmental.
  1. What are the other two dimensions of sustainability introduced by the 2030 Agenda?
    Answer: Peace and partnership.
  1. What are the SDGS? Why is it important to reach them at the same time?
  2. Take a tour of your institution and try to think about what elements you could improve on to contribute to one of the SDGs. For example, how is your meeting room heated (GOAL 13) How are tangible and intangible assets managed, do you collaborate with other institutions (Goal 17)?
  3. Design the sustainability table with 4 legs: culture, community, economy, environment. Organize a meeting with the community and reflect on these four aspects together. If one of the table legs is shorter than the other, sustainability is not balanced. Think together about how to improve so that your sustainability table is balanced. The exercise can be repeated periodically.
  4. Draw / print the 17 SDGs, and during a meeting with the members of the ecomuseum, each one will give an example of action / how he understands this goal.
  5. What is the right-based approach in sustainability?
  6. “To think global and act local”. Reflect on this sentence with your group.
Learning Unit 2

Designing Sustainability: Defining Priorities and Fixing Objectives

Short Description

This module aims to give competences for fixing feasible sustainability objectives and plan actions to maximize cultural impacts.

You will learn new skills:

  • How to manage the living heritage in a participating and sustainable way with the purposes of local development.
  • How to create specific policies and actions related to SDGs.
  • Managerial skills to develop holistic and co-creative projects: co-learning, subsidiarity, local empowerment, and global networking.

1. Design and co-creative planning through lateral and vertical thinking, co-learning, subsidiarity, local empowerment, and networking

Imagine whether museums could develop practices to be effective catalysts for cultural change and adaptation in this period of the Anthropocene (Worts, 2017). Through the hard work of co-creative design and planning all this is possible and can produce significant impacts! Since ecomuseums design not only “for” but also “with” the community, you need to develop skills and strategies to achieve these goals.

One of the limitations of our traditional way of thinking (the so-called vertical thinking) derives from the fact that the brain is an automatic system: every time it finds a logical and formally valid assumption, it gets stuck in a sort of dead end and proceeds solely on the basis of this assumption. Imagine what happens when these wrong assumptions are considered valid: 1. the planet’s resources are unlimited, 2. there is no interdependence between systems and peoples, 3. The only valid economic model is liberal capitalism based on profit maximization, 4. museums are about collections and not about society and man. 5. The man, in charge of modern economics, has a calculator in his head, ego instead of heart, money in hand and lives in solitude on a planet without limits.

Unfortunately, science does not always succeed in unhinging erroneous models and concepts like these. The results of a recent survey showed that around 30% of the sample of 12,000 Europeans do not trust or doubt science. Before starting to design and plan for your ecomuseum you need to consider using the other form of thinking of which we are capable, that is, lateral thinking, the one that thinks to think, that breaks the mold, that uses free space beyond the boundaries of the “reasonable” (De Bono, 1990). Ecomuseums can use and propose to use this lateral thinking since they already practice it through participatory tools and management models such as, for example, the shared management of common goods (Arena, 2006) and co-creative partnerships (Koster, 2020).

Figure 4. Difference between vertical and lateral thinking. On the left: traditional thinking makes assumptions of what the rules are; on the right: lateral thinking disregards "implied" rules.
Co-creative partnership

Co-creativity is a process that educators understand well: when a teacher promotes in students the ability to make sense (direction and meaning) that draws on their personal experiences, visions and even frustrations. When there is a bond of trust, the student’s creativity is unleashed. It often results in new learning for both the teacher and the student, that’s why it’s co-creative. If a museum collaborates with an organization and if a bond of trust is established, synergy can produce visions, insights and idea generation tools intended to challenge current thought patterns. Moreover, impacts will be significant if museum projects, and programs are geared towards change within the wider living culture and not simply within museum buildings.

Many museums, maybe even yours, have developed a great deal of expertise in very specific areas of interest: history, science, art, etc.  Through co-creative partnerships museums, on the one hand, can facilitate knowledge and understanding (i.e., expertise) from a wide range of experiences. On the other hand, they can facilitate the intersection of competence (whose goal is to control) and wisdom (which creates well-being). Through such integration, museums can help their communities to imagine thriving and inclusive futures.

Shared management of the commons

Probably your museum is developing processes of participation for designing “with” the community. To achieve significant cultural changes and impacts, consider experimenting with the highest levels of the scale of participation, up to the support of community projects (empowerment) for the shared management of the commons. The current situation, which due to the poly-crisis sees the drastic reduction of private goods, requires the recognition and enhancement of common goods. However, on the one hand, the community often does not recognize these goods as community heritage: ecomuseums are very active in solving this problem. On the other hand, the obsolete governance model, based on the logic of bipolar administrator-administered management does not allow the community itself to activate its resources to express ideas and implement actions for the solution of problems that, often, because their complexity, cannot be solved by institutions as museums alone (Arena, 2006). Trying to solve this problem is complicated, but it is possible. For example, by implementing the principle of subsidiarity that underlies European rules, it is possible to promote the shared management of common goods.

Good practice: collaboration pacts in Parabiago (MI)

For the Ecomuseum of Parabiago (MI), the co-creative and participatory processes are at least as important as the results and the outcomes of the planned actions. In fact, the interaction of the local actors is essential to create a sense of place and community while maximizing impacts. The aim is not only the realization of participatory activities, but also to trigger cooperation agreements with citizens, for the care, management, and regeneration of the cultural heritage and the landscape. In this way, the ecomuseum becomes a facilitator that enables people to apply their creative and physical energies, while sharing resources inside the community itself – all for the general interest and to produce and develop common goods. The agreements that were concluded over the years have been both formal and informal.

To regulate and promote the shared administration, in 2016 the Municipality of Parabiago (that manages the ecomuseum) approved the Regulation for the active participation of the community, to promote resilience processes for the care, the regeneration of urban spaces, social cohesion and security (fig. z).

Active citizens submitted ‘ideas’ which were first reviewed by the Ecomuseum staff. The ecomuseum:

  1. evaluates the general interest of the idea and the coordination with other activated projects.
  2. Identify relevant trends that need to be either supported or redirected.
  3. Identify stakeholders and the living heritage who need to be involved in the project.
  4. Defines the way that projects might be funded, the ways of facilitating, empowering, and training of the active citizens,
  5. Identifies and defines the monitoring programme of desired impacts on, and within, the community (identifying what kinds of change are being sought).
Figure 6: Source: Ecomuseo di Parabiago

When the idea becomes a project achievable, the Municipality council approves it and the ecomuseum and the citizens sign the agreement and start to work together in full autonomy. At the time the ecomuseum empowered 39 projects and some of them were renewed. For these projects the flow chart in fig.6, should be better redefined in a circular way. In fact, the monitoring of the concluded agreement gives feedback to better design the new agreement. If your museum wants to become a catalyst for cultural adaptation, it will need to become very familiar with these processes to find new ways to ensure that the well-being of the entire planet and all its inhabitants remains the overall vision of humanity.

2. How can ecomuseums help achieve SDGs and their targets?

The SDGs provide a useful tool for guiding ecomuseums towards significant cultural impacts. We suggest implementing seven key activities that are aligned with the SDGs (See McGhie, 2021 from page 13):

  1. Protect and safeguard cultural and natural heritage, both within museums and more generally.
  2. Support Education for Sustainable Development.
  3. Promote cultural participation for all.
  4. Support sustainable/responsible tourism.
  5. Support research for sustainable development, for example by supporting research activity and sharing its results.
  6. Direct daily activities and operations towards sustainable development, for example through management, recruitment, resource use, waste management and management approaches and decisions.
  7. Create partnerships and collaborations directed to sustainable development.

You can always ask yourself, “how can I develop a goal for better supporting a particular key activity”?  or “how can I better support multiple SDGs through this key activity?”.

You can find useful answers in the chapter “Connecting the 21 Principles of Ecomuseums, the Sustainable Development Goals and Climate Action” (McGhie, 2022) in the book “Climate change discourses and practices from ecomuseums” (link) which illustrates how the ecomuseums can contribute to achieving development goals.

3. Mainstream by SDGs

You can integrate the SDGs into the plans and projects of the ecomuseum, following different methods. Here are some of them:

  1. integration through the SDGs. Implement an action plan to integrate one or more SDGs based on the 7 actions above. If you choose this approach, consider also the positive and negative impacts on the other SDGs.
  2. Integration through external initiatives. Linked to external initiatives developed internationally (international days, years or decades) and implements an action plan based on the 7 actions.
  3. Integration by project. Use an existing or planned project: understand its sustainable development potential, benefits and costs, and make a plan to maximize benefits and reduce and eliminate negative impacts, using the seven key activities as a guide to programming, delivery and communication.
  4. Integration through partnership: work with other Cultural Institutions or other actors committed to the same SDG or a set of SDGs, adapted to local circumstances.  As with linking to external initiatives, partnership creates greater results because pooling resources and results that cannot be created alone.
  5. Develops policies, schedules, and allocates resources for sustainable development activities, eliminates unnecessary practices and policies that have negative impacts.
  6. Integration through work, training, and employment practices.  Make sustainable development everyone’s work, ensure that everyone has a clear role and responsibility and their positive and negative impacts on the SDGs.  Include sustainable development in your volunteer and staff training and recruitment processes.
  7. Integration through monitoring, evaluation, reporting and communication: aligns the activities of the ecomuseum with the SDGs.  It communicates activities in an open and transparent way in terms of the SDGs, highlighting both positive developments and negative impacts to be addressed.
  8. Integration through experience, familiarity, and everyday use: seeks to integrate the SDGs and sustainable development by making them a daily practice; the SDGs and sustainable development become part of people’s ways of working and interacting and, where they are properly understood, in the context of the vision of the 2030 Agenda.

Good practice: Circular economy in Parabiago (MI)

An example of integrating the SDGs through partnership which concerns the circular economy in Parabiago.

Farming is not the main economic activity in Parabiago (MI), but agricultural land is a very important feature of its landscape and a vital link between humans and nature. The Ecomuseum has explored the potential of embracing the principles of a ‘circular economy’ .In this approach there are three basic principles: to eliminate waste/pollution; to ensure that materials and products can be reused; and that nature is regenerated in this process. Circularity, undoubtedly, must be the feature of a sustainable future. In 2015, the Ecomuseum proposed a project to the local community, for the Milan EXPO “Feeding the planet, Energy for life!”. This project focused on the production of bread, using an entirely local supply chain, including local grains, local processing, and local markets – with a strict attention paid to waste along the value chain. There were many local partners involved, including farmers, bakers, retailers, and consumers. (Dal Santo, 2020).

In a circular economy, the life cycle of materials and products are extended. Circularity means that the waste is always treated as a new input that has value and it is continuously being recycled. Essentially this is the foundational process of Earth’s biological systems. Embracing circularity requires a shift in the traditional take-make-waste approach that has become a prevalent part of modern consumer society. The Parabiago Ecomuseum has been working with its partners to develop examples of circular approaches within its local economy (Fig. 7). The goal is that material inputs (new and recycled materials) are efficiently processed to create goods that meet the needs of people, while waste products become new inputs in ongoing processes. The result is that natural and human-made materials continue to circulate in the economy without generating large quantities of waste. Parabiago is advanced in waste and water management, handcraft, and trade, but much less in energy and food production. For this reason, the ecomuseum assessed that the greatest gains could be made in landscape regeneration.

The Parabiago’ s Ecomuseum is helping farmers draw on local heritage insights, especially cultural landscape knowledge, to adapt agricultural practices so they better meet the evolving needs of the present and the future.  It is vital that local stakeholders feel empowered to work in balance with nature. However, the interactions of the Parabiago community with other parts of Italy and of the world remain largely tied to the intractable methods of our unsustainable global market for goods. Ideally, people in a region can meet their needs through their reliance on local natural resources and systems, while dramatically reducing reliance on goods that originate in distant lands. The Ecomuseum established a
dialogue with local farmers, retailers, and citizens to experiment with a more sustainable approach to food production, designed to meet local demand.

In embracing the principles of a circular economy, the ecomuseum affirms that it is possible to significantly decoupled carbon emissions, and other forms of waste, from economic growth. However, the goal of sustainability will be undermined if market economies rely on long and complicated supply chains for their goods.  This traditional approach to global goods is entirely dependent on relatively cheap and polluting transportation and is driven by corporate and societal demand for maximizing GDP, even at the expense of eroding the Earth’s natural systems. With the reality of a globalized economic system outsourcing huge real costs that it doesn’t want to be responsible for, it will take great courage for communities to live locally. The more ecomuseums, and traditional museums, can become catalysts for localizing economies and fostering principles of circularity, the faster humanity can breathe a sigh of relief.

Learning Unit 3

Monitoring Impacts, Reporting Sustainability

Short Description

The aim of this unit is to give ecomuseums instruments for monitoring their impacts on sustainability.

To reach such aim, it will be important to debate:

  • tools for monitoring ecomuseums outcomes and specially impacts inside and outside the cultural Institution.
  • How to write a shared sustainability report to disseminate sustainability actions.

1. Sustainability Reporting

Monitoring, evaluating, reporting, and communicating the project results, outcomes and impacts are very important actions for an ecomuseum.

According to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), 2011), sustainability reporting means: “the practice of measuring, disclosing, and being accountable to internal and external stakeholders for organizational performance towards the goal of sustainable development… A sustainability report should provide a balanced and reasonable representation of the sustainability performance of a reporting organization – including both positive and negative contributions” .

Sustainability reporting, in the form of corporate social responsibility reporting, has been around for decades, mainly in the commercial sector, but any type of organization can report on its activity and there are good reasons to do so. Ecomuseums can adopt sustainability reporting principles, to disclose its sustainability commitments and the results obtained.  It is possible to draw up a special report or integrate the principles into the documents that the ecomuseum already makes (programs and multi-year reports). This helps to promote public trust and build stakeholder trust.  It also helps drive action and build collaboration among staff and between ecomuseums and other partners.

The largest sustainability reporting initiative is managed by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). There are several excellent resources to help companies integrate the SDGs into sustainability reporting.  These can be applied to all kinds of organizations, including ecomuseums.  Writing a GRI compliant report involves a significant investment of time and resources, but according to McGhie (2021) the principles can easily be used by anyone who wants to increase their transparency and be held accountable, presenting openly and honestly their contribution to sustainable development. GRI uses the following principles, which can be implemented by the Ecomuseum in reporting on its actions to help achieve sustainable development, regardless of whether they report to the GRI or not:

  1. Materiality: i.e., reporting on what matters, also called ‘priority of principle’, reporting on the most salient sustainability impacts, both positive and negative.
  2. Inclusiveness of stakeholders: stakeholders are clearly identified, and their opinions are sought on what an organization should work for, in terms of meeting the needs and aspirations of stakeholders and in the standard of service provided.
  3. Sustainability context: The report should present the activity of organizations in the broader context of sustainability.
  4. Completeness: The report should include content to adequately reflect the positive and negative impacts of an organization in all social, environmental, and economic dimensions, so that stakeholders can adequately understand the sustainability performance of the organization.

According to McGhie (2021) a sustainability report, compliant with the principles of the GRI, will include the following:

Foreword:Declaration signed by the most senior member of staff, or by the Board of Directors
Organizational profile and governance:Brief description of the organization, including its mission and governance structure
Strategy and analysis:A strategic summary outlining how the GLAM relates to the challenges of sustainable development and how these are incorporated into its vision, strategic plan, operational plans, and reporting system
Reporting parameters:Scope, boundaries (reporting parameters, e.g., sector, location, time, period) and reporting methodology
Environment, Society, EconomyThe central argument. This will identify relevant objectives, targets and indicators and report on progress in addressing them. Both positive and negative contributions to each aspect of sustainability should be reported
ConclusionsA summary of the main findings of the report. This can discuss what has been achieved and what has not been achieved and set priorities for future activities.

Online resources: To develop sustainability reporting you can use resources available online such as:

  • Business Reporting on the SDGs: An Analysis of the Goals and Targets (GRI and UNGC, 2017) (link).  This tool links sustainability reporting requirements to SDGs and suggests activities to be undertaken.
  • Integrating the Sustainable Development Goals into Corporate Reporting: A Practical Guide ( GRI and UNGC, 2018) (link) This report is primarily aimed at organizations that are already undertaking sustainability reporting.
  • Approaches and methodologies for civil society reporting on the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda: TAP Network Spotlight Reporting Guidelines (TAP Network, 2021) (link)
  • SDG Compass (link)
  • B Impact Assessment tool (link)

2. Monitoring impacts (internal and external evaluation, self-assessment tools)

The evaluation in some European regions is a law condition for the attribution and maintenance of the “ecomuseum” label. It is also and perhaps above all a way to constantly improve the quality of methods and confirm the reality of social utility of each ecomuseum.

External evaluation. Many Italian regions have approved laws on ecomuseums, but few of them are evaluating the performance of ecomuseums and monitoring the impacts The Lombardy Region, for example, has evaluated ecomuseums both with a questionnaire (link) and through on-site visits. The Network of Lombard ecomuseums has created the Vademecum for ecomuseums 2.0 to explain and deepen the new minimum requirements for the recognition of ecomuseums in Lombardy (link).

Self-assessment (internal). If you are part of an ecomuseum that does not have the possibility to be evaluated externally or want to evaluate the activities of the ecomuseum more frequently, you should activate the internal self-assessment. Any self-assessment must be decided, designed, and carried out by the people taking the initiative, and this as far as possible in a collective and contradictory way, in order to reach consensual decisions.

In 2015 De Varine proposed a collective work of self-assessment that should lead to a consensual improvement of objectives, methods, and programs. It is not a question of producing quantitative results or apparently “objective” statistics. It is also in a certain sense a self-training course for the people most involved in the life of the ecomuseum and who often have not obtained a specific professional qualification.

The self-assessment table proposed by De Varine asks ecomuseums to answer three questions that we invite you to address separately:

Evaluation of the structure itself: an ecomuseum is not an ordinary institution, its parameters can, and often must, evolve: the territory, demography, the very concept of heritage, human and material means, the passage of generations, the main and secondary objectives, explicit and implicit, the methods of participation, sometimes even the legal status, as many elements as it is appropriate to reformulate and question periodically,  in order to ensure the sustainability of the ecomuseum.

Assessment of the impact on the community, which will allow a measurement of the social utility of the ecomuseum: heritage management is not the only function of the ecomuseum, and it is not only the effect produced on the heritage that must be examined and measured, but the impact on all dimensions of local development in a dynamic way, that is, accompanying the endogenous and exogenous changes affecting the territory and the community.

Evaluation of the ecomuseum process and the methods used, to constantly improve the effectiveness of the action in its various forms: methods of participation.

The evaluation table is available at this site.

Internal Evaluation can also be developed through the seven key activities proposed by McGhie reported in Unit 2, Point 2).  They can help you identify your main contributions to sustainable development, both positive and negative (McGhie, 2021).

3. Inside/outside impacts model

Since an ecomuseum embraces the role of “cultural catalyst”, its planning processes must be based on the needs of the present and the future, while being informed and guided by insights from the past. One of the central opportunities for museums today is to expand their focus from generating cultural outputs for public consumption (e.g., exhibitions, programs, publications, etc.), to facilitating public engagement and co-creation processes that have significant outcomes and impacts on individuals, groups, communities, organizations, and more. If you are ready for this radical change in the vision and practice of museums, we suggest you evaluate the impacts of the ecomuseum through the “Inside-Outside Impacts” model by Douglas Worts (Fig.8). There are two fundamental components to the model. The first is the “Inside” dimension, which focuses on the physical manifestation of the museum and its contents, as well as the governance, skills, knowledge, wisdom, processes, and passion that are held by its staff (both paid and voluntary). The second dimension of the model is the “Outside”, which involves all the component parts of our living culture: people, communities, places, processes, values, goals, behaviors, systems, trends and more. Culture, in all its forms and manifestations, lives in the whole “external” dimension. The chapter of D Worts and R. Dal Santo in the book “Climate changes discourses and practices from ecomuseums” (link) illustrates the model in detail.

Figure 8: The inside-outside impact model by Douglas Worts.

Good practice: The chapter of R. Dal Santo and D. Worts in the book ” Climate changes discourses and practices from ecomuseums” (link) illustrates the application of the Inside Outside impact model in the case study of the Parabiago ecomuseum. This ecomuseum used the model to guide its work towards co-creative impacts based on sustainability. The Parabiago Ecomuseum has developed a set of strategies to engage many community stakeholders in discussions about the evolving needs of the community and how best to meet them. By adopting a holistic approach, the ecomuseum operates indirectly on diseases of the physical landscape (e.g.  loss of biodiversity, water pollution and inappropriate development), through direct interventions on the diseases of the “invisible” cultural landscape (e.g., lack of awareness of how human behavior is degrading natural systems, lack of sense of place).

Number of hours to be dedicated60 min for texts
60 min for self-reflection questions
Minimum 60 min for self-evaluation
60 min for references and link


Bibliographical references

Arena G., 2006, Cittadini attivi: un altro modo di pensare all’Italia. Roma-Bari: Laterza.

Borrelli, Mela, Mura, in pubblicazione, Chi sostiene la sostenibilità nel turismo. Il ruolo della comunità, Milano, Ledizioni.

Borrelli, N., & Davis, P. (2012). How culture shapes nature: Reflections on ecomuseum practices. Nature and Culture, 7(1), 31-47.

Brown, K. 2019. Museums and Local Development: An Introduction to Museums, Sustainability and Wellbeing, Museum International, Vol. 71, No. 3-4, pp. 1-13.

Brundtland, G. H. (1987). Our common future—Call for action. Environmental Conservation, 14(4), 291-294.

Davis, P. (2011). Ecomuseums: a sense of place. A&C Black.

De Bono E. 1990 Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step-By-Step, Penguin Books Ltd.

Duarte Cândido, M.M. 2012. Heritage and Empowerment of Local Development Players, Museum International, Vol. 64, No. 1-4, pp. 43-55, DOI: 10.1111/muse.12014.

GRI (2011). Sustainability Reporting Guidelines, 2011. Global Reporting Initiative, Amsterdam.

Koster, Emlyn, “Relevance of Museums to the Anthropocene”, Informal Learning Review, No. 161, Informal Learning Experiences, Inc: May/June 2020

Lanzinger, M., & Garlandini, A. (2019). Local Development and Sustainable Development Goals: A Museum Experience. Museum International, 71(3-4), 46-57.

Mcghie H, in publication, Connecting the 21 Principles of Ecomuseums, the Sustainable Development Goals and Climate Action, Climate changes discourses and practices from ecomuseums, Milano, Ledizioni-LediPublishing.

McGhie, H. A. (2021). Mainstreaming the Sustainable Development Goals: a results framework for galleries, libraries, archives, and museums. Curating Tomorrow, UK available at this site.

McGhie, H. A. (2022). Understanding the Sustainable Development Goals and targets. Curating Tomorrow, UK available at this site.

McGhie, H.A. 2020. Evolving climate change policy and museums, Museum Management and Curatorship, Vol. 35, No. 6, pp. 653-662.

OECD and ICOM. 2018. Culture and local development: maximising the impact. Guide for Local Governments, Communities and Museums. OECD/ICOM.

Riva, R. 2020. Cultural landscapes and sustainable development: the role of ecomuseums, Sustainable Mediterranean Construction, Vol. 11, pp. 25-29. Available at this site

Sutter, G. C., & Teather, L. (2017). Getting to the core: Can ecomuseums foster cultures of sustainability? Ecomuseums and Cultural Landscapes: State of the Art and Future Prospects, 53-59.

Worts D., Dal Santo R., in publication, The Inside-Outside Model – Animating the Muses for Cultural Transformation Amid the Climate Crisis, Climate changes discourses and practices from ecomuseums, Ledizioni-LediPublishing.

Sitoghraphy and practical examples


Lisa Pigozzi, Nunzia Borrelli, Raul dal Santo, Silvia Dossena, Lucia Vignati

Scientific Coordinators