LEARNING + RESEARCH Exhibition design in response to the climate crisis

Working to make change

Discover how the Design Museum is learning to cut the environmental cost of its exhibitions in response to the planetary emergency.


How can we design exhibitions with a lower environmental impact?

The way in which we plan, design and operate exhibitions has an important role to play in reducing our overall impact. We have been working to reduce our scope 3 emissions and have developed a toolkit to guide decision-making whilst developing exhibitions and displays.

For the Design Museum, the idea of producing a Guide emerged out of our Waste Age: What can design do? exhibition which took place in the museum from October 2021 to February 2022 and highlighted a change in the culture of design.

The project team commissioned consultancy URGE Collective to conduct a life cycle assessment (more details here) of this exhibition and used the results to help us make more informed decisions in the future, identify areas that needed increased focus, and share lessons with colleagues in the sector.

In 2023, we made our Impact Model available online. The initial model was designed to help the museum to track and calculate the carbon emissions related to each exhibition. As well as recording data, it is also intended to aid decision-making during the design process itself, allowing the exhibition team to compare the consequences of, for example, choosing one material over another. Below you will find a revised version which you are welcome test for your projects. We are currently working with sector partners to develop a new online version of the calculator which will be free to use and exist on a web-based platform. Please check back in autumn 2024 for updates.

The Exhibition Design Guide examines the opportunities for reducing impact across areas including shipping and transport, programming, design and construction, materials, communications and energy use. It looks at where impacts are made in those areas and what to consider in order to reduce them. In addition, the guide advises on how to embed the consideration of impact reduction in the museum’s design process and how to work with commissioned designers, contractors and suppliers to communicate and deliver on the ambition to reduce its impact, develop effective ways of working and ensure it captures the information needed in order to measure its carbon impact in future.

While the Guide is based on our work at the Design Museum, we hope that it offers some core principles that are useful to other institutions and enables them to reflect on their own working processes. Of course, we recognise that exhibition-making is only one of the ways in which museums create emissions.

Supported by Future Observatory and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), this Toolkit has been created with the intention to be shared and used across the wider museum community, feel free to share with your colleagues and adapt the resources for your projects.

You can download our guide and model below in English:

International versions

The guide are now available in all 6 UN official languages:
The Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish versions have been developed with support from consultancy Culture Connect.

Working in collaboration with Art Jameel, an updated version of the guide (which includes local case studies) has been produced in English and Arabic for the MENAT region.

Waste Age exhibition photographed by Felix Speller

Read a Q&A with our Head of Exhibitions

This Q&A introduces Elise Foster Vander Elst, our Head of Exhibitions & Environmental Impact Lead, and the museum's ongoing work focusing on the green transition.

Designing for a Greener Future

The Design Museum’s Waste Age exhibition in 2021 highlighted a change in the culture of design. It profiled a new generation that has taken on the challenge of reducing the industry’s impact and taking responsibility for what they put out into the world. The museum is supporting this ambition through the work of the Future Observatory, a national programme for design research supporting the UK’s response to the planetary emergency. As an institution, it is important that we take up the challenge in our own work.

Future Observatory

Find out more about Future Observatory, the Design Museum's national research programme for the green transition in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

the Design Museum's DNA

Find out more about the museum's vision, mission, values and commitments.