Climate and ecology

We are in the midst of a global climate and ecological emergency unprecedented in human history.

We believe that there is still an opportunity to mitigate against this crisis and that the Horniman has a moral and ethical imperative to act now. 

In July 2019 we declared a climate and ecological emergency. In January 2020 we announced our Climate and Ecology Manifesto, which outlines our platform for action and the steps the Horniman will take to mitigate against the climate and ecological emergency, and to help shape a positive future for generations to come.

Our pledges include:

  • an ambitious Nature and Love project to redisplay our natural history and living collections to highlight climate and ecological issues to a wider audience
  • reducing pollution, including the intention to be Greenhouse Gas neutral by 2040
  • creating an Environmental Champions Club to inspire and support visitors to make their own changes
  • appointing a Climate and Ecological Action Coordinator, a new role dedicated to making the changes happen.

Read our manifesto:

What have we already done?

There are many ways in which the Horniman is already working to reduce our environmental impact and be as ‘green’ as we can. Here are some examples.

Our gardens

  • We compost around 97% of our Gardens waste, which is then reused in the Gardens, and we have an on-site Ridan composter to process food waste from our Café into mulch. Any additional compost we need to use is peat-free.
  • In the past we’ve been able to reuse around 187,000 litres of water from the Aquarium’s water filters, for watering the Gardens. We’re currently working on plans which will allow us to recycle 500,000 litres. This water is a waste product which can’t be used in the aquarium due to impurities and sensitivity of the fish and corals, but it’s perfect for plants.
  • We ensure our Gardens are a haven for wildlife. We have:
    • bat boxes, birdhouses and bug hotels
    • the oldest Nature Trail in London
    • our award-winning Bee Garden which provides habitats and food sources for multiple bee species.
    • a picture meadow by the band stand for pollinators
    • reduced mowing. Cutting grass less often in some areas reduces our fuel emissions. And in some areas we don’t mow at all – leaving the grass to grow long creates a safe haven for insects and letting it self-seed encourages indigenous wildflowers.
    • planted thousands of bulbs, supplying food for early pollinators as well as some colour for us to enjoy in late winter and spring.
  • Our micro-forest was planted using the Miyawaki method. The densely planted trees will create a ‘green screen’, absorbing CO2 and air pollution from traffic on the South Circular, blocking noise pollution and providing additional habitats for wildlife.

Our community

  • We have set up an Environment Champions Community (ECC) to encourage communities and families to adopt more environmentally friendly behaviours, and we plan events in partnership with community groups and charities. We’ve taken the ECC out into the wider community to hold litter-picks, cycling outreach sessions, and more.
  • Our Gardens volunteers are 40 dedicated and enthusiastic people from our local community who give their time to help us with a variety of initiatives in the Gardens, including planting 3,000 snowdrops, to provide early forage for pollinators.
  • We’ve signed up to Count Us In, a project to inspire 1 billion people to significantly reduce their carbon pollution and challenge leaders to deliver bold, global change.
  • We are a Green Flag venue and part of the Green Chain Walk, and our Gardens are regularly visited by the Lewisham Healthy Walks group.

Our programming

  • We highlighted current ecological uses of discarded human hair in Hair: Untold Stories, which has been shown at the Horniman, at Tullie House in Carlisle and at Weston Park Museum in Sheffield.
  • We worked with our Youth Panel on the Sustainable Way display in our World Gallery, which raises awareness of the environmental impact of the cotton industry, inspired by the Hopi people and their respectful and sustainable farming of the land.
  • In 2022 we hosted We Breathe, Together, a family-friendly day of free workshops, installations and talks exploring air pollution, health and environment.
  • We’ve introduced Outdoor Messy Play sessions (April to October), based on Forest School principles, to help families with young children connect with nature, and learn and discover in natural outdoor spaces.
  • We have added climate and ecological messaging into our Natural History Gallery, utilising unused spaces and surfaces.

Our estate

  • Our electricity is now from guaranteed renewable sources, and we’ve replaced all the bulbs in our Aquarium display tanks with LEDs, saving over 11,000 KWh per year of electricity (that’s the equivalent of boiling 100,000 kettles).
  • We’ve swapped our cleaning products for environmentally considerate ones, which we buy in bulk to reduce plastic packaging, and swapped throw-away cleaning cloths with reusable, washable ones.
  •  We’ve reduced paper usage and waste by updating our dispensers for toilet paper and paper towels.
  • We have added three sorting areas (one in the Café and two in the Gardens) to allow visitors to separate their food and recyclables from their rubbish, aiming to reduce what we send to the Energy from Waste incinerator.
  • We now have a travel plan for our staff.
  • Our staff are all taking part in Carbon Literacy Training, which includes making pledges to take a personal and a work-based action to reduce your carbon footprint.

Our café

  • Vegan and vegetarian food makes up more than 50% of our Café menu. Our tea and coffee are fair trade, our eggs are free-range, our meat, beer and cakes are locally sourced, and our fish is from sustainable sources. Our cow’s milk is organic and we offer a range of non-dairy alternatives.
  • Swapping to Vegware in 2018 has removed approximately 200,000 single-use items of plastic per year from our footprint, and our Vegware coffee cups are collected (in our orange coffee-cup-shaped bins) and composted on site.
  • Swapping to canned water has taken 24,000 plastic bottles per year out of circulation. Our Café also offers free tap-water refills, alongside our two drinking fountains – a Victorian fountain near the Bandstand and a water refill point near the main entrance (one of more than 20 across London provided by #OneLess and the Mayor of London, as part of the London Drinking Fountain Fund).

Our shops

  • The weekly Horniman Market sells products direct from independent and local producers including seasonal fruit and veg, and organic meat, plus additional regular stalls specialising in zero waste, ethical craft and eco clothing and design. See the current stallholders.
  • Our shops no longer offer single-use bags for customers’ purchases, and we’ve reviewed and reduced our ‘pocket money’ products. The shops stock a number of fair-trade items, as well as working with UK artisans and makers to create unique products inspired by the Horniman’s collections.

What are we doing next?

  • We are making changes around the Gardens to plant in a more climate-aware and ecologically friendly way.
    • In our Sunken Garden we’ve deepened the pond and will create a ramp to allow us to grow more water plants and sustain more wildlife species, and we’re transitioning away from intensive seasonal displays to longer-lasting planting which benefits soil health and wildlife.
    • And in beds alongside the Butterfly House and on the London Road side of the main Museum building, we’re using plants from around the world, including North Africa, Brazil and the Mediterranean, which have been chosen for their drought tolerance and resistance to warmer temperatures due to climate change.
  • In February 2023 we submitted a Stage 2 bid to the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) for our Nature + Love project. Nature + Love is a transformational re-development project aiming to make the Horniman Museum and Gardens more inclusive and accessible, and to place environmental sustainability and a commitment to fighting the climate and ecological emergency at its heart.
  • We’re continuing to work with Small Beer Brewery, as their chosen charity. They’re advising our Aquarium and Estates teams on ways to reduce our water usage, as well as supporting Project Coral.
  • And we’re introducing quarterly Second-hand Sundays – sales with a repurposing, reusing and recycling focus, running alongside the regular Horniman Market.

We are also:

  • finding ways to encourage and support people to move away from travelling to us by car, including promoting active travel to our staff, volunteers and visitors
  • developing plans and funding applications to reduce our dependence on gas
  • reviewing our small fleet of vehicles and planning to reduce their usage and impact.
As a much-loved and trusted institution - and the only museum in London in which nature and culture can be viewed together - we feel we have a unique opportunity and responsibility to use our collections, our indoor and outdoor spaces, and our relationship with our visitors, to create a movement for positive environmental change.
Nick Merriman, Horniman Chief Executive