The Role of Sustainability Communicators: An Interview with Silvia Scarian Monsorno, Sustainability Communicator at MUSE

by Virginia Vannucchi

Recently, thanks to the internet and social media, I had the pleasure to interview Silvia Scarian Monsorno: Sustainability Communicator at MUSE (the Museum of Sciences of Trento, Italy) and learn more about a profession that is not very well known yet, even in the cultural and heritage sector.

VV: Hi Silvia, it’s so nice to meet you! I have to admit that, before meeting you and reading about your job, I myself had very little knowledge of your profession. Could you tell us more about what a Sustainability Communicator does and why it is important today to bring the theme of environmental sustainability in museums and cultural institutions too?

SSM: It has become increasingly important lately to bring the theme of environmental sustainability on the table, especially thanks — luckily — to the media clout that it has today. The Sustainability Communicator is a mediator between the consumer and any sort of company. My job consists in simplifying the technical information so that the consumer can better understand the value behind a sustainable offer. In other words, making sustainability understandable for it not to be trivialized.

VV: How do you apply this concept to museums and the cultural field?

SSM: Every museum has its own “mission”. Consequently, what a museum is going to communicate to the public will change based on its charter. The reason why a museum chooses to communicate environmental sustainability can be very different from a company’s. A museum — especially a Science Museum — has interest in disseminating as much information as possible, to help people better understand the complexity of the environment we live in and why it is our duty to preserve it. On the other hand, a company will choose to communicate a sustainable choice for its own profit.

VV: So, is the role of the Sustainability Communicator more associable to a Science Museum than a Humanities’ one? Or can it find a compatible application to both of them?

SSM: Well, the job of a Sustainability Communicator was certainly born inside the Science Museums field. Especially because, in the past, “sustainability” was a word that you immediately associated with the environment, and nothing else. Meanwhile, today, I think it’s very important to include other kinds of museums in the debate. Art, Archaeology, Anthropology and History museums: they all have the special capability to engage people through emotions. This is such an important instrument to convey a message. In my opinion cultural museums should focus on this value to inspire people embracing more sustainable habits.

VV: About your study and career path, how did you end up filling this specific role?

SMM: I graduated in Biology at Padua University in 2006. At first, it was almost by chance that I approached environmental issues: I decided to go back to Trento and started working for the Provincial Agency for the Protection of the Environment. There, I was asked to develop communication projects in this field. I became passionate about the cause and decided that I wanted to deepen it with a Master’s Degree in Environmental Management, in order to better understand what a public entity can do to be considered “sustainable”. Afterwards, I pursued my career as a Sustainability Consultant until 2014, when I started working at the Museum of Sciences in Trento — firstly as a communicator in the exhibition rooms — and then I decided to get another Master’s Degree in Science Communication in Milan. After that, I started working full time for MUSE, and here I am now.

VV: Do you think that the figure of the Sustainability Communicator is getting enough international recognition?

SSM: Not really, at the moment. Especially because there is not just a specific path to pursue if you want to study environmental communication. People often start from a scientific or economical background and then get specialized in the sector with particular Master’s Degrees such as Sustainability Management, Science Communication etc. In the last few years the number of these programs has significantly increased worldwide, and I really hope that the profession will get the recognition it deserves in the near future.

VV: What would you suggest to someone who would like to pursue this career?

SSM: First of all, you must have clear which macro area you are most interested in, and only after that get specialized with a Master’s Degree in Sustainability.

VV: Is a scientific background preferable?

SSM: I wouldn’t say that. It really depends on which sector you want to specialize in. A scientific background is necessary if your area of interest is, for example, the environmental impact. However, to address issues such as sustainable finance, an Economics degree is required.

VV: What do you think are the most immediate challenges today for a museum to be more sustainable?

SSM: The golden rule is to network with the territory and the local authorities, listening to them and comparing best practices. As to MUSE, we are very lucky because the museum has been awarded with the LEED certificate*, one of the most virtuous ones, but not every museum has this possibility. Small cities’ museums or the ones with ancient and historical structures cannot easily work — as a matter of fact — on reducing their environmental impact. This is why it is even more important for them to aim at improving through inclusive projects, engaging a dialogue with the citizens. All the more reason since nowadays “sustainability” does not only mean just environmental sustainability, but also social and economic.

*The MUSE (Museo delle Scienza di Trento) was awarded with the Leed Gold certification for sustainability, released for the first time to an Italian museum by GBCI (Green Building Certification Institute), based in Washington.

VV: Those concepts resonate with me, since they are expressed by Ki Culture too. How important is it for a museum or a cultural institution to look at international organizations — such as ICOM, Ki Culture, SiC etc. — in their journey towards sustainability?

SSM: There are lots of professionals and category associations that a museum can rely on to be helped in this sense. In addition to the ones that you have mentioned before, another example of a useful instrument can be the “SDGs in Action” app, based on the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Sharing best practices and looking at international examples are two very important things to do, however it is also important for a museum to lower them into its own reality, contextualizing — not copying — them, since each museum has its own peculiarities. Otherwise, the main risk can be ending up into “green washing”. A bad communication or choosing to communicate just the successful aspects of your sustainability journey are not the right things to do.

VV: Finally, do you have any virtuous example of a good sustainability communication to share?

SSM: In 2016 I had the chance to see what I think was an excellent example of how sustainability can be communicated by a museum, starting from an archaeological purpose. The exhibition “Extinctions. Stories of disasters and other opportunities” at MUSE, in the city of Trento, had the aim to communicate the history of biodiversity through prehistoric finds, with a glimpse into the future, reflecting on our environmental footprint on the planet. I think this is a great application of what I said before, about museums touching people’s emotions to vehicle more technical concepts.

What I appreciated the most about my talk with Silvia was her directness speaking about themes for which to stay grounded and not to be caught by passion and emotions can sometimes be hard. Her answers made me reflect especially on the importance of contextualization, and how crucial it is to deeply understand the peculiarities of each single reality. Embracing even what at first could be perceived as a flow — speaking about sustainability — like a museum situated in an old building, can be a starting point to develop virtuous projects in the name of environmental, social and economic sustainability.

Virginia Vannucchi graduated with a bachelor’s degree in History and Conservation of the Cultural Heritage at Florence University and currently doing an MA degree in History of Art. She has always been passionate about everything related to art and the cultural heritage and is happy to bring her creativity to Ki Culture as a Content Contributor.