A Shade of Green: Ten Practical Steps for Museums

Today’s Guest Post is by Joshua Lichty, Project & Event Coordinator working in the museums and cultural industry.

We are constantly reminded by our colleagues, news segments, articles, lectures and other mediums that we need to personally and organizationally be more environmentally sustainable. While this constant reminder is necessary, it can be overwhelming when we are presented with a mass of information with no practical help or advice.

Accepting our museums need to operate on a greener level, is the first step in the exciting process of making your organization more sustainable, and one you’ve probably taken if you’re reading this post. But, after we understand this first step we can again find ourselves overwhelmed by the thought of having to implement the many possible changes. With limited time, money and staff not many museums have environmental sustainability on the top of their to-do list. But, you don’t need to demolish your existing building or undertake a massive renovation to make your museums more environmentally conscious or sustainable.

This article is titled A Shade of Green because this is not a full guide to museum sustainability; it is a scratch on the surface, a step forward, using ten practical, cost neutral changes you can implement immediately to point your museum in the right direction to becoming more environmentally friendly.

A few things to note before reading:

  • This article is most practical for to small to medium sized, community museums.
  • These suggestions are cost-neutral or cost-plus solutions that have no capital or structural change implications to museum sites; there are indeed more costly solutions that will have a greater impact.
  • If it’s worth doing, it’s worth measuring. Before taking action in any of the 10 areas below, be sure you can measure the resulting impact over time! This information can be helpful for reports, grants and marketing purposes!



  1. Light your museum with LED lighting solutions.

The major argument over the past decade around the switch to LED lighting has been the cost. But over the past few years LED lighting solutions have drastically decreased in price and increased in efficiency making them an obvious choice for reducing energy consumption.

The benefits of light emitting diodes (LED) for museums include: long lifespan, limited heat emission, no UV or infrared emission, mercury-free, efficient, and cost effective.

Because LEDs produce limited heat this allows galleries and collection storage areas to be efficiently temperature controlled! A big bonus is LEDs do not give off UV or infrared emissions so there is no need to purchase plastic filters!

Tip: To replicate 100W incandescent light colour, install bulbs approximately 2700 Kelvin. This is also a warmer light that is less harsh on your visitors eyes.

More LED information: http://www.bulbs.com/learning/ledfaq.aspx



  1. Remove all plastic bags from your gift shop.

If you are using  single-use plastic bags in your gifts shop, STOP! Second, if you’re using plastic materials, such as bubble wrap to package items, STOP! In the United States alone 100 billion plastic bags are used each year, which require 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture.

There are a few great alternatives to plastic bags.

Supply multi-use museum specific branded bags for your visitors. Not only will you stop the use of plastic bags but the bags will act as free advertising and a revenue source. Please note: make the decision to use multi-use bags after much consideration and research. A multi-use bag needs to be used 20 to 100+ times, depending on the type of bag, before it becomes a better environmental option than single-use bags.

The best option is not to supply bags at all or limit them to specific multi-item purchases. Most museum visitors are finishing their visit with gift shop browsing. This usually means their next stop is the car or back to their accommodation. You need to ask yourself an honest question: do they really need a bag to hold their magnet or coffee mug? In most cases when you tell visitors the museum is doing its part to save our planet, they’re pretty happy to forgo the bag.

Tip: Want to take Greening Your Gift Shop a step further? Remove or replace all gift shop items that are made with majority plastic. This will usually remove “Made in China” products from your stock as well. This has many benefits: it will reduce the amount of plastic you’re selling, it will remove products “Made in China” (or other international locations) which can lower transportation emissions and you can replace your stock with locally made items which in turn has the ability to strengthen community relationships and networks.



  1. Recycle and compost at your museum.

If your municipality runs a curb-side recycling and composting program there is no excuse not to take full advantage of that infrastructure. Educate your staff on the opportunity they have to recycle and compost, and what products qualify, then provide them with an easy plan and method to do so. Once your staff are committed to the program they can advocate to your guests to do the same. Be sure you provide accessible methods to recycle and compost around your museum with clear instructions on what goes where. The main reason people won’t recycle or compost at your organization is because it is difficult to find where to, or confusing to figure out what goes in each bin.

Tip: Use your bins to educate. Where does your city’s trash go? How is your city recycling and composting? What goes in which bin? There are many great opportunities to educate your waste depositors! Does your city require you to sort your recycling? Do it from the start: provide a separate bin for glass, plastic, paper, cans, etc. and let the depositor sort for you!



  1. Purchase only recycled and sustainable paper products.

From bathroom tissue to printer stationary to exhibit materials, purchasing paper is an inevitability at our museums. So, when you have to purchase paper be sure it is recycled and from a sustainable source; this includes the acid-free products you’re using too!

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo identifies wood-based products from well managed forests independently certified in accordance with the rules of the FSC. Be sure to look for this logo on all the paper products you purchase for your museum. Also, when possible make sure you are purchasing post-consumer recycled paper, this is an option for all types of paper products throughout your museum.

Tip: Use a type of EnviroCare Tissue for bathroom supplies, event napkins and paper towels. A guide to Canadian Products can be found here. An example for 100% recycled office products: Staples® 100% Recycled FSC-Certified Copy Paper.



  1. Reduce your museum’s standby power loads by using power bars.

Use a power bar in the staff room, office and all other rooms with electronics. For example, where you can group electricity consuming products like computers, printers, paper shredders, lights and chargers plug them into a power bar that can be turned off with one switch. If you plug all of your products into a power bar and turn that bar off when these items are not in use it will massively reduce your museum’s energy consumption.

This also also applies to your exhibitions. Do you have electronic interactive stations, specialty lighting, projections or televisions throughout your exhibit space? Many products continue to consume energy even in standby and off modes. Install power bars and group power consumers so they can be easily switched off at the end of the day.

Tip: If you’re just using one outlet there’s no need for a power bar. Simply unplug it!



  1. Use only green cleaning products throughout your museum.

Developed a list of approved cleaning products that are all natural. Train staff or outsourced housekeeping company on the proper way to store, use, and dispose of chemicals, paper products and other materials.

Always look for the Green Seal Certified logo on the cleaning products you purchase for your museum. “Green Seal develops Environmental Leadership Standards that are credible, transparent, and essential to helping manufacturers, purchasers, and consumers make responsible choices.

Keeping your museums environment free of unnatural, toxic cleaning products is healthy for your staff, your visitors, your collection and the environment!

Tip: All museums have plenty of glass to clean from windows to display cases. Make the switch to a reusable Microfiber Cleaning Cloth and stay away from paper towel and toxic glass cleaners.



  1. Seal all doors and windows from leaks and drafts.

When was the last time you did a visual inspection of your windows and doors for any sign of possible air leakage? Weather stripping and window films for all exterior doors and windows is an affordable and simple option to help control the environment in your museum and reduce the amount your air conditioning or heating is used.

This is most important in historical house museums or museums in historical buildings. But be sure the sealing you do around your organization is not permanent and can be reversed to keep this historical integrity of your building.

Tip: Make sure you are buying the window films that not only provide a thermal benefit, but also provide UV protection! 3M Sun Control Window Films: reduce cooling costs by up to 30%, plus block up to 99% of harmful UV rays



  1. Place eco-reminder signage around your museum.

There are many places around your museum where you can remind visitors about saving energy and water. A washroom sink water conservation reminder, gift shop tags on local products, information by drinking fountain on single use plastic bottles, information beside waste bins, recycling, etc., the list goes on.

These gentle reminders not only educate your visitors and show them you’re trying to do your part to lower your museum’s footprint, but can also save money!

Tip: This is a great opportunities to tell your visitors what your museum is doing to be more sustainable. For example, if you’ve changed all your light bulbs to LEDs and have measured and tracked the results post them for your visitors to see beside a light switch. “Last year the museum switched to LED lighting and have saved $__ annually, while reducing our C02 emissions footprint by __. Help us to continue this by turning off the lights



  1. Adapt one of your museum’s annual events to be zero-waste.

As a precursor to running a ZERO-WASTE MUSEUM run at least one annual zero-waste event! Events produce a mass amount of waste from uneaten food to program materials (flyers, posters and programs); from single use plates, cutlery and cups to decorations – these are all things that can be supplemented by zero waste products.

It can seem overwhelming to run a zero-waste event, but here’s a helpful guide to realizing your first Zero-Waste Event

Tip: Make sure you market and promote your event as Zero-Waste! Be proud you’re taking this step to making your museum more sustainable. Your community will be interested and people that attend the event will get on board with the idea of trying to limit waste!



  1. Run an annual eco-inspired program (exhibit, lectures, school program, etc.)!

As a final way to turn your museum a lighter shade of green, it’s time to educate your community on how they can become actively involved at making your community more environmentally friendly and sustainable.

For many people it isn’t that they don’t want to participate, it’s that they don’t know where to start, how to make a difference, or understand how their actions are harming the planet. Let’s sum it up as a massive lack of eco-awareness. Just one eco-centric program a year helps keep your community eco-aware!

Although running a program doesn’t have a direct impact on your museum, this step may be the most important and effective way to do your part in saving our planet.

Tip: Some programming ideas:

  • Curbside: The History of Waste Management in Our City

    • Complimented by a ‘Garbage Clean-up Day’ (next step: Adopt a Road!)
  • Thrown Away: An Explanation Of The Mysterious “Away”

    • Complimented by a field trip to a recycling plant
  • Made in China: The Shift from Locally Made Goods in Our City

    • Complimented by a hands-on workshop for DIY household green products
  • Plastic 101: How It’s Made, What It’s Used For & Where It Ends Up!

    • Complimented by a workshop on alternatives to plastic
  • You Are What You Eat: The Benefits of Plant Based Alternative Foods Complimented by a trip to a vegan or vegetarian local restaurant

In Summary, The Practical Ten:

1) Light your museum with LED lighting solutions.

2) Remove all plastic bags from your gift shop.

3) Recycle and compost at your museum.

4) Purchase only recycled and sustainable paper products.

5) Reduce your museum’s standby power loads by using power bars.

6) Use only green cleaning products throughout your museum.

7) Seal all doors and windows from leaks and drafts.

8) Place eco-reminder signage around your museum.

9) Adapt one of your museum’s annual events to be zero-waste.

10) Run an annual eco-inspired program!

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Joshua Lichty is passionate when it comes to the responsibility of museums to be a pillar for their communities. He believes as trusted institutions, museums have the obligation and requirement to be hubs of facts, clarity and dialogue. An experienced Project & Event Coordinator with a demonstrated history of working in the museums and cultural industry, Joshua spent the past three years with the Ontario Museum Association coordinating events, communications, and special projects. He now lives in Doha, Qatar where he provides organizations with creative design for their digital platforms. Joshua is a published author, past Team Canada Volleyball member, avid photographer and champion for social responsibility and cultural awareness.

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  1. Victoria Dickenson

    Great ideas and sensible suggestions. Museums can model the changes we advocate in our communities. I have started refusing plastic bags in all shops but museum shops should be leading the way. Thank you Jonathan for your succinct guide to being greener.

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