The green museums community and Sustainability

Canada CHRM Museum

The September 2019 meeting of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) in Kyoto included several days of critical discussion on sustainability. We now know that museums can be more energy intensive than hospitals. Are there any opportunities to bring the world’s museum community together to work in the same direction toward climate goals? The answer is yes.

ICOM released their resolutions recently and the sustainability was at the top of the agenda.

Leaders are emerging

Some countries have initiated dialogues with their institutions. For example, Julie’s Bicycle, with the support of Arts Council England, has been tracking the carbon footprint and use of clean energy in United Kingdom museums. As seen in the LEED project database, about 150 museums have earned LEED green building certification. Approximately 300 more have registered to go green. This is quite a feat for a complex building type.

“By securing the third-party endorsement of LEED certification, we are showing the community our true commitment to the environment,” says JoAnn Newman, President and CEO of Orlando Science Center, which earned LEED Gold certification in 2010. “Operating a large building has a big impact on the environment, so it was a priority for us to reduce our energy and water usage. We want to be a conservation leader in our community, which is why we pursued LEED certification, not just once, but twice,” she says.

Orlando Science Centre

In honor of World Green Building Week in September, take a look at the list of LEED-certified museums around the world.  This list includes projects in the United States, Canada, Greece, China, Korea, Brazil, Turkey, Palestine and the Philippines. To learn more about each project, click on the name to view their achievements in the scorecard, and read their story if the project has completed an overview.  

On Twitter, @MuseumsforParis highlights museums’ accomplishments in sustainability, from enhancing their own building environment to upgrading their in-house education programs and exhibits.  

In North America, almost 150 museums have voluntarily put their energy consumption into Energy Star Portfolio Manager (ESPM), a platform that can generate a carbon footprint calculation. Energy benchmarking fulfills the pledge of those museums committed to We Are Still In while demonstrating they are “talking the talk and walking the walk.”

More than 300 other museums in the U.S. have reported annually on the ESPM platform as a result of the growing number of cities with benchmarking laws. More recently, the state of California and the province of Ontario have similarly enacted bench-marking legislation.

Unique to the museum environment

While ESPM is based in North America, where the majority of the 55,000 museums worldwide reside, Arc is becoming a global platform to track buildings interested in common metrics, whether it is measuring energy in KBtu/sqft or GJ/m2. A universal carbon footprint is described in MTCo2e.  In addition to energy and water data that is easily exchanged between platforms, the carbon footprint associated with transportation and waste elimination is emerging as a pressing topic for public institutions such as museums.

Recognizing the critical balance between collection care and energy efficiency, the latest ASHRAE Chapter 24 on museums and associated facilities has issued new guidance this summer on humidity control with updated tables. This includes a larger temperature and humidity range tolerance that will help museums reduce their carbon footprints, while protecting valuable objects and archives.

Another important museum topic is indoor environmental quality. The ongoing schedules of changing exhibitions in museums and their resulting paints, chemical compounds, and incoming exhibit materials constantly pose potential compromises on air quality. These significant museum functions would be best served by higher levels of air monitoring than are commonly in use. Not only would it enhance human health for the staff and visitors every day, air quality data gives the conservation department more opportunities to communicate with the facilities staff to ensure building envelope, lighting and HVAC maintenance will benefit the public, office and collection areas. 

Opportunities for museums today and tomorrow

Centuries-old cultural institutions can last well into the future. Longevity in museums can translate to a higher cumulative carbon footprint, so, considering that museums have a very long service life, “Design, Build, Operate Green” seems to be more important now than ever before.  Benchmarking in existing museums and tracking performance is an imperative. In new construction, the greenest design strategies could be embraced: minimizing environmental impact while inspiring the community to think of the future as waste-, energy- and water-positive.

Joyce Lee, FAIA LEED Fellow
President, IndigoJLD Green + Health

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Robert Janes

    This is excellent, Joyce. Thanks very much for your update and overview of a critically important topic – museum energy use. The fact that the museum community is a colossal energy user is not common knowledge among our colleagues. Not only have you made this clear, but you have also indicated how we can constructively approach this enormous challenge. Halting all new museum construction would also be a good start, as concrete generates an enormous carbon footprint. We have over 55, 000 museums now in the world and we don’t need new buildings. Rather, we need a global museum commitment to confront the climate emergency in existing facilities. Thanks again for your important initiatives in reducing energy consumption in museums.

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