Sustainability Consultancy for Cultural Institutions


Learn more about Sustainable Energy at NESEA’s Building Energy NYC 2015


If you are in New York City next week on October 15th and you are interested in sustainable energy and green building, don’t miss NESEA’s annual Building Energy 2015 Conference. The conference focuses on renewable energy and highlights what is happening in the forefront of the industry. There will be 6 tracks with 24 educational sessions over the course of the day given by top professionals in their field, plus over 50 trade show exhibitors and tons of networking. If you are already in the field then come brush up on your skills, if not then come to learn more about how important energy efficiency is for all sectors of our great city!


A Conversation with Miranda Massie from NYC Climate Museum

Sitting outside at a quaint West Village cafe on a late summer Friday evening I got to catch up with Miranda Massie, the star behind the new soon to be Climate Museum in NYC. The notion of the Climate Museum came shortly after Miranda experienced first hand the affects of Hurricane Sandy, as she told the NY Times, “I think Sandy took the urgency I was feeling about the climate and raised it by an order of magnitude. It made me feel like I didn’t have the idea; the idea had me.” Since the inception of the idea the museum now has a 5-year provisional charter from the Board of Regents of New York State and is gearing up for the next phases of some exciting public programming.


Sharon Gaber (SG): Seeing as this is a Climate Museum and you’ll be presenting this topic with as much transparency as possible will you be seeking funders who have already implemented CSR, corporate social responsibility? And could you talk about any prospective funders and where the initial investment will be allocated.

Miranda Massie (MM): There is not that much we can say about funding at the moment, we are in the quiet stage of a seed raising fund campaign so we are not able to make public investment statements about it. But we do have decisions to make as trustees about who we want to work with. Right now we are raising capital specifically to do a pop-up exhibit on Governor’s Island in partnership with the Earth Institute for next summer, as well as upcoming community meetings and panels throughout the city and finally an idea’s design competition. Our pathway right now in terms of funding is: public programming of different kinds, an interim museum sized around 10,000 – 20,000 sq ft, and the final institution, sized around 100,000 sq ft.

SG: I saw some of the designs for the final museum, in considering that design how will green building and sustainability come into play? And do you think you will design a LEED certified building?

MM: I think it will be incredibly important for the building to use both beauty and scale to inspire visitors and to elevate the subject and experience for one thing. And for a second thing it’s going to be mandatory for the building in others ways to express the museum’s mission in relation to efficiency and carbon neutrality, for sure but exactly what it will be is unknown right now.  In terms of LEED, it is so preliminary it is a big question mark, however, I would advocate that the museum building should seek to provide inspiration and leadership on those kinds of standards and far exceed whatever the current best practices are. The museum’s design should be seeking to move the ball forward on efficiency and emissions.

SG: In terms of exhibits, you mentioned Governor’s island, do you have ideas for the exhibit and how you will be presenting them?

Miranda: Yes, we do. We have an idea of a collaboration with the Earth Institute as our central exhibit on Governor’s Island but there will be more than one thing going on out there next summer. The collaboration with them is on a report that they will be finalizing and will be released next Spring showing pathways to 80% carbon reduction by 2050 for the USA as a whole. It’s going to be absolutely awesome! We are choosing a designer in the weeks to come, the timeline is pretty short and the task of that firm will be to take the geekiest report ever and make is completely captivating and accessible to you and me and my nephews and niece.


SG: I imagine you will have the latest technology at the museum, any ideas of apps that you may be using?

MM: We envision having an app, pursuant to which when you leave the museum if you chose you can examine a crowd source list of options that other people have identified or prepared to take, that could be anything like: I will have one conversation with my colleague, a member of my mosque, synagogue or church to I will quit my job and go work for NRDC. We think we need all hands on deck, we think we need actions large and small in every time frame and we want to give people the ability to choose what works for them, choose their first foothold and hopefully then build on it wherever they are starting and be able to feed that information back into the museum so it becomes part of the inspiring, curated content of the institution.

SG: Do you have any plans for NYC Climate Week coming up?

MM: Yes, and I am so excited to tell you that we are participating in climate week. We are doing an affiliate event, just an informal, small thing, but a day of conversations at the museum offices with the staff. We are incredibly excited to be affiliated with Climate Week NYC 2015 and the The Climate Group and it’s great development for us!


Harvard’s Commitment to Sustainability

Harvard Museum 1


Recently the newly renovated Harvard University Museums earned the LEED Gold Certification from USGBC. The Institution itself has made an impressive commitment to sustainability, so we would expect no less when it comes to their museums. The most innovative and poignant strategy are their super-efficient LED lightbulbs.

As noted by Harvard and numerous other cultural institutions, lighting is one of the toughest sustainability challenges to tackle. Peter Atkinson, the museums’ director of facilities planning and capital management had to work closely with the preservation department to insure that the energy efficient LED’s would provide high-quality, consistent color rendering for displaying the artwork. Not an easy problem to solve, it took months of testing and attentive analysis.

As all museum professionals know light damage to works of art remains a serious concern. “The energy of light not only causes fading and changes the color of pigments, but also catalyzes chemical reactions that lead to deterioration of paper, cloth, leather, and other materials that give works their structural integrity.” Harvard was able to install LED’s to around 2,000 fixtures, lighting the entire collection as well as eliminating the excess heat that incandescent bulbs give off. So all in all by making the switch to LED’s, Harvard has been able to lower energy costs, increase efficiency and reduce physical waste. The University’s vendor has already reported a significant uptick in requests to use them in other museum settings, a great sign for other institutions wanting to take the plunge.


Part II: Basic Methods to Improve Indoor Air Quality for Museums

Continuing on from the previous post, here is Part II:


Next and probably the most important is installing or retrofitting your HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) system. Having a properly functioning and efficient HVAC system is the most effective strategy to reducing dust, particulate and gaseous pollutants. Many damaging pollutants are handled through the use of a layered filtration system (air filters and activated charcoal filters) within the air handling systems at a museum. In exhibit cases and storage units, select materials that will not emit harmful contaminants. Good housekeeping practices, like placing entryway mats will decrease dust and allergens and always use HEPA filters in vacuum cleaners to limit particulate re-distribution. Moisture problems are another common source of indoor air pollution as they can lead to indoor mold growth. Mold can also emit VOCs and particulates, compromising indoor air quality and leading to negative health effects.  Since it is impossible to eliminate mold spores, the best way to reduce the impact of mold on indoor air quality is to prevent or promptly repair the moisture problems that enable mold growth. Purchasing a high-grade dehumidifier will solve this problem. So for HVAC systems take the time to learn about what your institution needs, talk to your Facilities manager and invest in a superior ventilation system as it creates healthier indoor air, uses less energy, and saves the museum money. All in all it can make a tremendously positive impact for the collections, staff and visitors.

Lastly, using green cleaning products will drastically lessen the amount toxic chemicals that are brought into a space. Choosing less hazardous products that have positive environmental attributes (e.g., biodegradability, low toxicity, low VOC content, low life cycle energy use) and taking steps to reduce exposure can minimize harmful impacts to collections, building occupants, visitors, plus improve indoor air quality. The best way to start to change over to green cleaning is take the following steps:

1) Plan for your green cleaning program – list every place in the museum that will be affected

2) Select certified products – do your homework and investigate all the ingredients in the chosen product, make       sure they are genuinely safe

3) Introduce green equipment and supplies

4) Adopt a green cleaning protocol with specific procedures listed

5) Lastly share the responsibility

A key aspect for any museum to adopt green standards is to share the knowledge and responsibilities among the staff. The more people are involved, the easier it will be to convince those skeptical of all the benefits from taking the above actions.

Indoor air quality is important to health, productivity and learning. And since a museum’s prime focus is a learning instrument, it is vital that we take appropriate conservation measures to ensure longevity for the collections and people.

Below are some additional resources to learn more about how to improve your indoor air quality and ultimately, green your museum.

Indoor Air Quality Association

Center for Environmental Health

PIC Green – AAM Sustainable Committee

Green Museum Accord

American Institute for Conservation

Green Guard

Cooper Hewitt Green Exhibition Design

Children’s Museum Pittsburgh

Brooklyn Children’s Museum


Part I: Basic Methods to Improve Indoor Air Quality for Museums

inside museum-newEach museum may have it’s own individually tailored mission statement but common to all museums is that they house a specific kind of collection, have hundreds if not thousands of visitors per year and provide office space to their diligently working staff. With that said, the indoor air quality of a museum is paramount to its survival and ultimate success. Not only does the air need to be kept at a certain temperature range, but it also needs to be free of harmful toxins for both collections and people. After many years of study, researchers have found any number of air-borne toxins, such as gases or fumes released from wood, acidic paper, fire-retardant fabrics and other products used in construction. Also, corrosive vapors released by certain glues, paints, fabrics and urea-formaldehyde in plywood are found to corrode metals and create poor indoor air quality. These are just some of the dangers lurking in the air, but due to the surging green building trend and the tireless work of many committed environmental organizations, we have more product options and a wider range of knowledge to eliminate these dangerous chemicals from our air. The following are the key methods to reducing pollutants in a museum’s environment: use environmentally sound materials for construction and throughout the museum, place entryway mats to reduce dust/allergens, use proper ventilation systems, this includes using a dehumidifier and always use non toxic cleaning products, it is an absolute must. We will examine 3  categories more thoroughly in respect to specifically minimizing a museum’s indoor air pollutants.

Children’s museums were early adopters of using green materials and have set the trend for many others to follow. We all know that children are always touching, tasting and feeling everything so choosing to use materials with low or no VOC is imperative to keeping them healthy and the indoor air toxin-free. Each and every product has the ability to off-gas, meaning any residual chemicals used in making the products can be released into the surrounding indoor air. This applies to every product you may use in your museum, from the construction materials and paint used to prepare for a new exhibit to display cases, printers, photocopies and more. It also includes the actual museum objects themselves, metal, wood and paint can off-gas numerous kinds of chemicals of which museums staff has less control over. So when putting a new exhibit together look carefully at your materials and see where you can choose the environmentally safe option, nowadays paint, building materials and adhesives all have low or no VOC options. Also, choose materials that are certified formaldehyde free with near-zero off gassing. Use vegetable based or eco-solvent (low VOC) inks and substrates made form recycled paper and fabrics. And for vinyls use a biodegradable PVC alternative that when exposed to landfill conditions, is broken down by microbes. All of these choices are important first steps when making the switch to a greener museum, which results in cleaner indoor air.

Here are a few online resources to help get you started on choosing safer materials: – Sustainable Product Guide  – General overview of green products – General overview of green building products

Green Building Product Certifications  – Overview of all third party certifications – Tips on how to get started with a Green Exhibit

Project Regenerate UC Davis Design Museum – Green Exhibitions