Highlights from the Summit on Sustainability at AAM 2013

Last month in Baltimore I attended what I think has been the most important Summit on Sustainability thus far for museums. Spearheaded by PIC Green, AAM’s sustainability committee and moderated by Sarah Brophy, the summit was broken up into 3 parts, see my earlier post. Each section had about 5-6 presenters focusing on but not limited to: practices, tools, case studies and personal experience.


The first section had 6 speakers that covered a wide range of topics. A couple highlighted some building certification/rating systems, like Green Globes and the Living Building Challenge and showed how they can act as a guide to make your building more environmentally sound. Andrea Schnitzer, the National Program Manager at Energy Star spoke about their Portfolio Manager, which is an interactive energy management tool that allows you to track and assess energy and water consumption across your entire portfolio of buildings in a secure online environment. We also heard from Kari Jensen from OMSI explaining the process of how Exhibit Seed came into existence. It is a beta site of sustainable practices used to create exhibits. Definitely worth checking out as it is just as important to green your exhibits as it is your building. Lastly and my favorite was Holly Shimizu, Executive Director for the United States Botanic Gardens. She spoke about Sustainable Sites, an interdisciplinary effort by the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin and the United States Botanic Garden to create voluntary national guidelines and performance benchmarks for sustainable land design, construction and maintenance practices. In other words, Sustainable Sites promotes green spaces and shows how important it is work in accordance with the land and surrounding eco-systems.

The second part focused on what we have accomplished and several case studies were presented. The highlights were PIC Green’s own Shengyin Xu from the Minnesota Historical Society talked about her role as the Sustainability Specialist for their 26 sites. One of their biggest challenges was finding energy saving solutions for 26 different historic sites. Susan Glassman from the Wagner Free Institute spoke about her instituions journey with LEED. And Holly Shimizu, Executive Director for the United States Botanic Garden, spoke about how having  a truly green building is when you have green outdoor space as well. The USBG helped develop SITES(tm) The Sustainable Sites Initiative(tm), which is an interdisciplinary partnership led by the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin and the United States Botanic Garden to transform land development and management practices with the nation’s first voluntary rating system for sustainable land design, construction and maintenance practices.   aquarium-from-water-taxi600

The third part, moderated by Laura Roberts was an analysis of how we can move forward with the tools that we presently possess. Some common limitations mentioned were how to accurately measure metrics and how to create positive behavioral change thus reinforcing core values within the industry. There are many leaders in similar industries to follow, like colleges and universities. When looking at that industry it seems that they are a few steps ahead. But we have all the tools in place as Wendy Jessup from Wendy Jessup & Associates and AIC stated that we are need to work together since we have common goals for museums to become more sustainable.

Three things that were refreshing and that I learned:

1. Almost all women panel, who are smart, engaged and motivated!

2. Conference positions PIC Green to be the leader and portal for Sustainability for museums and lays groundwork for partnerships with other organization like AIC, who also has a committee for sustainable conservation practices.

3. Highlighted the major gaps where we need to focus: education (behavioral change), long range planning and funding.

Here is a list of some resources to help assist your museum to become more sustainable.

1. PIC Green,  AAM’s sustainability committee. You have to be a member of AAM to join and there are several committees ranging from development to projects that you can be a part of, if  you are looking to join, contact us here. The major project PIC Green is working is the Sustainable Operations Tool Kit. It is a developing resource which focuses on solutions for greening day-to-day museum operations.

2. Green Museum Accord is an institution-wide pledge to be environmentally responsible which is a partnership between CAM (California Association of Museums) and AAM (specifically PIC Green).

3. AIC (American Institute of Conservators) has a committee for sustainable conservation practices.

4. IPI (Image Permanence Institute) give information webinars on Sustainable Preservation Practices. The next one is on July 10th: Investigate your HVAC System & Identify Potential Energy Savings, register here.