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Towards a Green Future: Environment and Resource Sustainability in Museums

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog
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One of my stretch goals at CFM is helping to foster “a futurist in every museum.” To that end, I have been pleased to serve as an advisor to the California Association of Museums Leaders of the Future Program. That program has been the nucleus of museum futures studies on the west coast. This week, Lisa Eriksen, project director for the California Association of Museums’ Foresight Committee (also principal of Lisa Eriksen Consulting and adjunct faculty at the Museum Studies Program at John F. Kennedy University) updates us on the latest forecast from this group.

Issues relating to the environment can seem overwhelming. What is the “urban heat island effect”? Will we generate enough clean energy? How much will sea levels rise? How will our museums respond to environmental changes? How are we accountable to our environment as public institutions? There are so many unanswered questions that we can end up feeling powerless and ineffectual.
Yet as museum professionals—and as engaged citizens—we have a responsibility to address the environmental issues that may confront us in the future. Even if we are at a loss for specific implementation strategies, engaging in dialog and futures thinking can help us better prepare for coming changes.
To help encourage this dialog, the newly formed California Association of Museums’ Foresight Committee has recently published the Foresight Research Report: Environment and Resource Sustainability in Museums. The research for this report began as part of the CAM IMLS-funded Leaders of the Future training project and shares readings on a variety of sustainability issues and outlines some potential futures across a number of time horizons.
The fifth in a series, this foresight report just begins to touch on the complexities of the topic. It explores how changes in the environment may affect museums in the areas of operations and facilities, exhibitions and collections, visitor and in-house services, and outreach and community engagement. Our work in looking toward the future supports the laudable and ongoing efforts of CAM’s Green Museums Initiative and AAM’s PIC Green Network.
So what did we forecast for the future? We remain optimistic and yet acknowledge some great challenges and change ahead. A few highlights include:
·      In 2015, museums gather together and make a commitment to sustainability by re-working vision and mission statements to include a section on sustainability in exhibits, programs, collections and building infrastructure.
·      All public and commercial buildings will be inspected for their carbon footprint by 2020. Local historical sites and smaller institutions will have difficulty complying with the lower carbon footprint requirements. 
·      By 2030, global warming continues and sea level rise has caused the flooding, relocation, and closure of museums and aquariums along the coastline.
It was quite challenging to sum up the vast amount of data and articles on the topic of environmental trends. We are not experts on the environment, but the authors of this report have tried to round up information in hopes of sparking ongoing discussion. We want our museum colleagues to join us in the conversation in the online Museum Futures Community, an open discussion group.
Recently, much of our conversation on the topic of the environment and sustainability has focused on the current drought in California. One of the report’s authors, Megan Conn, Development Manager, Turtle Bay Exploration Park, shared this anecdote:
A friend of mine recently posted a link to this story about the likelihood of megadroughts in California’s future on his Facebook page. I did not initially look at the date and thought it was written recently—at least in the past year. Later, upon closer inspection, I saw the date of publication was 1994. And here we are in 2014—20 years later—faced with the driest year on record in our state’s history.  If we (or our museum predecessors) had seen this in 1994 is there anything we would have done differently at our museums to prepare? Perhaps included water conservation messages in exhibitions? Switched to low-flow toilets in our facilities? Xeriscaped our campuses?  Could we have done more to prepare?  What information is out there now that might give us signals about the future?
We invite you, our colleagues in all parts of the country, to join us in the Museum Futures Community*, check out the Report, and let us know what you think. What environmental trend gives you the most cause for concern? How is your museum planning to deal with it in the future? 
Together, we can create a sustainable future for our museums—and the world! 
*If you are already a member of the CA Museum Online Community, click here to sign in and join the group. If you are not a member of the CA Museum Community Online, you will need to sign up first before joining the Museum Futures Community. It is free to join the online community and the group. 

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One thought on “Towards a Green Future: Environment and Resource Sustainability in Museums

  1. I agree on all aspects – applaud the gathering for reworking statements and plans, lose sleep over the effects of sea level rise on valuable sites of all kinds, and am trying to figure out how to help with the carbon footprint measurement/recording requirement.

    I have hopes that the instruments from Energy Star's Portfolio Manager to Carbon-labeling on products will become so commonplaces as to make this an easy compliance project.

    To help us get started, everyone should please consider using Portfolio Manager as an easy way to record energy use and identify carbon footprints from measurable energy use. The bonus is that pretty soon – with enough of us contributing – we will have enough data to convince EPA to create a museums category that gives us all a free tool for comparing energy use across the field.

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