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The Sustainability Excellence Awards Environment and Climate Network

Category: Environmental Sustainability

The Sustainability Excellence Awards is a signature program of the Environment and Climate Network that educates, facilitates, and encourages green practices in museums. The Environment and Climate Network views the award as an opportunity to share sustainability stories and encourage museums to develop and educate visitors about green practices. Submission for the Sustainability Excellence Awards are now open and will be open until February 19, 2021, and you can learn more on our awards page.

Here are a few of our past winners to talk about their journey with sustainability in their museums.

How long has your museum been a member of the American Alliance of Museums? 

Mystic Seaport Museum (Mystic): 47 years

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National Nordic Museum (Nordic): Our records indicate that we became a member in the 1980s.

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (Phipps): According to AAM’s membership records, Phipps has been a member since 1988!

What made your museum want to submit your work for a Sustainability Excellence Award? 

Mystic: MSM is working hard to reduce our single-use plastic consumption. We started internally, educating ourselves about the impact of single-use plastics on the environment, particularly the marine environment, and researched ways we could affect change internally. We were beginning to do some public outreach to share the changes being made at the Museum, by sending out a press release, posting signs on the grounds, giving presentations to other groups, both locally, and at the Council of American Maritime Museums annual conference. Applying for the Sustainability Excellence Award was a wonderful opportunity to continue to spread the word about the efforts of Mystic Seaport Museum and continue to help other organizations begin to think about similar efforts.

Nordic: The award aligns with our institutional values.

Phipps: Phipps believes that museums, gardens, and other cultural institutions have a unique role to play in community leadership. Phipps first achieved the AAM’s Sustainability Excellence Award in 2014, its inaugural year; we see awards like this as adding credibility to the work we are doing, which goes a long way in helping us to engage our visitors and other constituents in getting involved and taking action.

Why is sustainability so important to your museum’s work?

Mystic: As a maritime institution, and the nation’s leading maritime museum, it is imperative that Mystic Seaport Museum also become a leader in efforts to improve our general practices and the resulting impact on our environment, particularly the marine environment. Our museum is situated on an estuary, which brings with it the responsibility to be stewards of the water and shoreline that provide so much for our institution. We recognize the gravity of our role in shedding light on the human impact on ocean health, and we believe in doing our part to move in a positive direction and to set a standard among maritime museums and surrounding communities.

Nordic: Sustainability is one of National Nordic Museum’s core values.

Phipps: We are committed to promoting human and environmental well-being through action and research, a natural evolution of our 127-year history of connecting people to nature. Our research shows that nearly nine out of 10 Phipps guests consider climate change a threat now or in the future. To lead by example and help our guests build their own capacity to address this important issue, Phipps aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through our buildings, operations, research, and programs while offering resources and incentives to our visitors, members, and neighbors to take similar steps at home and in the community.

Has the award helped promote your sustainability work further internally to your museum or externally to your community?

Mystic: There has been an important mix of both internal and external awareness brought about by this award. Our staff and volunteers are grateful for and proud of the recognition given for our efforts. The Museum has also received quite a bit of congratulations and recognition from friends of the Museum and from other organizations who are now interested in learning how they might also implement similar changes to reduce their single-use plastic consumption. Our hope was to make impactful changes internally that would inspire others to make similar changes, so receiving this award gave us a boost to that next step of inspiring other organizations. We hope to continue with our mission, and invite others join us.

Nordic: Yes, the notoriety received from the Award has helped us further our message about the importance of sustainability in our work.

Phipps: Awards like AAM’s are essential to promoting our message to a wider audience, particularly within the realm of cultural institutions. Phipps sees an essential opportunity to share, mentor, and learn alongside fellow museums, gardens, and zoos who want to want to aggressively address climate change in their operations, and awards like these are an important step in this process. Visit our new Climate Toolkit project ( to learn more about how you can join us!

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