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AAM Annual Meeting Sustainability Wrap-Up

What a great time at the 2013 AAM Annual Meeting last week in Baltimore!   Among the many highlights of the conference was the new app that organized all program and session information alongside social media and notifications.  This was the first year for the app, so there were still print programs, but there will be some great paper savings next year.  At a larger scale, though, sustainability was featured all throughout the conference.  As a new co-chair on Professional Interest Committee on Green, I met many leaders in sustainability that are doing great conservation work in their own businesses or in museums.   Also, the Summit on Sustainability Standards in Museums produced a great discussion on the challenges and benefits of standardization.  

PIC-Green's MuseumExpo booth.

PIC-Green's MuseumExpo booth at the AAM 2013 Annual Meeting.  Pictured are our very own Matt Hill, and Luke Leyh from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (photo credit: PIC-Green).

My primary reason for attending was to help organize the Summit on Sustainability Standards in Museums.  Part of the mission AAM’s Professional Interest Committee on Green (PIC-Green), it was a series of three sessions designed to assess the field’s experience with, response to, and appetite for environmental sustainability metrics.  The first session began with a review of common sustainability metrics in the U.S., including USGBC’s LEED, Sustainable Sites, International Living Future Institute, GBI's Green Globes, ExhibitSEED, and US EPA’s EnergyStar programs.  This session, led by Sarah Brophy, author of Green Museums and a museum consultant, covered the existing metrics other fields, and some museums use.  These metric systems not only covered green buildings, but also green exhibit design, landscapes, and operations. 

Session two of the Summit looked at museum case studies of metric use.  Wagner Free Institute, Utah Natural History Museum, Haas-Lilienthal House, Cooper-Hewitt, Balboa Park Cultural Partnership, and the Minnesota Historical Society were represented.  Along with many other exciting sustainability programs at museums, I presented on our use of GHG emissions as our sustainability metric.  Check-out my presentation on the Minnesota Historical Society.  

The third session was a moderated discussion with Laura Roberts, a leader in the museum and education field.  While I am biased since I helped organize this session, this was my favorite of the conference.  The goal was not just to discuss what has been done with our 12 panelists from sessions one and two, but to involve the audience in articulating where we want to go from here.  We had exhibit designers, conservators, directors, curators, architects, engineers, and many others in the audience that provided great insight to the potential for sustainability standards in museums.  The most exciting part was the strong support for sustainability among the audience and panelists.  There were still many unresolved questions on how we can come to a consensus on metrics or minimum performance goals.  In addition, the largest complication comes from the wide range of fields that museums encompass.  This includes very different types of museums - from science and industry to history and art, as well as many different operations within these museums - from artifact conservation to education to design.  This will be a big challenge of figuring out the the metrics that best represent all these operations, that also fit all these museums.

However, the Summit still brings an optimistic tone.  The level of commitment by PIC-Green and by the many audience members in the conversation brings to the forefront that we may be getting past the buy-in stage.  While there may still be some time and effort to get to standards, it is amazing to see how many museums have utilized LEED, Living Building Challenge, and even Energy Star for new construction or major renovations.  Even at a smaller scale, ExhibitSEED’s sustainable exhibit checklist looks at the material selection and waste considerations in designing cases and stands.  Further, work done on landscapes and historic buildings also brings a level of optimism that you do not need to start over with a new building to be green.  As a culmination to the Summit, there will be a white paper available on AAM’s site.  And, to stay involved, follow the Summit website sustainablemuseum.com for more information.  

Other highlights of the conference include PIC-Green’s launch of the Sustainable Operations Toolkit, which is a framework for sharing sustainability case studies, resources, and best-practices.  The goal of this tool is to have museums participate in populating the information, while PIC-Green will be the content editors.  In addition to the tool, PIC-Green also launched the Green Accord, based off of the California Association of Museum’s Green Accord.  It is a non-binding pledge signed by museum leaders to think, act, and be green. 

All in all, it was a great event for sustainability and museums.  I look forward to furthering the conversation in Seattle during the 2014 annual meeting.  In the meantime, check-out pic-green.net and sustainablemuseum.com.