American Alliance of Museums 2015 Annual Meeting Green Recap

Did you go to AAM Atlanta 2015 this year?  This year’s AAM Annual Meeting theme, “The Social Value of Museums: Inspiring Change,” had an inspirational message about the role of museums in inclusivity and social engagement.  Sustainability has a role in this as well since it is often defined as a holistic approach to social, environmental, and economic issues.   This was well demonstrated with several sessions and events at this year’s AAM event.  Here is a quick recap and report out of the green events and sessions!  

Creative Coalitions Reception

Since the 2014 AAM Annual Meeting in Seattle, several professional networks have worked together on a joint reception to reinforce the need for cross-disciplinary collaboration.  This year’s second event was even better than the first - with the Latino Network, Indigenous Peoples Museum Network, Asian Pacific American Network, AAAM, DIVCOM, LGBTQ, and PIC Green.  The Latino Network prepared a new version of a post-it idea wall centered around the question "how can the networks represent your interests?"   Check out some of the pictures from the posts and the reception on the PIC Green Flickr site.    

 Image: Post-It wall asking  how professinoal networks can help represent interests. (S.Xu)

Summit on Sustainability Standards 2015

On it’s third year, the Summit further advanced the conversation around museum sustainability standards.  Playing off of the first event at the 2013 Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Sarah Sutton, the session organizer, summed up the key findings from that initial conversation.  These included the options for museums to quantify sustainability - ranging from certifications like LEED and Energy  Star to specific metrics like GHG emissions.  To learn more about the conversations from the 2013 Summit, check out the white paper that summarizes conversations from three sessions and speakers from the SITES, Green Globes, LEED, and several museum case studies, including the Minnesota Historical Society.  In 2014, the conversation looked outward to other professions, including city planning, universities, and hospital sustainability efforts.  Finally, this 2015 session focused on discussion around how the museum industry might adopt either a standard certification or metric.  

Triple Bottom Line Talk Show

Using a talk show format, this session featured a diverse group of speakers. Tim Hecox, Judy Margles, Tonya Matthews, and myself all spoke on our journeys towards holistic and sustainable approaches.  The Oregon of Museum of Science & Industry, Tim’s organization, presented on a new approach to 5 year and 20 year institutional visions.  I talked about our larger use of data in the sustainability program with some specific examples of more social and staff oriented activities.  Tonya, the Director and CEO of the Michigan Science Center, formerly the Detroit Science Center, described her early experience there, arriving to an institution on the brink of failure and the turn-around that she facilitated.   Judy told the story of the challenging merger of the Oregon Jewish Museum and the Center for Holocaust Education.  

While seemingly different the group did have many things in common.  Sustainability for one is not just environment in the case of our presentation, nor is it just fiscal in Tonya’s case.  The social aspect of thinking holistically is often forgotten and that became a common thread in our discussions - how social, environmental, and financial merge together to create better results all around.  One example was generated from the discussion among our panel and with an audience member - a classroom / volunteer based waste sorting activity that would (1) engage and educate participants in the environmental issues, (2) allow an organization to conduct a waste audit and collect important data for benchmarking, and (3) help drive waste reduction initiatives that address what the waste audit reveals - perhaps this will be and upcoming More for the Mission activity?  

Achieving Competing Goals: Energy Efficient Cold Storage

Concluding our NEH-funded study, a panel of our experts presented the study results and significance for other collections.  Michele Pacifico, an archival architectural consultant out of Washington DC, established the problem with cold storage standards.  From ISO to NARA to ASHRE to BSI, there is a mix of what is considered to be acceptable temperature and relative humidity setpoint ranges.  Without much industry standard agreement, most collections aim for as low as their systems can go.  Rebecca Ellis, president of Questions & Solutions Engineering, presented on HVAC system basics.  She noted that there are many similar requirements for systems throughout the U.S., regardless of climate.  Most regions of the U.S. require heating, cooling, dehumidification, and humidification to control sensitive environments.  Some areas in the southwest and southeast require only one or the other of humidification and dehumidification.  While scale may differ, our Minnesota system has similar challenges to a system in California or New York.  

I presented the NEH-funded study at MNHS, including an overview of our broader sustainability program, and the data we collected throughout the cold storage project.  The data helped refine down a multitude of options to a clearer balanced solution for both energy savings and increase preservation quality.  However, it is also important to remember that it’s not just one solution for MNHS or for any other institution with cold storage.  The data and the process allowed us to understand the trade-offs with each option.  Given different funding circumstances or different partnership opportunities, we also have a number of other options that we explored that can increase energy-savings and preservation performance to different extents.  This underscores the importance of process and in particular interdisciplinary teams.  Sarah Sutton, consultant and co-author of the Green Museum and Environmental Sustainability at Historic Sites and Museums, presented on how our group of over 20 team members, consultants, and expert panelists were uniquely able to arrive at the results of the study.    

The Sustainability Tour

Finally, on the last day, we took a tour of two great examples of green advocacy - Southface Energy Institute and the Atlanta Monetary Museum / Federal Reserve.  Southface headquartered in a LEED-EBOM Gold certified building and they pulled out the stops.  Their hyperinsulated walls minimize cooling and heating, they maximize daylighting opportunities with light shelves and strategically placed windows, and they have an amazing green roof patio space that also houses their rainwater collection tank for irrigating their landscape.  The mission of the organization is equally “green.”  They help educate and advocate for sustainability, regardless of how sustainability is defined or measured.  They have staff members that are experts in different certifications like LEED, BREAAM, Living Building Challenge, and Green Gloves, but also principles and ideas like biomimetic design.  

Due to the high level of security, we were not allowed to take any pictures, but we did receive some bags of shredded money, which was one of their primary sustainability challenges.  The Federal Reserve sorts through and processes cash, pulling out bills that are no longer in good enough condition to be circulated.  Those bills are shredded up into small pieces and add up to over 2 tons per month for the organization in Atlanta alone, not including any of the other Federal Reserve banks throughout the US.  Several attempts at creating recycled paper, or recycled countertop and other materials led to challenges in managing that quantity of linen paper shreds.  Interesting enough, these shreds are composed of so much linen and not paper that they are not suitable for recycled paper.  The final approach of composting the shreds is how the Monetary Museum is managing the waste.  Every industry has some really different challenges!  

 Image: Picture of green roof patio on Southface Energy Institute. (S.Xu)

Did you go this year or in the past?  Please share your AAM / green stories!