July 10, 2012 | Roger Chang

To kick off our new blog, The Current, IMT asked experts from a range of disciplines to describe a new frontier for energy efficiency. In this guest post, Roger Chang discusses the challenge and importance of making museums greener.

One of my fondest memories as a child was visiting the Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. I was amazed seeing the rockets that had flown into space, and in awe that they were now in a special home designed just for them.

Now, 25 years later, I have the fortune to be involved in the design of museums across the country. There’s nothing like the joy of seeing young people absorbing new knowledge in a museum.

Yet, today, museums are faced with far greater challenges than ever before–tight operating budgets, rising energy costs, inadequate training for facility managers, and a lack of mandates for improved sustainability. And museums can be resource-intensive, requiring stringent control of temperature, light, and humidity; waste management and exhibit durability are also issues.

The ultimate mission of a museum is education: What better way to inspire future generations than to carefully integrate sustainable design principles into exhibit design, museum technology, and architecture?

Finding What Works–and What Doesn’t

Over the past five years, a professional interest committee within the American Association of Museums (AAM), PIC Green, has emerged as a dynamic and committed group of museum experts devoted to sharing the green stories of institutions across the country. In the coming year–leading up to the 2013 AAM annual meeting in Baltimore–the group will be reaching out to institutions that have experienced green-building certification, to determine where processes worked, where they failed, and where they can be improved.

With the tremendous amount of public comment on LEED 2012 (now v4), it’s crucial that the museum community has a voice, given the impact that museums have on all of our communities.

The outcome of the work will be a database of case studies and support tools covering a variety of topics, including museum operations, education, technology, and exhibit transport.

Object Lessons

In the past few years, an increasing number of institutions, including art museums, have successfully implemented the use of LED lighting, reducing lighting power by up to 75%. It’s vital to share these stories–stories of institutions like the Yale University Art Gallery, where facility managers have developed their own reusable crating systems to reduce waste, to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, which has one of the highest recycling rates in the country, to California’s Water + Life Museums, the first LEED Platinum museum in the United States.

As an industry, we can only benefit from the stories institutions have to share, even if they are stories of failure, missed targets, or underperforming outcomes. We can do better by learning what doesn’t work, so we can continue to move forward with what can work, more often.

By doing so, we ultimately embrace the notion that the education museums provide is truly the greatest gift we can bestow on our future leaders and innovators. Museums inspire all of us in some way. They’ve inspired me to do what I can to leave a better future for my own children.

Roger Chang, PE, LEED AP, is a principal and the director of sustainability at the architecture and engineering firm Westlake Reed Leskosky.

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Roger Chang

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