STiCH: Sustainability Tools in Cultural Heritage

Screen capture of the STiCH website displaying the word with each letter filled with colorful patterns and linking the viewer to sections of the website.

The field is beginning to accelerate its movement toward more sustainable and climate-friendly approaches. STiCH is part of that movement. It is a multi-year effort by the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation with the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities to help the cultural heritage profession make informed choices about its impacts.

We hope you will explore the website, use the tool, and read the case studies and information sheets as they’re added and expanded upon.

Then we hope you’ll contact us with ideas AND stories of how you’ve used the tool in your care for the nation’s cultural heritage at stich@culturalheritage.org

“It seemed to me that those who cared would still do this work.” They have.

We’re entering a new climate action era in the United States. Sustainable Museums is stepping into that era with a grateful bow to some of the colleagues and partnerships that molded cultural sector climate action these last three years.

In 2017, on June 1, when former President Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, it seemed to me that those who cared about this work would keep doing it anyway. I called colleagues and clients to ask if they felt #MuseumsforParis was something they could get behind. They said yes. Once my first ten calls identified ten supporters, I knew I needed more heft: more expertise and reach than my one-woman-under-the-avocado-tree “office” then offered me.

Just days later on June 5th, We Are Still In (WASI) burst on the scene as a coalition of what I would come to know as “non-state actors”: the everyone-but-the-feds group that cared about this work and were going to keep doing it anyway. I was thrilled. The companies, the city and state governments, and higher education had come together in a fascinating way: it was integrated design for action, not for a single project or product. It seemed a near-perfect strategy. All it was missing was a place for cultural institutions.

In March 2018, Henry McGhie, now of Curating Tomorrow, organized a turning-point moment, the International Symposium on Climate Change and Museums. That’s where many museum and preservation folks from around the world met in person for the first time. We forged international connections that continue to thrive. Who knew there were so many working so completely on the role of culture in climate action: Australia, England, Scotland, US, Canada, Italy, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands…?

And then suddenly it was October and many of us were convening at the Global Climate Action Summit. There were forty or more global cultural heritage institutions meeting over two days as Andrew Potts and Julianne Polanco hosted the Climate Heritage Network planning meeting, building an international network aligned with ICOMOS. And about 200 of the 2800 signatories to We Are Still In were gathering as well. The purpose was to plan how WASI would build strength and enable climate action in the face of unrelenting dismantling of climate work by the national leadership. About 10 of the WASI participants were cultural institutions, including Monterey Bay Aquarium, Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, The Field Museum, and California Academy of Sciences.

During the 2018 WASI and Climate Heritage Network meetings I came to fully realize the power of cross-sector, multi-lateral work, and the potency of alliances based on shared values and profiting from varied skills and resources.

2019 saw a big green push at ICOM in Kyoto, cultural institutions participating in Climate Week NYC, and a convergence of international friends and allies at the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties 25 in Madrid. Allied efforts with Climate Heritage Network and Curating Tomorrow meant that those of us working nationally and internationally on museums, the arts, and cultural heritage in support of climate action could leverage each other for greater and broader impact.

Internationally, WASI was committed to ensuring the World knew the US was still working towards the goals of the Paris Agreement, and that no nation should step away from the responsibility. WASI participation at the COP was a demonstration of that commitment. People from around the world frequently thanked We Are Still In representatives for staying the course. There was a hunger to see the country return to this global effort.

In the US, in 2020, there were now 87 cultural sector signatories to We Are Still In. The general understanding of our sector’s role in this work was broadening but uptake was blocked by the growing pandemic. During COVID, our work focused on building internal capacities and initiative resilience. After momentarily pausing our efforts for fear of sounding tone-deaf, as Elan Strait said, we began to realize that the converging crises of climate change, health, economics and equity increased the need for action that built a more stable, healthy world for all – climate action.

We focused on our own relationships and on supporting community resilience. Sustainable Museums coordinated the sector’s letter to Congress for recovery funds that focused on multi-sector support. We strengthened muscles and developed expertise as we waited for an environment allowing us to do more. With the election of President Biden and Vice-President Harris, we knew change is coming. We Are Still In prepared to be all-in alongside the federal government.

Now, with an international climate envoy in John Kerry, and a domestic climate leader in Gina McCarthy, we, of this movement, are poised to support global and domestic advances across every sector. The people who care about this work have kept it up, converging from all sectors to support each other and drive climate action.

Every moment since beginning my work with We Are Still In, I have been proud of, and thrilled and encouraged by, the talent, selflessness, experience, and commitment of the WASI executive committee and Secretariat. These include the leadership from World Wildlife Fund deployed to We Are Still In (Elan Strait, Kevin Taylor, Ryan Finnegan, now also Tansy-Massey Green and Hannah Greenfelder); my sector lead colleagues in higher education (Tim Carter), organizers of mayors and governors (Brent Thorington and James Ritchotte, and the team at US Climate Alliance); and the representatives of Climate Nexus (Alison Fajans-Turner and Emma Hutchinson) and America’s Pledge (Carla Frisch and Nate Hultman). There are many more to name here who have committed their time, expertise, knowledge, and relationships, to build a safer, healthier, more just future for us all through climate action. Their capacity to learn, adapt, and counsel themselves and each other continuously reminds me that we are truly able to advance climate action, and that more of us will soon be able to step up, too.

With the call for signatories to the letter for America is All In, now 96 cultural institutions have signed on. (You can sign on here.) As We Are Still In adapts yet again to opportunity and need, cultural institutions will support the dual responsibilities of domestic and international examples and allies for climate action. The sector and Sustainable Museums are all in. Sustainable Museums will be proudly continuing to promote the sector’s work.

You can expect

  • new calls to, and resources for, measuring and monitoring action so that we are transparent and accountable, and provide ample examples for others
  • a focus on city-based and state-based cooperative approaches to climate action that benefit all entities
  • research that advances professional practice on energy, collections care, and public interactions to scale change within the sector, and
  • a relentless pursuit of access to funds, talent and resources that help the sector prioritize climate action.

This work must and will move ahead in ways that are mission-driven and science-based, that support community equity, and that build accountability to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement commitments.

Climate Change and Museums edition of Journal of Museum Management & Curatorship

I’m delighted to share this special issue with you all. It is freely accessible to everyone.

You’ll recognize many of the authors’ names, and meet a few new ones, perhaps: Joy Davis (our marvelous and patient editor), Bob Janes (the driver and our chief motivator), Jenny Newell, Diane Dubray, Julie Decker, Henry McGhie, Asha Singhal, Ben Sutter, Follin and Helen Arfvidsson, and the Bushfire Response Team of the National Museum of Australia.

Their material covers a range of scale and effort in the sector, with input from all around the World, that is so impressive and encouraging. It couldn’t possibly capture the degree of work happening now. But I remember when a single book needed examples from outside the sector to adequately address the potential of “sustainability” for museums. In 2006 or so, when Elizabeth Wylie and I began writing about this work, and I was Sarah Brophy, we had to find examples from other LEED buildings and other industries to make our case. When we wrote the second edition of The Green Museum: A Primer on Environmental Practice just five years later, it was one-third longer and ALL the examples were from museums, zoos, gardens, aquariums, parks and historic sites.

We’ve come so, so far as a sector, but Bob Janes’ call for alarm is legitimate and necessary. What we’ve done so far, collectively, is nowhere near enough – inside our sector and outside of it. I do know that there is much to celebrate and build on because I see it demonstrated every day among my colleagues on the Executive Committee of We Are Still In – the largest coalition of supporters of the Paris Agreement anywhere in the World. I see momentum.

I see momentum we can draw upon and contribute to. So, to Bob’s call for internal and external work to improve our field, I add the priority of cross-sector engagement. We will not solve renewable energy and clean transportation as a sector, but we can support other sectors to further understanding and adoption, perhaps even test some of the new resources for the public. We can do research that supports alternative and sustainable agricultural sectors by fostering community and Indigenous approaches. And we can work with the energy and construction sector to improve our buildings so that they last and are not a burden but an asset for the Earth.

Please take the time to educate yourself as much as possible – and continuously. And please gather your curiosity, courage, and commitment for our arsenal for helping to heal the planet. It matters so much more than most of us realize.

Cultural Institutions & The Paris Agreement’s 5th Anniversary

Three and a half years ago, on June 1, 2017, when the US President announced his intention to withdraw the United States from its commitments to the World, it seemed to me (and many others) that those of us who care, would still do the work of limiting climate change and restoring the planet’s climate and social systems to healthy conditions for human and non-human animals.

I was reassured by the response as I called clients and colleagues to see if they would join me in what was then named #MuseumsforParis, and has become @CultureforParis to reflect a broader participation from the sector. I also realized I needed allies in this – that a sector alone cannot do this work, and it should not be done without our sector. Then We Are Still In appeared on the scene. I watched what they were doing, and was so excited by their cross-sector approach. They knew that cities and states and tribal nations had to engage where the federal government didn’t, but that these place-based governments needed allies in companies (who had more money and both national and local audiences), investors, and higher education (the research pipeline with significant national infrastructure). Where there was already green momentum, these sectors came together. Soon We Are Still In adopted health, faith-based, and cultural institutions to engage more layers of direct climate impact (though building use, transit, and energy generation) but also public engagement. That public engagement is key to expanding political will to do the right, green things. The hard work of changing energy sources, generating energy, changing supply chains, and crafting new public policies must engage the public that must understand the science and the opportunities so they can make similar choices, buy the products and the energy, generate that energy or support community efforts to do so, and participate in the social, scientific and policy research that paves new ways forward.

And look at us all today. As the World’s nations update the Nationally-Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the commitments of the Paris Agreement, the United State is poised to re-enter this global partnership and officially resume its commitments and responsibilities. An important component of that Biden-Harris approach must be full engagement of cities, states, businesses, colleges and universities, cultural institutions and other key partners in the coalition effort to tackle the climate crisis. Climate action is no longer primarily the domain of scientists or policy experts, no longer the sole domain of federal governments – here or abroad. For every country committed to global climate action, the path forward engages other levels of leadership and impacted communities as partners; the cultural sector is an excellent partner for this work.

Cultural institutions do this through museum-community partnerships on urban heat island effect and social justice (The Science Museum of Virginia); innovations in energy generation (The Science Museum of Minnesota); traditional ecological knowledge (Abbe Museum) and historical understanding (The Henry Ford); energy reductions (The Field Museum, Missouri Historical Society, and Detroit Zoological Society); energy generation (Cincinnati Zoo, Seattle Aquarium, and The Exploratorium); public engagement (National Network of Ocean and Climate Change Interpreters, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and The Climate Museum); social justice (King Manor Museum); and resilience planning (Strawbery Banke Museum).

Sustainable Museums is grateful for the examples set by these institutions. With the shift that is the Biden-Harris Administration, cultural institutions are ready to increase their engagement through expanded partnerships, and are signaling their interest by supporting the new declaration hosted by We Are Still In on the anniversary of the Paris Agreement: www.AmericaIsAllIn.com

You’ll find them there, and everywhere you look for sensible community climate solutions.

Nonprofit Cultural Institutions Send Message to Congress

Leveraging Cultural Institutions in Community Recovery and Resilience

Congress is sorting through how to address the near-term and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. Planning for recovery must take place even as we cope with immediate struggles. As the country’s leadership consider those steps to a future where all Americans can thrive, cultural institutions can make an important difference.

Last last month five major professional associations sent a message to Congress that recovery requires cross-sector approaches, and ones that embrace climate action, so that all of us benefit from the recovery – right away through jobs and access to resources, and in the long-term through a safe and healthy environment and a resilient economy. By incorporating cultural institutions as community anchors in sustainable planning and recovery implementation, Congress can leverage the visibility and high level of public trust in our institutions to highlight its work to “build back better.”

This message got through thanks to the endorsement of the American Association for State and Local History, Association of Children’s Museums, New England Museum Association, California Association of Museums and the American Alliance of Museums.

The letter highlighted seven ways to do this important work for the good of all:

1) Mobilize formal and informal education approaches for nation-wide climate literacy.
2) Support affordable broadened and intensified Internet access for rural and disadvantaged communities.
3) Support research and investment in nature spaces that are cool, clean, healthy and restorative.
4) Increase availability of clean and renewable energy to drive down operational energy costs while reducing environmental impacts.
5) Support energy generation and efficiency projects that emphasize innovation, demonstration and scaling to reduce costs and environmental and health impacts.
6) Support transportation infrastructure that provides healthy and safe, affordable, clean-energy travel within communities—directly to cultural organizations.
7) Invest in coastal, riverine, and urban stormwater management infrastructure that accelerates the removal of combined sewage overflow systems at the same time that we restore natural ecosystems and adaptive infrastructure.

Congress has the power to invest positively, renewably, in the future of all communities across the country—and cultural institutions will help.

You’ll find the full text of the letter through the link below. Thanks so much to my peers at We Are Still In who are doing this work so well, and were critical to the development of this letter. It’s just the beginning of the difference we can all make in our future.

Please share widely, and let me know what I can do to help you send these messages.

Cultural Institutions Lead on Climate Action

By Sarah Sutton Jessie Lund 

Note: This information shared during a joint webinar by Sustainable Museums and America’s Pledge on May 12, 2020. If you would like to watch a recording, you can do so here.

At a time when good news is hard to find, cultural institutions across the country have been leading by example, coming to the aid of their neighbors and cementing their status as valued  and trusted community members. Even as they were forced to close their doors to visitors, institutions have not only taken their enriching educational resources online, but many have used their unique resources to offer solutions to the ongoing and unprecedented pandemic, such as providing PPE, 3D printing facemasks, converting empty parking lots to test sites, opening food banks, and turning ornamental beds into food bank Victory Gardens. They have taken to heart the American Alliance of Museums’ Code of Ethics, which states that “public service is paramount.”  

This ethic applies not just to cultural institutions’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also to the simultaneous crisis of climate change. Driven by the urgency of the science, the country’s museums, botanic gardens, heritage centers, zoos, and aquariums alike are leading in this space as well. In fact, over 80 cultural institutions have signed on to We Are Still In, the group of U.S. cities, states, tribes, businesses, faith groups, and other subnational organizations working to uphold the Paris climate agreement. And combined, the actions of this coalition, made up of more than 3,900 entities, add up to globally significant impact.  

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In fact, the latest analysis from America’s Pledge found that these subnational actors – who together represent nearly 70 percent of U.S. GDP, nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population, and over half of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions – have the potential to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 37 percent over the next decade compared to 2005 levels, even without additional support from the federal government.  

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Source: America’s Pledge

The same America’s Pledge analysis found that when this subnational action is combined with ambitious federal policies, the U.S. has the potential to reduce emissions by nearly half by 2030. After all, bottom-up climate action from cities, states, businesses, cultural institutions, and others can be mutually reinforcing with top-down federal action. This level of emissions reduction is in line with a net-zero emissions trajectory by mid-century, which supports the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement – namely, limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, with best efforts to keep that rise below 1.5 degrees.

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 Source: America’s Pledge 

That is quite an ambitious pathway which undoubtedly requires significant action and engagement from sectors and geographies across the U.S., but the good news is that we are already well on our way. In fact, the actions required to realize this level of emissions reduction can be organized around a simple three principle framework, and perhaps most excitingly, cultural institutions have active projects in each. 

Source: America’s Pledge 

Principle 1: Accelerate Toward 100% Clean Electricity and Other Energy Supplies 

Over the past decade, the U.S. electricity system has become significantly cleaner. From 2005 to 2017, the system, while generating more electricity overall, decreased the carbon dioxide emissions associated with electricity generation by 28 percent through burning less coal and oil and using more natural gas, renewable energy, and energy efficient processes. And a pathway to continued progress in renewable electricity deployment, with lower electricity costs, has already been established as commercially and technically viable. The private, public, and philanthropic sectors have propelled significant progress in decreasing the power sector’s carbon intensity through policy and investment. 

Courtesy, Manoa Heritage Center

For example, the Manoa Heritage Center in Honolulu, Hawaii (above), has installed its own microgrid, including solar panels and on-site battery storage, to reduce emissions and save money. When the system generates more than the site can store and use, the extra goes back to Hawai’i Electric Company for others to use. The solar panels’ output shows up on displays in the education center with a live feed. That’s accountability. The solar field at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania produces 30% of their annual needs: 2OOO MWh. Their public dashboard provides accountability as well. But we don’t all have open space, so an urban museum such as the Science Museum of Minnesota subscribes to a solar garden, which is a PV version of a community garden. This way they generate some of the electricity the museum has not quite been able to engineer out of its operations. The The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History has even tucked an array into available space on the roof’s edge along the windows, out of public view on this historic structure, but shown here (below, right) from the Anthropology offices.               

Courtesy, Sustainable Museums

Phipps Conservatory and Gardens in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, invited the public to switch their family’s energy provider to one with renewable sourcing sanctioned by the Phipps. Making the change during a visit gave them free admission and reduced annual membership. Since January 2017, more than 5,000 Phipps guests have switched their household electricity to fossil-free renewable energy. At the end of each year, these households will have prevented 37,000 tons of CO2 emissions. This is equivalent to annually saving 77,712 barrels of oil from being burned, or 83,289,910 miles from being driven in an average passenger car. It has been their most successful membership recruitment program to date.  

Whatever your size or budget, there are clean energy options available to every cultural institution. Leaders in this space should consider which options make the most sense for their operations – whether on-site generation projects or power purchase agreements – and pursue them in earnest with the goal of sourcing all their electricity from renewable sources by 2030.  

Principle 2: Decarbonize End-Uses Like Buildings, Transportation, and Industry 

Just as important as addressing emissions from electricity generation is addressing emissions from buildings and transportation. The approach here is primarily through efficiency and electrification, the former looking at how to reduce energy use overall, and the latter involving replacing fossil-fueled end-uses with efficient, electrically powered technologies “fueled” with increasingly low-carbon electricity.  

You are probably most familiar with this work in buildings. A great example is the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul. To showcase sustainability in building operations, the museum implemented added two heat recovery chillers to use excess heat energy (generated by operating the HVAC system) inside the building instead of exhausting it outside the building as a by-product. With the heat recovery system in place to reuse waste energy, and the solar garden share, described earlier, contributing 1/3 of their energy needs, the museum has reduced energy costs by $315,000 annually and paid itself back for first costs in a bit over three years.  A strong, ongoing partnership with local utility, Xcel Energy, and a creative leadership team, made this achievable.  

There are many examples of museums taking advantage of the combination of energy and lighting company incentives to re-lamp with LEDs, cutting energy use and staff time (for bulb replacement) while protecting collections and showing them off. The same utility mentioned above, Xcel Energy, helped Minneapolis Institute of Art re-lamp its galleries with LEDs. With an energy rebate, and part of a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Sustaining Cultural Heritage Grant, they paid off the investment in the first year and are now saving about $150,000 a year, which can be reallocated to more beneficial uses, while also reducing their carbon impact. (Note – this NEH program is the only federal program specifically designed to help museum operate in a more sustainable way. Their annual planning and implementation grants are due January 14th.) 

The MFA Boston has replaced 70 percent of gallery lights with LEDs to achieve significant efficiencies, too, but their work goes beyond simply lighting. Examining how we condition spaces for collections is critical. A decade ago, the sector, with MFA Boston as a key leader, and working with the International Institute of Conservation (IIC), successfully re-examined its assumed temperature setpoints of 70 degrees +/- 4, and 50 percent RH +/- 2 percent, and recommended science-driven approaches to ranges of appropriate settings for collections management goals. For many institutions, working with a conservator to identify the most appropriate guidelines for their collections and their settings can save significant energy and improve collections care. Universal adoption of these standards is the next important energy conservation work for the cultural sector.   

Visitor transportation is another are for example and influence. When the Discovery Museum, Massachusetts, conducted its greenhouse gas inventory as it plotted a path to zero carbon, the team discovered that scope three emissions from visitors’ vehicles made up the largest share of their carbon impact. This is where our role as community leaders can have a real impact. Though it may feel as if your visitors’ mode of travel is beyond your reach, you can encourage clean options. The Discovery Museum, for example, has designed a solar array to shade their parking lot and offset institutional energy use. They’ll install electric vehicle (EV) charging stations at the same time. Hawai’i’s Manoa Heritage Center and Minneapolis’ American Swedish Institute offer discounts for visitors coming on bikes or foot. Honolulu’s Bishop Museum, Abbe Museum in Maine, and the Peoria Riverfront Museum all have EV charging stations placed preferentially: close by the entrances at museums in Maine and Peoria, and in the shade in Honolulu. 

Transportation is another critical area for making change. Many institutions have a staff vehicle, an education van, golf carts for open space areas, or even full fleets. Choosing electric, when it’s time to replace or add vehicles, is a critically important choice. And even if you do not have the final say, you can make a thoughtful case to the purchasing department to consider changing policy.  

Principle 3: Enhance Ecosystems 

Finally, land use has the potential to address a significant portion of our greenhouse gas emissions. That is, natural systems play a vital role in sequestering carbon, but their status as a carbon sink is not guaranteed because of the country’s changing landscape. This has led to deforestation and fewer natural spaces in general. 

Courtesy, Phipps Conservatory and Gardens

Of course, the gardens and zoos contribute significantly here for beneficial land use. The Phipps Conservatory and Gardens goes beyond its own greenery to reclaim land and create buildings and spaces that contribute to this work. The Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL) has won awards for the Living Building Challenge, LEED Platinum, WELL Building Platinum, SITES Platinum, and BREEAM Outstanding In-Use. The CSL building and surrounding landscape seen here (below), are built on a former brownfield.  

Not all of us will build green-certified buildings or reclaim landscapes, but we can plant trees to shade our properties and cool our landscapes and our communities. Urban tree canopies can sequester significant amounts of carbon-dioxide. Since most of our cultural institutions are in cities, this is where we can make a difference. Historic properties have a leg up here with space availability, but if you don’t have space, you can still encourage tree planting in your community. 

In Tacoma, Washington, there is a nonprofit using trees as tools for building community. Tacoma Tree Foundation partners with individuals and institutions to make sure trees thrive in this community. With mapping tools (right), they create a social approach to growing Tacoma green again, helping to make it a cool city, and a healthier city.  

In Massachusetts, Tower Hill Botanical Gardens adopted the City of Worcester’s Tree Initiative to support the work to reestablish an urban canopy decimated by Asian Longhorn Beetles.  The Initiative planted 30,000 trees in Worcester and surrounding towns in October of 2014, then Tower Hill adopted the program, “replacing, pruning, planting and watering community trees, forming the Stewards in the Streets program, and acting as community agents driving tree planting and care initiatives.” Like the Tacoma Tree Foundation, the goal is to plant trees where the green spaces are few, and then help residents to care for them. 

Every cultural institutions can ensure that any land for which they have responsibility – literally or figuratively – is managed in a way that enhances its ability to absorb and store carbon rather than contribute to further carbon emissions. It benefits your institution and your community.

What’s Can Your Institution Do?

Hopefully, this post and accompanying webinar have provided some ideas of actions that you can take immediately, as well as how you might communicate them to your community. It may have also spurred some ideas around how you can better engage with your community around climate. That is, not only can cultural institutions educate the public about their actions, motivations, and impact across all three principles, but they can also educate the public about climate and the actions anyone can take. As one of the most trusted organizations in the U.S., cultural institutions have an important role to play in educating their communities about the science behind climate change and most importantly, actions they can take to mitigate the worst impacts of the climate crisis.  

In addition to the projects mentioned throughout, we also encourage you to consider becoming a We Are Still In signatory, if you’re not already. It’s free to sign on, and it opens the door to conscious cooperative climate action. Sustainable Museums can help get you started. 

Lastly, you can also work with local and state offices to advance climate action in your area. And in fact, you can contact Sustainable Museums to make your voice heard at the federal level as the country figures out how to recover from COVID-19 and build back better. Just reach out to Sarah@sustainablemuseums.net.     

Note: This information shared during a joint webinar by Sustainable Museums and America’s Pledge on May 12, 2020. If you would like to watch a recording, you can do so here.

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About America’s Pledge 

In the wake of President Trump’s initial announcement that he planned to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement in June 2017, an unprecedented number of U.S. cities, states, businesses, and universities reaffirmed their commitment to help America reach its Paris climate goals. Whether through declarations like We Are Still In or new pledges and commitments of their own, these bottom-up actors are maintaining U.S. momentum on climate action in the absence of federal leadership. In July 2017, former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and former California Governor Edmund G. Brown launched America’s Pledge, an initiative to aggregate and quantify the actions by U.S. states, cities, businesses, and other non-federal actors to drive down their greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement. Since its launch, America’s Pledge has published annual assessments of non-federal action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions based on a unique methodological approach developed by climate researchers and policy experts. To learn more about America’s Pledge, please visit www.americaspledge.com 

About Sustainable Museums 

Museums, and their cultural peers, have the physical and intellectual resources, abilities, creativity, freedom, and authority to foster the changes the World needs most. Sustainable Museums creates connections among leaders and innovators, providing intellectual and strategic support as cultural institutions plan to thrive as they create those changes the World needs. In 2018, We Are Still In added the cultural sector to its growing coalition, with Sarah Sutton and Sustainable Museums as the lead for the sector.  

United States Cultural Institutions Support The Paris Agreement

Courtesy, We Are Still In

The New York Times reports that President Trump has just announced the formal process for withdrawing the United States from The Paris Agreement. Those of us who care about the current and future health of the only planet on which we can live are still going to do the critical work to reverse the damaging effects of human activity in our biosphere. As we do so, we create a healthier, more just way of living for us all.

Sixty-six cultural institutions have joined We Are Still In and are making their contributions to the Agreement by reducing energy use, generating clean energy, reducing materials use and food waste, and enhancing public engagement on climate issues to help broaden awareness and support collective action. The list is here – see if your favorite museum, zoo, garden, aquarium or historic site is on it. Ask them to join if they are not. Please go to http://www.wearestillin.com to sign on, now.

Climate action comes in all shapes and sizes. The Field Museum leads the way regionally in managing food waste (think of how many lunches those school groups bring). It offers public engagement programming, and has redeveloped a resource-intensive lawn into a new local ecosystem for as native Wild Rice garden as an educational, ecological, and cultural resource.

The Wagner Free Institute of Science is practically zero-waste even with all their school groups, too. Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami, FL, regularly feels the effects of sea level rise and is doing its part to raise climate awareness, educate the community, reduce waste impacts from programs and events, and take steps to protect a cultural resource in the face of overwhelming change. As it restores Vizcaya Village it creates an educational space for local food production and sustainable practices.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium, California Academy of Sciences, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the Science Museum of Minnesota, and New England Aquarium all support the Paris Agreement. So do the Brick Store Museum, Abbe Museum, Monterey Museum of Art, Strawbery Banke Museum, and the Madison Children’s Museum.

Artwork by Maggie Dimon

While President Trump is doubling down on a disastrous course of action, he is ignoring this key piece of information: the majority of Americans support the Paris Agreement.

  • Over three-quarters (77%) of registered voters support continued U.S. participation in the Paris Climate Agreement, including almost all Democrats (92%), three in four Independents (75%), and a majority of Republicans (60%).
  • By more than 5 to 1, voters say the U.S. should participate in the Paris Climate Agreement.
  • American states, cities, and businesses committed to the Paris Agreement represent nearly 70% of GDP and nearly 65% of the U.S. population.

We all have a role to play. The Association for Science-Technology Centers, American Anthropological Association, America Public Garden Association, Environment and Climate Network of the American Alliance of Museums, the New England Museum Association and the Southeast Museums Conference, and the Arizona and Florida museum associations ALL support the Paris Agreement. Do you? Does your museum or association?

The future IS climate. We must manage our impacts on the climate if we wish to thrive in it. But it takes all of us to work together to teach each other and to do work together. We can walk a shared path to keep from damaging natural systems so badly that they do not support the ways of life we hope to enjoy for ourselves and our descendants. We can walk a shared path to make this a healthier, more just place for us all.

Please show your support for The Paris Agreement through @culturalforparis and @wearestillin.

A Report from Climate Week + Thoughts for Cultural Institutions’ Participation in 2020

What the Heck is Climate Week and Why Should You Care?

New York City’s Climate Week is an overlay to a series of high-level (international leader-level) Summits held at the United Nations Headquarters. Thousands of individuals, businesses, associations and countries take advantage of the critical mass of power – brain power and political power – gathered in one place to plan the next steps of climate ambition, that intention-setting process that advances the World’s work in reducing human impacts on climate.

I represented the cultural sector of We Are Still In (WASI), learning about how this summit system works, what parts of its climate work align with our sector, and what cultural institutions can do to participate fully next year. We must be part of the conversation if we’re going to influence it or benefit from it. Next year I hope more of you will be there with me.  Put it on your calendar – the third week in September.

The Carbon Cost of Meetings

This is the second time I have spent carbon to talk climate on the international climate summit level, and the umpteenth time I’ve spent it to talk climate in many other places. I’m choosing to make this the last time I remind you that I believe this is an acceptable use of carbon. First, I offset all my personal and professional carbon by a factor of 2 using the UN’s Climate Neutral Now program. Second, meeting with these folks, hearing them talk about what they’ve been able to accomplish and what they’re trying to do in addition, stretches my imagination of what’s possible and encourages me when I waver in my confidence that we can solve this. Third, I always come away with a renewed and strengthened understanding of the value of cultural institutions in this climate work, and new connections and opportunities to help them expand their work.

What Went On

I attended a carbon-pricing discussion at the German Consulate; a presentation by six Climate Governors expressing a mind-boggling degree of mutual admiration and cooperation even with differences all in the name of smart, scaled solutions for reducing human impacts on climate; two talks by the sustainability champions at Google and Microsoft on their support for innovative climate projects; a discussion among climate funders and WASI Executive Committee about decarbonization and cross-sector projects; and then a panel of WASI signatories that wowed us with the stories of challenges and progress in Pittsburgh, at the Mars company, in health care and in manufacturing. Their stories were inspirational as much because of what they accomplished as for how challenging it was for each to take on new and discouraging territory. They succeeded anyway – big time.

What Will Come of It

As a result of all this and similar experiences during Climate Week, I have a far better grasp of the work that will make the most difference. For the Cultural Sector of We Are Still In, I now see more clearly how our messages parallel those from the healthcare industry and faith arenas, and fill in gaps that the economic and disaster-related messages leave behind. I can see now how partnerships with the health and faith communities can amplify the message to the public that this is something we must all get behind in clear and committed fashion for collective impact.  And by doing this, we can ease the path for industry and government in creating positive change.

Every one of us as individuals and representing our organizations is motivated by different factors. For some it’s money-saving; for others it’s carbon.  Some are motivated by charismatic mega-fauna (polar bears) and some by a more scientific perspective of biodiversity; and some by concern for our future and for those who will call us ancestors. Whatever the motive – climate solutions can satisfy it. And the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) can satisfy it. There’s room for anyone in this movement.

Join In – We Are Still In welcomes you

This December a number of cultural institutions from the US and more from around the World will be present at the Council of the Parties or COP25 when the nations gather to formally share their roadmaps to meeting their goals of the Paris Agreement. We’ll be showcasing the work we’ve done and will be talking with others about how to advance this work. We’re raising awareness of the role of culture and cultural institutions in climate action. We’ll demonstrate to the World that not only is the United States still in, cultural institutions around the world support the Paris Agreement too. So please help make our case by signing on to We Are Still In so that we can show the World even stronger numbers by December 1st.  Then pay attention to the news from Santiago, and get ready to join us in NYC next September to talk about what you’ve done and to learn from others what else we can all do. If you have a sustainability story to tell, we want to hear it and share it. 

Save Our Water Summit 2019

Last week I attended a cross-sector event highlighting the progress made in Southwest Florida this last year on water systems health and water quality. It was led by the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. President & CEO Rob Moher explained it all perfectly: “This isn’t just for the professionals in the room.  This was really designed from the get-go to be a communication opportunity to engage the community…“I think you get a sense this morning from all the speakers that it’s translating and talking about personal agency.  What can I do?  How can I be part of the solution?  There’s no one sector or one agency that’s going to lead this by itself.  It’s going to be a together thing.”

The Naples Daily News was the media sponsor and likely a big part of the design and success of the event. It was engaging, thoughtful, had videos, well-moderated panels, scientific presentations, and legislative updates. And Governor Ron Desantis (R) came – how awesome is that? Best of all, it was a positive, hopeful event. They’d had successes and setbacks in the previous year but it was clear that all they’d learned from previous setbacks were contributing to a great shared result by year three of this type of concerted, cooperative effort.

My favorite part was the participation of U.S. Army Corps Lt. Col. Jennifer Reynolds who oversees administration at Lake Okeechobee, a big source of water woes and opportunities. She said “the biggest change she’s seen over the past year concerning water issues is movement away from partisan finger pointing and a shift toward stakeholders pooling their resources and working together.  ‘If you’ve eaten food you didn’t grow yourself, you’re part of the problem.  If you’ve used the bathroom in the last 24 hours, you’re part of the problem, … If you’ve driven on a road or lived anywhere there’s concrete or shopped in a store, you’re part of the problem. So we’re all part of the problem, but if you’ve voted, if you’ve paid your taxes, if you’ve gone to a public meeting, if you‘ve attended a water summit, you’re part of the solution.'”

Losing George, and a Species

“George, the last known Achatinella apexfulva died on New Year’s Day 2019. George was approximately 14 years old. He is survived by none….”

George, Achitanella apexfulva, courtesy DNLR for original post

Not quite two years ago I met George. On the first of January this year the world lost George.

Here’s a link to the post on George’s story. David Shischo, who graciously introduced me to George is a #climatehero. He is the Snail Extinction Prevention Program Coordinator at Hawaii DLNR (Department of Land and Natural Resources). I met him through another #climatehero Norine W. Yeung, PhD – Malacology Researcher at the Bishop Museum whom I met after attending the conference of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature just after I arrived on Oahu.

Their research and cooperation continues on many fronts, and their work to find, document, study, nurture, and reintroduce Hawaiian land snails is invaluable to biodiversity, cultural and natural heritage, and understanding life on this planet. Mahalo to them both.

I am sorry for our loss.

Courtesy Bishop Museum for original post.