Green Museums: Part 2 Pittsburgh’s Innovators

The LEED Silver expansion at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History was accomplished by closing in a courtyard. It tripled the display space for the new hall Dinosaurs in Their Time.

The LEED Silver expansion at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History was accomplished by closing in a courtyard. It tripled the display space for the new hall Dinosaurs in Their Time.

In Part 2 of the Green Museums series, we feature a half-dozen Pittsburgh museums that are embedding green values and practices in how they operate and, as a result, are models for teaching kids and families about conservation and the environment.

They include the National Aviary, Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium and a suite of Carnegie Museums (The Andy Warhol Museum, Carnegie Museum of Art, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Carnegie Science Center, Highmark® SportsWorks, and Powdermill Nature Reserve).

Click here to read Part I of the series on the Pittsburgh’s early innovators: Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, Heinz History Center, and Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.

Read the 12 Nifty Ideas Sidebar to Part 2 


Many of Pittsburgh’s museums are on a sustainability trajectory with green values and practices:  deciding what furnishings and supplies they will buy, how they deal with waste, clean their facilities, light buildings and exhibits, manage grounds and parking areas, and harness their energy use.

Part 2 looks at:

Energy a key driver –efficiency’s the answer

As Pittsburgh’s Green Building Alliance points out, “ …[B] uildings are responsible for 71% of electricity consumption, 39% of energy consumption, 65% of waste output, and 40% of carbon dioxide emissions… a huge challenge when it comes to reducing costs, increasing efficiency, improving public health, and reducing resource depletion.”

Museums have special energy requirements, both to manage collections 24 hours a day – whether on view or in storage – with constant temperature and humidity levels (HVAC systems) and maintain comfortable temperature and air quality ranges for the public. Energy demands are generally higher than in conventional  office buildings, banks and commercial retail.

Energy at the Carnegie Museums

Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museums (CM) as a whole resemble a smaller version of the sprawling Smithsonian Institution –  two art museums, a science center with a popular planetarium, Highmark® SportsWorks, a 2,200-acre nature reserve/ research center near Ligonier PA, and a natural history museum with internationally ranked collections of preserved specimens and fossils.

Wnergy Star Portfolio ManagerEnergy use at the Carnegie Museums is serious business and is dealt with strategically Nearly three years ago, Carnegie took a bold step, deciding to sign up for the Energy Star® Portfolio Manager to track energy use across its in-town museums, several of which have a very substantial footprint (Powdermill is not in the portfolio).

The Portfolio Manager is an interactive resource management tool used by CM’s facilities team to track energy consumption, carbon footprint, annual energy costs, needed improvements and upgrades, savings and help with overall infrastructure management. There are dozens of metrics that can be applied.

Carnegie’s team created an energy use baseline and then began 30 months ago inputting consumption and cost data on electricity, natural gas, hot water or steam, chilled water, and water use. Thanks to data capture in a computer-based format, it is possible to track each museum to see whether there is more or less usage than a year ago, and how changes have impacted consumption, such as retrofitting with LED fixtures that reduce energy consumption. According to Tony Young, vice president of facilities, the management system made it possible to undertake a feasibility study now underway to review current equipment (heating/chillers) in the Natural History Museum and make plans for replacement. “One of our overall goals,” says facilities manager Tom Flaherty,” is to eventually get the museums Energy Star® certified.”

More energy management tools

The LEED-certified Highmark Sportsworks (Carnegie Museums) uses energy monitoring to capture real time data and create an historical record of energy used.

The LEED-certified Highmark Sportsworks (Carnegie Museums) uses energy monitoring to capture real time data and create an historical record of energy used.

At the Carnegie Science Center and the stand-alone interactive Highmark® Sportsworks, other tools and strategies are being used.  Opened in December 2009, Sportsworks is just 40 feet from the popular Science Center and Planetarium on the North Side, with light-rail stop nearby. It’s a LEED® Silver-certified building and benefits from all of the high-efficiency systems, energy conservation and environmentally friendly materials that helped it gain certification.

Fun and physical fitness at Highmark SportsWorks

Fun and physical fitness at Highmark SportsWorks

The SportsWorks team worked with Eaton to implement Power Xpert® architecture and meter monitoring system that is a 21st-century dream.  It provides real time access to what is happening power-wise in buildings, can be used to turn lights on or off, provides remote access to data, and can be used to create an historical record of kilowatt hours of usage.  “It’s possible to look at any 15-minute interval on any day,” says Tom Flaherty, “to see if there is peak demand, a system event, or changes in consumption and figure out why.”

In March 2010, the Power Xpert® Meter was also installed in the Science Center. On a particularly high-demand day recently, data capture showed peak demand levels. By correlating the data with attendance figures, the team determined that demand was caused by having a seasonally high-capacity audience.

Energy in the big picture: 2030 Challenge

In another ambitious step forward, Carnegie Museums were among the 30 founding partners of the Pittsburgh 2030 District during start-up earlier this year; most partners are commercial property portfolios. Partners will monitor their performance with a goal of 50% reduction in energy use, water use, and transportation emissions by the year 2030.  An initiative of Ed Mazria’s Architecture2030, the districts– which include Seattle, Cleveland and Los Angeles — are “a collaborative response,” says the Green Building Alliance, “to building-related impacts on the environment.” Performance is compared to national and district averages.

“The commitments made by our 2030 District Partners will help ensure that downtown [Pittsburgh] remains the center of commerce for our region,” said Sean Luther, director of the Pittsburgh 2030 District for the Green Building Alliance, “ by reducing energy and water consumption and operating expenses while reducing the total load on regional infrastructure.” The collaborative approach benefits ? Network, share information, and generate effective strategies.

What’s elephant poop doing here?  A new energy source!

At the International Conservation Center (Pittsburgh Zoo) a biomass burner can dry, resize, store and burn elephant waste. It's a great alternative to the landfill. An elephant produces 100-125 pounds of poop a day. The burner can produce  2000 pounds a day.

At the International Conservation Center (Pittsburgh Zoo) a biomass burner can dry,condense, store and burn elephant waste. It’s a great alternative to the landfill. An elephant produces 100-125 pounds of poop a day. The burner can produce 2000 pounds a day.

At a secluded site in Somerset County, the Pittsburgh Zoo houses elephants – up to 20 will live there eventually – at its 733-acre International Conservation Center. The ICC is planned as a breeding center for threatened and endangered species that breed more successfully in seclusion.

It’s also a place where not much is wasted!  An elephant produces between 100 and 125 pounds of waste per day.  When the ICC is fully operational, that’s 2,000 pounds of waste each day.

Looking at the options, primarily hauling up to 365 tons a year (730,000 pounds) to a landfill, the zoo decided on a more environmentally friendly and cost-efficient plan, and purchased a biomass combustion unit that burns manure that is dried and condensed as a fuel.

The biomass burner can warm buildings to between 50 and 60 degrees F. , a comfortable range for the elephants.  The burner has a dryer, resize-grinder, hopper, and furnace – one stop-energy producer, so to speak.

The model also burns switch grass that is grown onsite as a manure supplement until the elephant herd size is adequate to heat the barn solely with animal waste. The unit is clean burning, and meets or exceeds Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection emissions standards.

Footnote: The in-town  Zoo composts all animal waste and bedding – tons of it annually –except for cats and primates. AgRecycle handles the pickup and processing,  and returns finished mulch for use on outdoor plant beds.

Talk about a good solution to an ongoing waste stream!

Achieving green goals: LEED® and other green building projects

In the museum field, no two green building projects are alike. Some museums aspire to LEED® certification using LEED® standards, but a whole range of options is available.  Each project is influenced and shaped by mission, geographic location, site, current facility, infrastructure, collections, audience and programs, budget and other individual factors.

Here are five examples of Pittsburgh  museum projects that exemplify good green building practices.

Bird-Friendly Design

Macaw at the National Aviary is one of 150+ species, many of them rare and endangered.

The Tropical Forest exhibit, a free-flight zone with an array of birdlife, shares information on forest ecosystems, how forests benefit the planet (carbon sequestration in trees), ongoing threats from clearcutting, ranching and farming techniques that reduce habitat and decimate bird/animal populations. Photo courtesy of National Aviary.

The 56-year-old National Aviary on Pittsburgh’s North Side is a one-of-a-kind institution, a living collection of over 500 birds – from lorikeets to condors – representing 150+ species, with a multi-faceted mission of environmental education, research and conservation. It is America’s “only independent indoor nonprofit zoo dedicated exclusively to birds, many of them threatened or endangered in the wild.”

Up close and personal experiences for a school group at the Aviary can include hand feeding and other contact.

Up close and personal experiences for a school group at the Aviary can include hand feeding and other contact. Courtesy of the National Aviary

Three of the Aviary’s eight geo/eco thematic areas are generously sized free-flight zones that allow the public to see birds living and in flight in simulated natural habitats.  There’s an opportunity for up-close interaction between visitors and free-flying birds: it can include an individual “meet and greet” and hand-feeding.

Pittsburgh’s Springboard Design principal Paul Rosenblatt shared the story of how the Aviary conducted an $18-million, two-phase renovation and expansion project.

National Aviary. Courtesy of Springboard Design

National Aviary. Photography by Denmarsh Photography

Springboard first guided the Aviary through a mini-masterplan, then implemented a complete revitalization, renovating approximately 50,000 square feet of the existing facility, and upgrading major portions of the existing infrastructure. Phase I was completed in May 2009. Phase II–recently completed—was planned and implemented with the goal of LEED® Silver certification.

“Everything we did in Phase I was actually intended to meet LEED® standards,  though we were not seeking certification.  That included selecting farmed trees, certified wood, demolition/waste management and low VOC materials and finishes,”  said Rosenblatt. Phase II –dubbed Project Phoenix – “was designed to be a green building with an environmental construction goal of a LEED® Silver rating.”

Functionally, the Aviary works better with its new entrance and lobby pavilion for school groups, new kitchen and café, education center, Helen Schmidt Flitezone Theater and the Rooftop Raptor Theater.

Preventing bird deaths – out of doors

Rosenblatt incorporated an important, mostly unheralded aspect of building design in the Aviary project:  making the structure wild bird-friendly to reduce the calamitous increase of bird deaths in urban areas from flying toward artificial lighting and glass windows. “We looked at what a bird-friendly building is and reviewed Chicago’s bird-friendly building standards, as well as lighting studies.

Entrance area with bird-friendly fritted glass

Entrance area with bird-friendly fritted glass. Photography by Denmarsh Photography

The Aviary’s entrance has custom fritted glass that is consistent with the Chicago principles, to avoid bird collisions,” says Rosenblatt. “We worked hard to make the Aviary bird-friendly inside too,” he said, “basically thinking of birds as our ‘clients.’”

Free flight in FliteZone Theatre

An immersive experience for visitors observing free flight in FliteZone Theater. Courtesy of the National Aviary

“We set a goal to create a more experiential environment that stimulates visitors’ imaginations about birds, nature and the world around us,” says Rosenblatt. Visitors get to see the “back of the house” operations – bird hospital, food prep area and holding areas. The Aviary keeps trainers out on the exhibit floor and on their toes, roaming and interacting with birds and visitors.

How a solar-powered house got to Powdermill Nature Reserve

When it first appeared on the National Mall in Washington  DC, the student-designed and -built solar-powered house from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University was competing for top honors among 20 collegiate teams in the 2007 US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.  Every team on the Mall installed its house in the “solar village” for the competition, with houses open to the public for viewing and presentations.  Every house had to operate entirely on solar energy for its power – electricity, heat, air-conditioning, hot water, kitchen appliances and powering a mini-electric vehicle.

Solar Decathlon House is now installed at Powdermill Nature Reserve as a lab facility. It was designed and built by students at Carnegie Mellon University for the 2007 US Solar Decathlon.

Solar Decathlon House is installed at Powdermill Nature Reserve as a lab facility. A tidy 800 square feet, it was designed and built by students at Carnegie Mellon University for the 2007 US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

Today Carnegie Mellon’s Solar Decathlon house – an open interior plan with 800-square-feet—provides lab facilities at the Carnegie Museums’ Powdermill Nature Reserve.

How the house got there –a story worth telling

Fieldwork at Powder Mill Nature Reserve

Fieldwork at Powder Mill Nature Reserve

Powdermill — a 2,200-acre nature reserve and field station about 60 miles southeast of Pittsburgh– is an actively managed biological field station under the aegis of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. The Reserve also serves an educational role for thousands of visitors annually.

Carnegie Mellon’s team first sat down in April 2006 to determine who they wanted as the client for their house design. Their choice was Powdermill, and the Museum of Natural History gave the students a thumbs up. It’s a very good fit:   Powdermill acts as a laboratory and place for the study of natural processes. Its public role includes tours, workshops and experiences for families and school groups.

The students went beyond the Decathlon’s solar-power requirements with a more ambitious goal:  to give the house a smaller environmental footprint with sustainable design principles – for instance, materials that are recycled, recyclable and from local sources.

Interior of the renovated Nature Center at Powdermill. It is LEED Silver

Interior of the renovated Nature Center at Powdermill. It is certified LEED Silver.

Meanwhile, Powdermill  was tee-ing up a $5-million, LEED® Silver expansion of its existing educational facility –adding 10,300 square feet to its old 3,200-square-foot visitor building; an energy-efficient heating system, large windows for natural light; sustainable building materials; and is called Western Pennsylvania’s first “marsh machine” — an ecological waste water treatment system.

The "marsh machine," an ecological wastewater system.

The “marsh machine,” an ecological waste water system.

According to a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article, “Tanks and pipes will convey waste water to various plants growing in contained marshes. Bacteria growing in the roots of the plants purify the water over several days. The water will then go to the center’s 15-foot-long indoor stream populated with plants and aquatic animals native to Western Pennsylvania.”

Expanding minus a new footprint

Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Dinosaurs in Their Time exhibition displays one of the world’s finest collections of dinosaurs from the Mesozoic Era. The museum has the world’s third largest exhibition of real mounted dinosaurs – some 15 of the 19 fully articulated skeletons on display are partially or completely comprised of actual fossil material. The “jewel” of the collection is Dippy — the nickname of Diplodocus carnegii discovered in 1899 by Arthur Coggeshall, member of a Carnegie-sponsored field research team.

The museum lacked the space to share its generous dinosaur holdings or provide visitors with an immersive experience. Then they came up with a clever way to add space without expanding the building’s footprint. The idea of closing in and roofing an outdoor courtyard allowed the museum to increase the dinosaur exhibition space from 5,000 to 18,600 square feet and add below-ground educational classrooms.

Closing in a courtyard tripled the exhibition space for the Dinosaur hall without expanding the museum's footprint.

Closing in a courtyard tripled the exhibition space for the Dinosaur hall without expanding the museum’s footprint.

The expansion was treated as “new building construction” under the LEED® Silver building standards for certification.  “The project is a good example,” says facilities vice president Tony Young, “of how we can be better stewards by investing in green infrastructure.”

Two large, insulated skylights help with natural lighting in the Dinosaurs in Their Time exhibit.

Two large, insulated skylights offer natural lighting in the Dinosaurs inTheir Time exhibit.

Once again, energy plays a big role in the museum’s LEED®  project. The Semco HVAC system uses passive two passive dessicant wheels, one to dehumidify air and the other to capture the heating and cooling energy.  Temperature, CO2 and humidity are all carefully monitored.

One of the project “extras” is a 1,200-square-foot green roof that sits atop a loading dock. It’s not visible to the public, and no one knows it’s there. It’s part of a storm water retention and management scheme, and reinforces Tony Young’s mantra of “doing the right thing.”

What’s wet — and green too?

The stakes are high when an institution is the steward of living collections – especially when many of its animals are rare and endangered species. Creating authentic habitats and caring for animals make energy use, water consumption, and animal waste management top priorities. A case in point is at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium.

Water's Edge seafood Information booth

Water’s Edge seafood Information booth

Water’s Edge, a permanent exhibit that opened in 2006, features a polar bear, sea otter, and sand tiger shark in carefully recreated natural environments.  It’s also a replica of a coastal fishing village called Pier Town,  chock full of interpretive materials and displays on  coastal fishing life, indigenous people, and and sustainable seafood choices.

Aurora, the polar bear. Photo by ©Paul A. Selvaggio

Aurora, the polar bear. Photo by ©Paul A. Selvaggio

Water’s Edge is not LEED® certified, but it has plenty of bells and whistles that make it a low-impact energy use facility. The enhancements include: partially below-grade walls, a green roof, sea water reclamation, air-to-air heat recovery on the air-handling units, variable speed pumping, low-flow flush toilets, and waterless urinals. (Check out the features)

Water management is a huge component of Water’s Edge need to maintain healthy conditions for its animals.  Three pools– one for each of its marine mammal residents—total more than 400,000 gallons of sea water. The Aquarium uses a combination of strategies, including ozone filtration, to recover 100% of seawater for Water’s Edge.

Green roof atop the Water's Edge building helps retain storm water and insulates the building.

Green roof atop the Water’s Edge building helps retain storm water and insulates the building. Photo by Susan Pierce

A green roof covers the Water’s Edge building, conserves water runoff and insulates the building. The payoff ? The insulating value of the soil and added plant material on the roof lowers the building’s thermostat by half a degree in winter. It all adds up! Then there is the benefit of attracting and providing nutrition for pollinators with a diverse selection of plants.  Experimenting with the plant selections can lengthen the growing season when pollinators are still around.

Scientific research, species conservation and public education are the three legs of the stool at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, and make for a richer visitor experience and better informal science learning.

Sustainable seafood stand and a Seafood Watch card are interpretive elements that assist visitors in deciding what's for dinner, the sustainable way.

Sustainable seafood stand and a Seafood Watch card are interpretive elements that assist visitors in deciding what’s for dinner, the sustainable way.

Water’s Edge incorporates interpretive displays and interactives that educate visitors about the challenges faced by species in the wild, how to make sustainable seafood choices, and consider the pros and cons of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

In partnership with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Zoo educates visitors with  a seafood display and  a Seafood Watch wallet card that suggest preferred seafood choices and those to avoid.  “Visitors are encouraged to make the best choices,” says educator Margie Marks, “those that are well managed or are caught and farmed in environmentally friendly ways.” Check out all of the Zoo/Aquarium sustainability efforts.


Green Museums Part I Pittsburgh’s Early Innovators

Green Museums Part 2  Pittsburgh sidebar 12 Nifty Ideas That Add Up

Intro to the series