Green Museums Pt 2: 12 Nifty Ideas

Education workshops, programs for kids and outdoor experiences are powderful ways to reinforce the idea that we have only one planet to live on! At Powdermill Nature Reserve.

Education workshops, programs for kids and outdoor experiences are powerful ways to reinforce the idea that we have only one planet to live on! Powdermill Nature Reserve.

Green Practices in Pittsburgh’s Museums – 12 Nifty Ideas That Add Up

Green Team at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium

Green Team at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. Their mantra: Practice sustainability wherever you can. 

Green Team: At the Pittsburgh Zoo, the Green Team has been operating for nearly 20 years. One person from each department is asked to participate; the group meets monthly, fall through spring. “ It takes energy and passion,” says head of horticulture Frank Pizzi. “There are lots of irons in the fire. You target what is do-able, then reach higher and higher, track information and communicate to funders, and above all, show progress.” Check out their activities.

Composting: Composting has been a way of life at the Pittsburgh Zoo since 1991! That includes bedding, manure (minus cat and primate waste), straw, leaf litter, prunings, plant bedding material, even coffee grounds from the staff pot. The Zoo campus isn’t big enough to compost onsite, so the materials go out to AgRecycle and come back as usable mulch. That’s what closing the loop is all about.

Recycling: You name it, the Zoo has tried it, and the public is invited to get in on the act. There are bins for visitors to recycle their zoo maps, cell phone recycling (Eco-cell, Louisville), cardboard, paper recycling (the public brings in paper) for which the zoos receives money, and an annual recycling fair for the public.

Coneflowers at the Zoo's roof garden

Coneflowers at the Zoo’s roof garden

Native plants are a no-brainer: Natives are adapted (mostly) for the soil and climate conditions, and often survive in marginal habitats with fewer water requirements. Powdermill Nature Reserve and Pittsburgh Zoo are both big fans of native plants. They’re good as host and nectar plants for butterflies, pollinators (bees), and helpful insect species. Imagine what we would be eating (almost no fruits and vegetables)  without the pollinators! It’s a good reason to incorporate native plants into landscapes, rain gardens, and parking area bioswales. Get rid of the lawn!

No more pesticides: Swap out toxic chemicals for integrated pest management. Check with your county extension agent to have an IPM scout come out and survey what’s happening to recommend safer alternatives. The Zoo uses chemicals only as a last resort.

No more CFC’s (chlorofluorocarbons), HCFCS (hydrochlorofluorocarbons), or halons in HVAC+R equipment. These chemical compounds are often used as flame retardants, fire extinguishing agents, refrigerants, propellants, and solvents. They contain bromine and cause ozone depletion.

Lighting improvements (equal) energy efficiency+ reduced costs: Museum lighting is a complex endeavor when there are documents, objects and fine arts on display. In public areas (lobby and restrooms) and noncollections displays, Carnegie Museums are ramping up for the switchover from spots, parlamps and halogen bulbs to CFL’s and LED’s, which will provide long-term savings on energy consumption. Carnegie is working with Pittsburgh’s Duquesne Light for acquisition of LED bulbs, with a rebate of of 30-50% on the cost of $30 bulbs. Even so, the substantial upfront costs of the changeover require planning to make the switch. Testing is underway at the Andy Warhol Museum and Carnegie Museum of Art to find bulbs that are safe for paintings, works on paper and other fine arts, as well as achieve the right lighting quality for public viewing.

Toilets at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Toilets at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Water,water: Not everyone has to wash an elephant holding pen! The Zoo found ways to recover 100% of the wash down (gray water) for reuse.  At most museums, the options are a lot simpler: install lower flow toilets and waterless urinals when it’s time to replace older fixtures or new construction is planned. Add aerators to spigots or motion sensors. Check out Carnegie’s LEED project with many good tips.

Revisit purchasing: The Zoo switched to Green Seal-certified products eight years ago, according to horticulturist Frank Pizzi. He also recommends buying in bulk to reduce packaging.

Buy refurbished furnishings: A standard practice at the Carnegie Museums, the museums give good quality wares a second life. Chances are, the items  have stopped offgassing.

Bicycle racks at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Bicycle racks at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Bicycle Racks: At the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and the Highmark® Sportsworks, outdoor bike racks are always at the ready to encourage people to seek the alternative to automobiles. A big plus at the SportsCenters is a light rail station about 40 feet from the facility.

Conservation education: The Zoo’s Margie Marks is a tireless champion of campaigns and initiatives such as One Degree of Change that inspire people of all ages “to make sustainable choices and take an active part in caring for all life on our planet.”

Endangered and struggling for survival

Endangered and struggling for survival

Partnerships with groups such as Monterey Bay Aquarium, Polar Bears International and encourage teen and adult participation to act proactively on behalf of animals and the planet. Messages reinforce the idea: everything is connected and making small changes can move us toward a more sustainable planet. Check out the Zoo’s conservation education projects.