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Museum of Science Rooftop Solar PV
Photo: Eric Workman, TMP Images

Environmental Sustainability

Introduction

"Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, and that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations." – United States Environmental Protection Agency

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The Museum of Science strives to be a leader in using science to understand and consider the consequences of human actions on the Earth's ability to sustain and nurture life, and to use that understanding to guide our endeavors. We recognize that climate change and environmental sustainability are among the greatest challenges facing humanity today.

Embracing our role as an educational and social institution, the Museum is addressing these issues head on by mounting exhibits and developing other educational resources, convening discussions, engaging experts, and taking significant steps to reduce its own environmental footprint. This includes improving building design and operations; energy and water conservation; incorporation of renewable energy; use of locally-sourced and environmentally friendly food and healthier food options; and expanding Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Compost activities at the Museum.

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History

In 2000, the Museum began to focus on technology and engineering, a direction that led us to encourage our visitors to explore the impact of technology on their lives, our society, and our planet. It was only sensible to apply the critical thinking skills we help develop in our visitors to our own daily work. That process continues today.

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At first, the "greening" the Museum was done by individual staff members. At first we began recycling paper and then batteries. Our facilities department, of course, was working hard to reduce our energy consumption and costs. In 2004, the Museum formed a "Green Building Committee" of Trustees, Overseers, and advisors. One of this group's early contributions was a set of suggestions for the design of the Museum's Gordon Wing that led to a 38% reduction in the modeled energy consumption of that space compared to the original plans.

The committee was challenged by a central question: Given that the Museum has its primary impact through its exhibits and programs, how much priority should it place on reducing its environmental impact – as opposed to investing in education? Exploration of this question led to the creation of the Museum's Sustainability Statement and the establishment of today’s "Environmental Sustainability Committee" with a charter to explore and make recommendations pertinent to the Museum’s goals and efforts regarding education, facilities and operations, convening of the community, marketing, organization development, and fund-raising.

Today, environmental sustainability is habitually included in day-to-day thinking throughout the Museum. The sections below outline how sustainability has factored into our educational offerings and our facilities and operations.

Museum of Science New England Habitats

One of the Museum’s oldest exhibits, New England Habitants was refurbished in 2010. Using sustainable materials and replacing all lighting with LEDs gives it a fresh, inviting look and saves considerable energy.

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Museum Education: Exhibits and Programs

The Museum continues to expand our efforts in promoting conservation and renewable energy technologies by developing new exhibition components that will help visitors more clearly understand the global energy picture. We share our decisions and their subsequent results to foster an informed active citizenship. The Museum develops exhibits and programs and produces events about the interaction between the natural and human-made worlds to help visitors more clearly understand and think critically about sustainability-related issues.

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Coming Soon:

There aren't currently any upcoming events or exhibits relating to environmental sustainability. Check back soon!

Current Exhibits:

  • Conserve @ Home picture

    Conserve @ Home

    Discover the real energy sappers and savers in the home, and explore ways that you can make a difference.

    Learn More

  • Energized! picture

    Energized!

    Learn about sunlight, wind, moving water, and other self-replenishing sources that generate energy with fewer negative side effects.

    Learn More

  • Catching the Wind picture

    Catching the Wind

    Learn how turbines transform wind into green energy, and track the Museum's Wind Lab energy production.

    Learn More

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Museum Operations

The Museum educates visitors about climate systems and climate change, renewable energy, conservation, and sustainability in general through its exhibits and programs. We practice the same critical thinking skills in the way we run the Museum.

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Facilities

The Museum continues to identify and install improvement measures throughout the Museum facility, encompassing HVAC, lighting, boiler controls, and building envelope improvements. In 2009 and 2010, the Museum executed a performance improvement project to substantially reduce its energy performance; the study and subsequent project represented more than $3 million of investment.

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Museum of Science Gordon Wing

The Gordon Wing was constructed 2005-2006 with sustainability a high priority. South-facing full-wall windows have user-controlled sun shades.

Key improvements from our projects include:

  • Replaced an inefficient chiller with a 660-ton energy efficient chiller
  • Replaced 4 PCB containing transformers with 2 dry-type transformers
  • Replaced our largest cooling tower with a more modern and energy efficient system
  • Installed window films on select windows to decrease solar gain while improving insulation properties of the windows
  • Caulked, installed weather-stripping and sealed of roof-wall joints to prevent infiltration and improve insulating properties to improve the building envelope
  • Optimized controls to the Museum’s natural-gas-fired boilers to improve efficiency, resulting in a 16% reduction in fuel usage
  • Installed variable frequency drives on supply and exhaust of multi-zone air handling units
  • Prepared during construction of the ‘05/’06 Gordon Wing for gray water plumbing tie-in
  • Introduced waterless urinals and replaced manual flush toilets with dual-flush units
  • Replaced water coolers with hard-piped water filtration units
  • More than 85% of offices, and the parking garage, have motion sensors
  • Installed a 30KW photovoltaic system on the Museum’s roof to capture and convert solar radiation to direct electrical current
  • Replaced incandescent lighting with over 3,000 LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs. This project reduced 70% of the energy consumption used by the incandescent bulbs and reduced the Museum's overall electricity consumption by 3%. Because the LEDs are long-lasting, it also substantially reduces a waste stream of over 6,000 bulbs each year

As a result of these measures, the Museum has reduced its use of natural gas, electricity, and water over time. The first graph below indicates the Museum’s combined electricity and natural gas consumption over time compared to the baseline and the targets established in our performance improvement project. The next two graphs break out natural gas and electricity consumption. The final one indicates water use.

Museum Energy Usage Chart of Electricity Museum Energy Usage Chart of Natural Gas Museum Water Usage Chart

Recent construction and renovations – most notably the Gordon Wing and the Hall of Human Life – aim to use renewable and non-toxic resources. These sustainability measures in our facilities include:

  • Using Benjamin Moore Eco Spec (low odor, low VOC) and Aura Paint (meets GreenGuard standards) as standard paint applications
  • Using green carpets (Shaws Eco Worx current office standard-EPA Presidential Green Chemistry Award Winner)
  • Using solvent-free adhesives
  • Using low or no VOC furniture and carpeting. Carpet tiles allow for more efficient repairs.
  • Large south-facing windows provide natural light; staff can control glare and solar radiation with manually adjusted solar shades.
  • HHL makes extensive use of sustainable bamboo for exhibit elements.
Museum of Science Hall of Human Life

The Hall of Human life, opened in 2013, incorporates sustainable building materials, green furnishings, natural and LED lighting.

As part of the process of renovating the lobby, in 2014 the Museum replaced the four-story-high single-pane glass curtain wall facing the river with an insulated and electronically controlled glazing system.

The new Sage Glass System is electro-chromatically tinted and connected to solar sensors that control the sunlight coming into the lobby, reducing solar glare and helping the Museum conserve energy. The system controls sunlight to optimize daylight, outdoor views, and comfort while preventing glare, fading, and overheating. By letting sunlight in on cool days and blocking it on hot days, SageGlass dramatically reduces energy demand. The installation preserves the iconic views of the Charles River by eliminating the need for shades, blinds and louvers.

Museum of Science SageGlass © SAGE Electrochromics, Inc.

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Recycling

The Museum strives to reduce our negative impact on the systems that are necessary for life, and seek opportunities to regenerate and enhance those systems.

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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Compost at the Museum of Science

A partial list of our Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Compost activities includes:

  • Composting of organic materials in all of our kitchens and events
  • Using compostable containers throughout the Museum’s Riverview Café
  • Weighing and monitoring of all compostable kitchen waste to ensure efficiency
  • Filtering and recycling cooking oil
  • Using and promoting locally grown foods and local vendors whenever possible
  • Café purchasing only sustainable seafoods based on Monterey Bay Aquarium's seafood WATCH program
  • Recycling of cans, bottles, and paper throughout the Museum
  • Recycling of metal and wood throughout the Museum operations and construction
  • Using recycled paper for all copiers
  • Using green cleaning products
  • Electronics and battery recycling
  • Using organic fertilizers, and eliminating their use where possible
  • Reducing / eliminating chemical spraying for exterior flying insects
  • Converted all Museum Store bags to reusable and/or compostable

The results of these measures over time are presented below. Note that the large increases in some items in 2013 are due to a massive clean out rather than any operational change.

Museum Annual Recycling and Waste Chart Museum of Science Recycling Exhibit

In addition, the Museum complies with Massachusetts waste bans that restrict the disposal, transfer for disposal, and contracting for disposal of certain hazardous and recyclable items at solid waste facilities in Massachusetts.

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Renewable Energy

As part of its Green Initiative, the Museum investigated several options for adding renewable energy to our energy portfolio. In 2009, we installed 15.6 kW of rooftop small-scale wind turbines, and in 2010, 29.26 kW of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels. These turbines and solar panels convert renewable energy into clean electricity we use on site.

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Since June 2011, the Museum of Science has drawn 100% of its electricity from green energy. Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) from wind energy facilities across the U.S. match all of the Museum's electricity usage. The RECs support renewable energy generation and a commitment to operate in an environmentally responsible way.

Solar Photovoltaic (PV)

Museum of Science Renewable Energy

Photo: Eric Workman, TMP Images

Since April 2010, photovoltaic panels on the Museum roof have been generating electricity and feeding it back to the Museum’s electrical power grid. This south-facing roof is not visible to most visitors, but is a good site for solar panels.

The Museum’s popular Lightning shows create peaks of high electrical energy use in the Theater of Electricity; Over time the energy produced by our solar panels balances much of that electricity consumption.

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Wind Turbine Lab

Museum Wind Turbine Lab

In 2009, the Museum of Science installed a rooftop wind turbine lab with five different types of small-scale turbines, a visible expression of sustainable energy at the Museum. The Museum's Wind Turbine Lab has experienced no issues with noise, vibration, ice throw, flickering shadows, bats, or other environmental problems, and just two bird strikes in more than five years. The Museum’s neighbors have commented that they enjoy seeing them in action, too.

The Lab provides data for the Catching the Wind exhibit, where visitors learn about our wind turbines and energy technology. The Lab is also an independent, real-world test facility for these small-scale wind turbines in an urban environment, providing solid data and project experience for professionals, universities, government, and consumers. As such, it is not scaled to power a significant fraction of the Museum's electrical load; however, the turbines are grid-connected and the Museum does use their energy.

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Future Plans

The interdependence between humans and nature will be a central idea for a near-term Museum renovation, the Yawkey Gallery on the Charles River. Visitors will begin to understand the role of humanity in the dynamic global biosphere, and the great opportunity society faces to both critically understand and profoundly affect the Earth’s environment.

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Yawkey Gallery on the Charles River

The Museum’s core message of the interdependency of the natural and engineered worlds will be exemplified in the Yawkey Gallery on the Charles River, which will be located at the heart of the Museum, adjacent to the lobby.

Humans have been living in and reshaping the Charles River watershed for over 5,000 years. In turn, the environment has shaped our culture and lives. The Gallery will explore how nature and technology are intertwined in our region. The challenges and solutions inherent in land use, dam building, species and habitat preservation, recreation, and wastewater disposal all illustrate the intimate relationship between humanity’s activity and the environment. In addition, visitors will be invited to observe the river and learn about its past, current, and potential future health through narrative histories, immersive media experiences, and access to real-time data sets.

Yawkey Gallery on the Charles River

Other Future Projects

  • A cistern and swale system to harvest and cleanse rainwater from our rooftops for use in restrooms and for irrigation
  • A green wall makeover for the garage, with live vegetation that will decrease storm water runoff and provide natural sound insulation and cooling shade
  • Temperature-controlled vestibules will on each garage floor, improving our ability to control the entry environments
  • Window glazing and shading to improve energy efficiency throughout
  • Skylights in the Blue Wing to bring natural light into the building
  • Considering new exhibits to address global climate issues and solutions
  • Considering electric vehicle charging stations
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Resources

This section includes Museum-based resources and a selection of external links on environmental sustainability, climate change, and energy.

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National Center for Technological Literacy

National Center for Technological Literacy

With the importance of technological literacy and the need for trained scientists and engineers, the Museum of Science launched the National Center for Technological Literacy (NCTL) in 2004 to enhance knowledge of engineering and technology for people of all ages and to inspire the next generation of engineers, inventors, and scientists. The NCTL has developed elementary, middle and high school curricula currently used by over 5 million students nationally. Here are some examples that focus on sustainable engineering challenges.

+ Explore sample curricula from NCTL
Water, Water Everywhere: Designing Water Filters

Water, Water Everywhere: Designing Water Filters

A component of the Engineering is Elementary (Grades 1-5, in-class) curriculum: The water you drink is clean and safe thanks to the environmental engineers who design and manage our water supply and water treatment systems. In this unit, the storybook Saving Salila’s Turtle introduces students to the problem of water pollution — and to some solutions. Students will investigate the properties of filter materials, apply their knowledge of water, and think like environmental engineers as they plan, construct, test and improve their own water filters.

Learn more about Engineering is Elementary >

Hop to It! Safe Removal of Invasive Species

Hop to It! Safe Removal of Invasive Species

A component of the Engineering Adventures (Grades 3-5, Afterschool) curriculum: Oh no! India and Jacob accidentally brought a cane toad from Australia to New Zealand. Cane toads are pests. They’re an invasive species that hurts native species in Australia — and they could do the same in New Zealand. Kids will help India and Jacob engineer a humane trap to catch the toad.

Learn more about Engineering Adventures >

Here Comes the Sun: Engineering Insulated Homes

Here Comes the Sun: Engineering Insulated Homes

A component of the Engineering Everywhere (Grades 6-8, Afterschool) curriculum: Keeping homes at a comfortable temperature takes a lot of energy. Use your green engineering skills to insulate a model home.

Learn more about Engineering Everywhere >

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Science To Go

ScienceToGo.org

ScienceToGo.org is an NSF-funded collaboration led by UMass Lowell that includes the MBTA, UMass Boston, Hofstra University, the National Science Foundation and the Museum of Science. We are exploring new ways to share science with the public, specifically educational signage on the T coupled with a website and online social media. Our goals are to interest people in climate change, represent clearly and accurately what science has revealed, help us all think for ourselves, and explore science education outside of the classroom.

Energized! Exploring Renewable Energy

We need energy for our everyday lives — to power our buildings and personal devices, to transport goods, to travel. Yet, the energy sources we've come to rely upon, like oil, gas, and coal, will eventually run out. Our planet enjoys resources that replenish constantly, including sunlight, wind, moving water, and geothermal heat. With our energy needs apparent, empower yourself with knowledge about these renewable sources and be inspired to find new ways to solve our local and global energy needs.

External Resources

Several external resources that we at the Museum have found useful and reliable include:

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National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

NOAA is a primary provider of climate science, data, tools, and information used by stakeholders and citizens in decision-making contexts. These resources are supported by NOAA’s strong foundation in science — including global climate observation and monitoring networks; world-renowned scientists; and state-of-the-art climate models.

U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)

The EIA collects, analyzes, and disseminates independent and impartial energy information to promote sound policymaking, efficient markets, and public understanding of energy and its interaction with the economy and the environment.

Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA)

"Massachusetts is the first state in the nation to combine energy and environmental agencies under one Cabinet secretary. In addition to the work we [the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs] do every day to protect the environment, we are committed to making information available to the public in a user friendly and accessible manner. We encourage you to learn more about the various initiatives and programs that we are undertaking to preserve and enhance the quality of life in Massachusetts. You are welcome to read more about our recent announcements."

United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

EPA efforts in the area of sustainability practices and approaches include labeling green products and promoting green chemistry and engineering, managing materials rather than creating waste, using green infrastructure to manage storm water runoff, and supporting the sustainable design of communities.

National Climate Assessment 2014

The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) was established by Presidential Initiative in 1989 and mandated by Congress in the Global Change Research Act (GCRA) of 1990 to develop and coordinate “a comprehensive and integrated United States research program which will assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change.” The National Climate Assessment summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future. A team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee produced the report, which was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences.

What We Know Initiative

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world’s largest non-government general science membership organization and the publisher of the Science family of journals. Its mission is “advance science for the benefit of all people.” The What We Know Initiative is dedicated to ensuring that three “R’s” of climate change communicated to the public:

"Reality — about 97% of climate experts have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening.
Risk — that the reality of climate change means that there are climate change impacts we can expect, but we also must consider what might happen, especially the small, but real, chance that we may face abrupt changes with massively disruptive impacts.
Response — that there is much we can do and that the sooner we respond, the better off we will be."
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