42nd Annual Meeting – May 30th, "Sustainability Roundtable" hosted by the Sustainability Committee

What does it take to get your institution to do something about sustainability? The Sustainability Committee roundtable sought to create a space to discuss facilitating change at our institutions. In full disclosure, I am on the Sustainability Committee, however my role at the Annual Meeting did not include organizing the roundtable. Jia-Sun Tsang and Sarah Stauderman lead a discussion of five sustainable issues, focusing on the Smithsonian Institution (SI) as a case study. This was followed by a discussion amongst the audience, who were divided into groups of two.
The five sustainable issues were recycling, reuse, making a difference/activism, preservation environment, and lighting. After the presentation of these five, the audience was invited to add additional issues they would like to discuss, which included planet sustainability (especially water consumption, CO2 emissions, exotoxins emissions).

  • Key factors for improving the success of recycling at the Smithsonian were improving communication between housekeeping and facilities and educating the staff about how to recycle.
  • Reuse of materials occurs at an individual level, through units, and across museums. For example, the SI has a process for reusing equipment, exhibition cases, etc. that are no longer needed at a particular branch. A
  • Activism was profiled through the experience of Eric Hollinger, an employee at the SI who has had a major impact on green issues. He sees himself as an “agitator,” “assistant,” “advisor,” and “advocate.”
  • Making changes to the preservation environment occurs best when all the relevant constituents are at the table (facilities, conservation, curatorial, etc.). An example of effective change to preservation environments was a Smithsonian wide summit that occurred last year.
  • Colonial Williamsburg recently worked across departments to make changes to their lighting system and switch to Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs). Further information on that case study can be found on the Sustainability pages of the AIC wiki. Another case study for successful changes to lighting is the partnership between the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Department of Energy.

Sarah Stauderman gave us a crash course in management theory to give us the tools and mindset necessary to create change. Learning to frame the conversation to effect change takes practice. These conversations work best if you have a defined purpose and engage multiple perspectives. Change happens most quickly when you can collaborate, compromise, and negotiate with your colleagues. Keeping things simple and aiming for small outcomes will help to get the momentum going on your project. When you do get a meeting, think carefully about where the meeting will be held and if you can make it an experience or in some way engage the constituents in the issue.
We then broke into pairs to discuss the following three questions. The goal of this section was to help participants practice the dialogue and thought processes that facilitate change.
1)   What do you need to achieve the goal?
2)   What in your organization is keeping you from your goal?
3)   What training/resources do you need?
Personally, I found it helpful to have a framework to start thinking about change. Talking through ideas with my partner was encouraging and provided valuable insight. I hope that the other audience participants were able to take away a feeling of optimism about their ability to implement new sustainability initiatives at their institutions.