Get Ready for San Francisco with the Sustainability Committee: The World's Greenest Museum

AIC's 42nd Annual Meeting - 2014
This is the third in a series of posts by the Sustainability Committee in the run-up to the 2014 Annual Meeting, describing sustainability issues and initiatives in the city of San Francisco. The first blog post explained plastic bag and container laws. The second blog post described the water crisis in California.
Did you know that the California Academy of Sciences, located in San Francisco, is the world’s greenest museum? It is also the largest public LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum-rated building in the world. Designed by architect Renzo Piano, it was built from recycled materials where possible, it has a green ‘living’ roof with six inches of soil for insulation and skylights that open to vent hot air, solar panels, radiant heating in the floors, and insulation made from recycled denim (yes, denim!).
The green roof is comprised of seven hillocks to pay homage to the landscape of San Francisco, and also to blend in with the setting of Golden Gate Park. It also has weather stations to provide data to the automated passive ventilation systems. The benefit of a living roof is absorption of moisture and carbon dioxide, and natural cooling of the building.  It was planted with native plants intended to survive well in the San Francisco climate. There has been some critique of that idea, because native plants may not be suited to a city environment, but any new idea takes a while to be perfected. Hopefully, green roofs will become more and more common within the next decade and difficulties will be smoothed out.  If you visit Golden Gate park, check out the building and see for yourself.
For more information on the LEED program and how it relates to preservation concerns take in the talk by architect Scott Schiamberg and conservator Rachael Arenstein at AIC’s Opening Session, May 29 10:50am – 11:10am  A LEED primer for conservators: or, what should I do when the architect proposes daylight in our new galleries?
I also recommend the de Young Museum, with its copper exterior that is intended to turn green over time to match the park setting, and the Japanese Tea Garden because it is beautiful.

Get Ready for San Francisco with the Sustainability Committee: California Water Shortage

AIC's 42nd Annual Meeting - 2014This is the second in a series of blog posts by the Sustainability Committee in the run-up to the 2014 Annual Meeting, describing sustainability issues and initiatives in the city of San Francisco. (The first blog post, regarding plastic bag and container laws, can be read here.)
Over the last six months, we have been hearing about the water shortage in the state of California, and this post will attempt to answer: what is the cause, and how will it affect us when we are in San Francisco? According to the California Department of Water Resources; “There are many ways that drought can be defined. Some ways can be quantified, such as meteorological drought (period of below normal precipitation) or hydrologic drought (period of below average runoff), others are more qualitative in nature (shortage of water for a particular purpose). There is no universal definition of when a drought begins or ends. Drought is a gradual phenomenon.” The website also explains that cyclical droughts have been common in California since records have been kept. Paleo-climate research has shown that in the more distant past, California has experienced much more severe droughts than those in the recent centuries.
So, this is a normal cycle, but there are two major differences that make this drought more worrisome. The first is that many more people and industries are dependent on the water supply than ever before (38,332,521 people at last count, according to the Census Bureau). This article from Energy & Environment Publishing explains “The state’s population has shot to 38 million people today, compared with 22 million during the last record-breaking drought in 1977. Meanwhile, the state’s farms increased their revenue to $45 billion from $9.6 billion over the same time period. The earlier figure is in that year’s dollars.” Secondly, the just-released 2014 National Climate Assessment (see ‘Water’) predicts that droughts can be expected to intensify in the 21st century.
The governor declared a state of emergency on January 17th. This asked all Californians to reduce water use by 20%, brought contingency plans into effect, made financial assistance available for those most affected, and created a task force. The most notable effects of the water shortage state-wide have been: a predicted 7% loss of farmland and a corresponding increase in prices (not just in California, but worldwide), especially for avocados, tomatoes, almonds, lettuce, cotton, rice, melons, and peppers; drastic lowering of water reservoirs; loss of wetland habitat (many salmon will have to be trucked to spawning grounds this year); lowering of groundwater quality; and increased chance of wildfires.
Locally, San Francisco has not been feeling the effects as much as southern and western portions of the state. Already, city residents have an excellent record of conserving water, and the public utilities commission continues to encourage water-saving through voluntary initiatives.
What I predict we will notice while we are there is a parched landscape viewed through the airplane windows or on sightseeing forays into the surrounding region, higher than usual prices on produce, and lower levels in the surrounding bodies of water. The worst case scenario would be a concurrent wildfire in the region that affects air quality, flight schedules and/or camping plans.
The good news is that The Hyatt Regency San Francisco (the conference hotel) has a list of green practices that includes water saving features such as low-flow showerheads and toilets, aerated faucets, towel/sheet reuse, and drip irrigation.
Information Sources:
 California Drought Updates by the Association of Water Agencies
California Water Science Center
NBC News: California Drought
New York Times: California’s Thirsting Farmland
The Guardian: California’s Drought Portends High Prices for Cinco de Mayo Favourites

Get Ready for San Francisco with the Sustainability Committee: Plastic bags and Containers

This is the first in a series of blog posts by the Sustainability Committee in the run-up to the 2014 Annual Meeting, describing sustainability issues and initiatives in the city of San Francisco.
Residents of Washington, DC, Boulder, Santa Fe, and a few other cities (including about 50 in the state of California) may be used to similar ordinances, but everyone else should be forewarned: when you make a purchase, the store can no longer provide a free bag to go along with it. For a 10 cent fee, you can purchase a ‘compliant’ bag to carry your goods in. Compliant bags are either:
* Compostable plastic bags labeled with a certification logo
* Paper bags labeled with 40% post-consumer recycled content
* Reusable checkout bags designed for at least 125 uses and washable
Why is this a good idea? Plastic bags clog sewers, pipes, and waterways. They mar the landscape. They photodegrade by breaking down to smaller fragments which readily soak up toxins, then contaminate soil and water. They are making a significant contribution to the plastic pollution of the oceans. Thousands of marine animals die each year from ingesting them. And, they are manufactured from petroleum, a resource that is both finite and dangerous to transport.
In addition, you will notice that your takeout food containers are a little different than what you may be used to. Containers are required to be compostable or recyclable. Styrofoam is a definite no-no. As the SF Environment (a city agency) site says: “Made from oil, polystyrene foam is non-renewable, non-biodegradable, and non-recyclable. Polystyrene foam food service ware ends up in landfills, waterways, or the ocean. It can break into pieces, which are often mistaken for food and ingested by marine animals, birds, and fish. Medical studies suggest that chemicals in polystyrene foam can cause cancer and leach into food or drinks.”
While we are there, you will still be able to purchase water in plastic bottles (although, please don’t; you can get it from the tap). But the city council has passed an ordinance prohibiting their sale in any public spaces that will go into full effect by 2018.
Laws like these can hopefully prevent what was witnessed by Jia-Sun Tsang, who works at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC: “On April 12, National Cherry Blossom Festival, thousands of tourists came through the Mall and left park workers 27 to 30 tons of trash to pick up.”
Many city councils are considering similar laws. Please contact your lawmakers and show your support. Refuse to patronize a restaurant (or staff cafeteria) that uses styrofoam. If you work at an institution, let the suppliers (or decision-makers) know that you prefer to chose products from vendors that use less packaging.
SF Environment: Plastic Bag Ordinance
Cities with Plastic Bag Bans
MSNBC: SF Bans Sale of Plastic Water Bottles
Examiner: SF Bans Sale of Plastic Water Bottles
SF Environment: Take-out Container Ordinance
Facts About the Plastic Bag Pandemic

Updates to Sustainable Practices on the AIC Wiki

The Sustainability Committee spent the month of February adding content to the Sustainable Practices section of the AIC wiki. We each choose a short project to work on, most of which involved adding information to the wiki from websites, articles, and books. What better way to highlight our new wiki content than to celebrate it in poetry? It is still possible to delve much deeper into these topics. We welcome your comments and feedback emailed to

Ode to Feburary

“Oh February, Oh ‘Wiki Month,’” cried this committee,
“How quickly you passed, like snow on the trees.”
“What’s changed?” You ask. “Quite a lot, I think!
There are new pages and content and at least one new link.”
We start with the past, we added our roots.
A brief history of sustainable institutions – Oh what a hoot!
Added are tables on green measurements
For water purifying lab instruments.
What about packing and shipping of art and supplies?
Consider recycled boxes or reused crates, before they fly!
How sustainable are your materials? How green are your treatments?
We’ve started a section but need your comments.
And solvents, green solvents, we cover those too,
With info on substitutions made just for you.
Think big, think bold, and make your lab green,
Or think about starting your own “Go Green!” team.
Contribute, we ask, please help us improve!
Its March and we’ve just gotten into a groove.
– Robin O’Hern and the Sustainability Committee

AIC's Committee on Sustainable Conservation Practice becomes Sustainability Committee

Why the re-branding?
When our committee was founded in 2010, we chose the name “Committee on Sustainable Conservation Practice” after much discussion and a vote. We soon noticed that people both inside and outside the committee would often get the name slightly wrong in postings, articles, and conversation. Common versions included “Committee for Sustainable Conservation Practices” and “Committee on Sustainability in Conservation Practice.”
At first, we thought that this was temporary; the name was new and would take time to get used to. But by the spring of 2013, it became clear that the confusion was proliferating each time the wrong name appeared on a website or article. Committee members would find it necessary to double-check the name (because even we were not certain we could remember it exactly), but had to be careful which site we used to double-check.
Since the name has not become effortless after 3 years, we decided the best thing to do is go with the name that most people find easier to use in conversation anyway, “Sustainability Committee.” (With an optional “the” at the beginning.)
Our email address remains the same: Contact us if you have a question, a story, or a tip related to sustainable issues in conservation.

Committee On Sustainable Conservation Practices Collaborates with NEU Environmental Engineers and MFA Boston

On May 30, 2013 at this year’s AIC meeting in Indianapolis, the Committee for Sustainable Conservation Practices (CSCP) will host its second lunch session, “Linking the Environment and Heritage Preservation: Life Cycle Assessment of Loans, RH Parameters and Lights.” CSCP and environmental engineers from Northeastern University will present our collaborative project that examines the sustainability of loans, exhibitions and environmental control from cradle to grave based on case studies at the Museum Fine Arts, Boston.  After the presentations, lunch session attendees will have the opportunity to work with the CSCP and our guest speakers as we break out into groups and brainstorm about the next phase of the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) project.  We will discuss how to implement the LCA findings- create blueprints and methods for new, sustainable best practices.
Since the 1990s industries and businesses have applied a quantitative method to evaluate the environmental and economic impact of materials use and related activities.  The process, called a life cycle assessment, looks at issues from cradle to grave by evaluating data using a range of computer software programs.  An LCA is a method developed to better understand and quantitatively address the environmental impacts associated with manufactured and consumed products throughout a lifecycle from raw material acquisition through production, use, end-of-life treatment, recycling and final disposal (cradle-to –grave).   To carry out an LCA, an issue, material, or action is researched, quantitative values are assigned to each aspect of a life cycle, and the values are inserted into selected database(s).  Software processes the data and the results are evaluated, analyzed and applied.
This tool can be incredibly useful to the art/heritage conservation community as we work towards determining sustainable best practices that will reduce energy consumption and lower related costs.  The LCA results can be implemented to achieve more efficient heating/cooling and lighting methods.  It can clarify cost and energy benefits that might result from wider relative humidity parameters and new lighting methods.  Through evaluating all aspects of loans and exhibitions, the LCA results can help museum staff to reduce associated waste and carbon footprint.
AIC CSCP/Northeastern University LCA Projects
The CSCP has collaborated with Northeastern University environmental engineer Dr. Mathew Eckelman and his students to conduct three LCAs related to museum activities and collections care. LCA 1 studies environmental control and energy and costs savings; LCA 2 looks at loans and exhibitions to identify the most and least sustainable aspects; LCA 3 will include a comparative lighting study. The Northeastern students are working with conservators and museum maintenance staff at the Museum Fine Arts, Boston to become familiar with museum practices and to set the LCAs in an actual environment. Their work will complete the first phase of this project in May 2013.  In the second phase, the LCA findings and proposed methods will be presented at future meetings, workshops and through publications to educate the AIC community and related fields about our work.
LCA Defined:;;