Friday, October 31, 2008

Museums + LEED Fridays: Green Exhibits?

[Note: Scott Mouton recently posted this note on the ASTC Listserv in response to a discussion about "green" exhibits. I thought it was an excellent discussion of what LEED credits mean in this context. -Maria]
On a basic level LEED is a way to quantifiably measure a building's performance in relation to the criteria set out by the USGBC. Buildings are LEED certified but not products, materials or people. This is not to say LEED has no bearing on exhibits. There are ways that exhibits can contribute towards points and the credit intents are a great way to inform a sustainable strategy for exhibits.

One thing that often gets confused is that materials can contribute towards a credit but
they are not in and of themselves certified. This might seem nit picky but it actually brings up an important aspect of LEED. The system evaluates the entire project based on a set of criteria that is a bit complex and often times contradictory. This complexity within their system is necessary and good.

As soon as you try to say something like "plyboo is a green material" things get complicated. It is a rapidly renewable resource but it also comes from China so it requires a great deal of energy to ship. At almost every turn you can find more questions than answers when trying to find something that is unequivocally "green". Instead of focusing on absolutes, LEED established a clear intent for each credit and then the sum of the credits gives an indication of the overall performance with regard to the environment.

For instance LEED has a credit for using rapidly renewable resources for 2.5% of all the construction materials (plyboo applies here) and it also has a credit for using regional materials for 10% of construction materials.

As the conversation about what make an exhibit "green" evolves, I hope it will broaden beyond material choices and focus overall sustainable strategies. As was raised in an earlier note, there are so many ways to look at this issue. Focusing on the entire life cycle of an exhibit will give you a different set of criteria (and thus end result) than if you were focused on carbon footprint. How do we establish this criteria and then what does it say about us? What are we willing to overlook, what tradeoffs are we willing to make?

So far the discussion has focused on the built object, but there is also the content of an environmentally focused exhibit to think about and how to engage the visitor in these issues. The social space of the museum could also offer unique ways for visitors to experience the aggregated impact of their decisions and sense community that can come from acting collectively.

Oh, and my choices for countertops typically *marketed* as green are:
  • sustainably forested wood (if it is an appropriate application)
  • Colorlith (recycled pulp in concrete)
  • Recycled glass (if you can afford it)


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