Science museum

Science Museum steps up environmental efforts by halving its carbon emissions


A small bright spot appeared when the pandemic forced the Science Museum of Minnesota to sink for months.

With no authorized visitors inside, teams could quickly replace more than 6,000 light bulbs with energy-efficient LEDs, as part of the St. Paul Museum’s expansion of environmental efforts.

“Climate change has become a high priority,” said Patrick Hamilton, director of the museum’s global change initiatives. “There is a lot more urgency.”

Earlier this spring, the Science Museum took a milestone in reducing carbon emissions by 50%, nine years ahead of schedule, in large part thanks to the signing of an Xcel Energy program that supplies the museum with wind power. .

Next goal: to make the museum 100% carbon neutral by 2050, if not sooner.

Minnesota nonprofits and foundations are stepping up their green efforts internally, from using eco-friendly building designs to divesting fossil fuel assets.

The Science Museum, which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors a year, hopes to lead by example, increasing water conservation and reducing pollution in its sprawling 370,000-square-foot building on the cliffs of the Mississippi River in downtown St. Paul.

The museum is exploring ways to recycle stormwater and plans this summer to plant wheat, among other perennial crops, to improve soil and water quality while exploring other ways to cut costs and reduce emissions. carbon from the heating and air conditioning of its building.

This comes at a critical time for the Science Museum, where executives estimate pandemic closures have cost them around $ 15 million, in turn leading to significant layoffs and time off. Visitors bring in about a third of the museum’s annual budget of $ 40 million.

Pass the word

While the cost savings associated with green measures may be less, it is money that can be reallocated to programs rather than operations. Additionally, projects can help educate visitors about the importance of green measures. More than 800,000 people passed through the museum’s doors in 2017.

“They’re really trying to do their part to illustrate what good resource management is,” said Mark Doneux, administrator of the Capitol Region Watershed District, who is working with the museum to study how to reuse rainwater. “They really are a role model.”

The Science Museum isn’t the only nonprofit in Minnesota that has recently focused on green measures.

In St. Paul, Springboard for the Arts will unveil its new building later this year, redeveloping a former car dealership on University Avenue. With the help of the river basin district, the association transformed an asphalt parking lot into a mini-park with a footpath, a rain garden and a cistern to collect runoff water.

At Eden Prairie, Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies installed a greywater drip irrigation system – the first of its kind in Minnesota – during a building expansion in 2016, recycling wastewater to irrigate the landscaping.

The foundation, which is Minnesota’s largest private foundation by the amount of money it grants each year, also added solar panels and implemented geothermal technology.

Donations, investments

The McKnight Foundation in Minneapolis eliminated coal companies from its investments in 2016 and, among other measures, launched bicycle trainings and encouraged employees to cycle to work to reduce carbon emissions.

The philanthropic sector has also seen an increase in giving to environmental causes in Minnesota and nationally. Last year, Giving USA estimated that donations to environmental and animal organizations increased 11% in 2019, the sixth consecutive year of growth.

The Science Museum has been working for years to renovate the six-story building that opened in 1999, implementing green measures as technology progressed.

In 2010, the museum’s annual electricity use was equivalent to the amount of electricity used by each home in an 18-block neighborhood of St. Paul. Since then, the museum has reduced its electricity consumption every year.

The installation of heat recovery chillers in 2015 enabled the museum to reuse thermal energy, saving approximately $ 300,000 per year while reducing carbon emissions by a third.

The museum had already installed solar panels on its roof and replaced the bulbs in the adjacent parking ramp with LEDs before launching its $ 2.5 million project to modernize its lighting infrastructure and install light bulbs at Interior LEDs. Switching off movie theater lighting with LEDs will be the last step in the next few years.

This spring, the Science Museum also expanded a gravel bed that the Mississippi Park Connection uses as a nursery, containing around 1,000 bare root trees that will then be planted along the river. While the project does not help the museum meet its own ecological goals, it does help create a healthy forest along the nearby river and is another educational tool.

“It’s absolutely important,” Katie Nyberg, executive director of Mississippi Park Connection, said of the museum’s efforts.

“They can be a leader not only for the museum industry, but also for other downtown landowners.

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141