Greening Museums


Illustration by Emily Woodworth

There have been moments in recent months when continued attention to the little details we see, and link to concerning incremental improvements in environmental sensitivity, social responsibility, or any other sustainability metric seems akin to “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.” Political turmoil, and specifically political commitment to dismantle environmental protection in various influential countries, might make incremental change seem even less significant to some. These deck chairs are different. Every instance of care and action is a data point worthy of attention, and we will continue to connect the dots. Today, from the Field Museum of Chicago and their awesome Green Team:


A Greener Field (the Museum’s “green team”) began as a grassroots recycling effort in 1989, and now has over 40 members representing every area of the Museum.  Staff members who share the Museum’s commitment to improving sustainability attend monthly meetings which provide an outlet for them to share successes and challenges in terms of greening their departments, as well as a vehicle to initiate and help implement institution-wide programs.  From bike sharing programs to recycling and compostingendeavors, A Greener Field helps integrate environmentalism, conservation and sustainability across the board into the Museum’s operations.  You can learn more about one of the Green Team’s most prolific projects, a staff-maintained community garden, at the Edible Treasures Garden page.

RU Sustainability Studies Major Laura Miller Hill describes the Field’s sustainability efforts in her October 8, 2015 blog: Greening the Field Museum: SUST Major Laura Miller Hill Reports on Her Summer Sustainability Internship.


In 2013, The Field Museum introduced two new restaurants, the Field Bistro and the Explorer Cafe, managed by Aramark Sports & Entertainment.  In preparation, the Museum worked closely with Greg Christian and Beyond Green Sustainable Food Partners for several years to craft a sustainable food operator program, designed to help the restaurants put the Museum’s mission of conservation into practice within its walls and to educate the public while doing so.

Focusing on fresh, locally and sustainably sourced food for the public as well as waste and energy reduction, the restaurants put the sustainability mantra of “what gets measured gets done” into action, weighing all waste leaving the restaurants and employing back-of-the-house and front-of-the-house recycling and composting.  The restaurants are externally audited every quarter, and they are on (or well above) target for over 50 separate goals that get deep into the supply chain and day-to-day operations, with increasing sliding-scale metrics over a 10-year time span.After their first full year of operation, the Museum restaurants achieved the following:

  • 18% of all food purchases met one or more sustainable standards (USDA organic, Fair Trade, sustainable seafood, etc)
  • 5% of all food purchases are locally sourced
  • 44% of the menu is vegetarian friendly
  • 74% waste diversion rate – we’re serious!

See menus and learn more by visiting the Restaurants webpage.

Additionally, in 2015 the Museum received LEED Gold certification for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance.  The Museum is not just a beautiful and unique location to hold a special event; revenue from events supports conservation and educational activities both here in the building as well as across the Chicago region and all seven continents.


Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a program that provides third-party certification of green buildings. The LEED rating systems are managed by the U.S. Green Building Council, and address both a wide variety of buildings types, including commercial buildings, homes, neighborhoods, retail, healthcare, and schools, as well as every phase of the building lifecycle including design, construction, operations and maintenance.  Projects may earn one of four levels of LEED certification (Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum) by achieving a given number of point-based credits within the rating system.

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