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Culture Over Carbon: Understanding the Impact of Museums’ Energy Use

    The Culture Over Carbon (COC) research study created the cultural sector’s first in-depth energy use analysis and the first estimate of the sector’s energy impacts on climate. Cultural institutions can use this data to support strategic planning, and implement structural, mechanical, and behavioral changes. In the near term, this information will help individual institutions reduce operating costs to improve their financial condition, pursue capital funds for energy-related projects, and prepare for expected changes in energy availability and regulations. Collectively these actions by the cultural sector will benefit the climate system for the long-term health and safety of living beings, communities, and cultures.

    Research and Findings

    Project partner, New Buildings Institute (NBI) collected and evaluated energy data from 130+ participating institutions, including zoos and aquariums, gardens, historic sites, and five types of museums. Analysis was conducted using the software tool FirstView® to understand the energy performance of the 240+ buildings in the study. Quantitative energy data and analysis provided critical evidence to advance energy efficiency efforts. Qualitative data, including discussions with participants about their work in the study, as well as research about expanding building codes and policies were prioritized alongside the energy analysis to empower cultural institutions in their next steps. The complete report and the roadmaps “Recommendations for Cultural Institutions” and “Codes & Policies Factsheet” were released spring-summer 2023.

    Reports and Factsheets

    Learn about the project’s analysis and findings in the full Culture Over Carbon Report.

    Take next steps for energy efficiency with the Recommendations for Cultural Institutions Factsheet. The energy saving strategies in this factsheet have been successfully implemented by leadership and staff of cultural institutions nationwide to reduce operating costs and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from energy use, while working within budget and staffing constraints.

    Be informed about building codes and policies, including local energy benchmarking requirements for buildings like yours. This Codes and Policies Factsheet includes common energy and low-carbon codes and policies for new construction and existing buildings and how they affect cultural institutions. Federal, state, and local governments are using codes and policies to meet GHG emission reduction and decarbonization goals. Cultural institutions should be aware of these codes and policies since they may be required to comply.


    COC is a groundbreaking research study funded by a National Leadership grant (2021 – 2023) of nearly $600,000 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). It will improve the museum field’s understanding of energy use by its examination of data from five types of museums, zoos and aquariums, gardens, and historic sites. The research covers all United States geographic regions, and varying sizes and types of buildings (e.g., office vs. collection storage). The project was completed in summer 2023. It created the first in-depth energy use analysis of the cultural sector, produced “roadmaps”’ to help the sector use energy more efficiently, and established an estimate of the U.S. cultural sector’s energy carbon footprint (see the Carbon Inventory Project below). The research considered how GHG emissions vary by an institution’s geographic location, that energy sources differ by state and municipality, and that regulations vary as well. This project helped participating institutions understand their specific energy use, while also building the cultural sector’s broad understanding of its current energy practices and helping it to plan for future expected changes in energy availability, policies, and regulations. The grant was awarded to the New England Museum Association (NEMA). NEMA leads the project in partnership with Environment & Culture Partners (ECP) and nonprofit energy consultants, New Buildings Institute (NBI).

    The project’s influence is being extended through a continued partnership with NBI to develop and ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager® performance rating for Museums with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

    Why Is This Work Important?

    Too few museums have the ability or resources to monitor and assess their own energy use. Yet without this data they are unable to make strategic energy management decisions to save funds or reduce the GHG emissions that worsen the climate crisis. Even with this information, staff and leadership still often struggle with how to make good choices on energy use and how to pay for it.

    Carbon Inventory Project

    The Carbon Inventory Project (CIP) is part of COC and funded by an IMLS National Leadership Grant. The feedback received during Phase One of COC identified collecting energy data as the greatest barrier to research participation. CIP provided free training and resources for cultural institutions to organize their energy data and calculate their institution’s carbon footprint associated with energy use October 2022 – June 2023.

    The first annual Carbon Day was June 16, 2023. It is the first reporting milestone to build sector-wide capacity and commitment to calculating and reducing GHG emissions from energy use. Each year the sector will report its emissions to build awareness of the need for this work and to celebrate progress while spreading energy management skills.

    Why June 16? The formula for Carbon Dioxide is CO2. The atomic number of Carbon is 6 (June). The atomic number of Oxygen is 8 and there are two which totals 16.

    Promotion and Messaging

    Help us promote this work

    COC benefits individual cultural institutions and the entire cultural sector. Use the Communications Toolkit to share information about the research and findings from this study.

    Public Communications Toolkit

    Communications Toolkit for COC Participants

    Messaging Resources for Participants

    Participants: For interpreting your FirstView® Report and messaging internally and externally regarding this research project use the below resources. This includes a Messaging Framework, Project Backgrounder, and Boiler Plate Press Release.

    Culture Over Carbon Participants

    The following institutions opted to share their names as participants in COC:

    Adler Planetarium, Chicago, IL; Akron Zoological Park, Akron, OH; Alaska State Libraries, Archives, & Museums, Sitka, AK; American Swedish Institute, Minneapolis, MN; Ann Mary Brown Memorial, Brown University, Providence, RI; Aquarium of Niagara, Niagara Falls, NY; Art Museum of Southeast Texas, Beaumont, TX; Asia Society, Brooklyn, NY; Atlanta History Center, Atlanta, GA; Bell Museum, St. Paul, MN; Bellevue Arts Museum, Bellevue, WA; Berkshire County Historical Society at Herman Melville’s Arrowhead, Pittsfield, MA; Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, Clermont, KY; Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Honolulu, HI; Burke Museum of Natural and Cultural History, Seattle, WA; Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA; Center for Arts & History, Lewis-Clark State College, Lewiston, ID; Chicago Children’s Museum, Chicago, IL; Children’s Museum of Eau Claire, Eau Claire, WI; Children’s Museum of Illinois, Decatur, IL; Chumash Indian Museum, Thousand Oaks, CA; Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, OH; Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH; Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, Cincinnati, OH; Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA; Creative Discovery Museum, Chattanooga, TN; Customs House Museum and Cultural Center, Clarksville, TN; Detroit Zoological Society, Royal Oak, MI; Discovery Museum, Acton, MA; Dumbarton Oak Research Library and Collections, Washington, DC; Explora, Albuquerque, NM; Exploratorium, San Francisco, CA; Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, ME; Field Museum, Chicago, IL; Florence Griswold Museum, Old Lyme, CT; Frye Art Museum, Seattle, WA; Henry Vilas Zoo, Madison, WI; Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens, Washington, DC; Historic New England, South Berwick, ME; International Museum of Art & Science, McAllen, TX; John Ball Zoo, Grand Rapids, MI; John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA; John Hair Cultural Center, Tahlequah, OK; Kansas City Zoo, Kansas City, MO; Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, Ann Arbor, MI; Kentucky Museum at Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, KY; KidCity Children’s Museum, Middletown, CT; KidsQuest Children’s Museum, Bellevue, WA; La Plata County Historical Society / Animas Museum, Durango, CO; Madison Children’s Museum, Madison, WI; Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA), Madison, WI; Memphis Museum of Science & History, Memphis, TN; Missouri History Museum, St. Louis, MO; Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, CA; Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA; Mt. Cuba Center, Hockessin, DE; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL; Museum of Discovery and Science, Ft. Lauderdale, FL; Museum of Russian Icons, Clinton, MA; Museum of Science, Boston, MA; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Oklahoma City Zoo, Oklahoma City, OK; Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), Portland, OR; Pacific Science Center, Seattle, WA; Paul Revere Memorial Association, Boston, MA; Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Pittsburgh, PA; Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park, Phoenix, AZ; San Diego Natural History Museum, San Diego, CA; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), San Francisco, CA; Science Museum of Minnesota, Saint Paul, MN; Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA; Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, IL; Shelton McMurphy Johnson House, Eugene, OR; Smithsonian, Suitland, MD; Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS; St. Louis Science Center, St. Louis, MO; Strawbery Banke, Portsmouth, NH; Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma, WA; The Bakken Museum, Minneapolis, MN; The Henry Ford, Dearborn, MI; The Montshire Museum of Science, Norwich, VT; The Wild Center, Tupper Lake, NY; Thoreau Farmhouse, Concord, MA; University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, MI; Ute Indian Museum, Montrose, CO; Vermont History Center, Barre, VT; Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, Miami, FL; Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, Scottsdale, AZ; William J. Clinton Presidential Library, Little Rock, AR; WOW! Children’s Museum, Lafayette, CO

    Contact Us

    Email us with questions or sign up for our newsletter to receive updates about COC, CIP and future opportunities to participate in efforts like this. You may also contact Webly Bowles at with additional questions about COC and the report.