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

    Carbon Inventory Project

    The Carbon Inventory Project is an offshoot of Culture Over Carbon and funded by the same IMLS National Leadership Grant. Environment & Culture Partners, New Buildings Institute, and New England Museum Association kicked the project off on Monday, October 31st 2022. We feel strongly about establishing a sector benchmark in ENERGYSTAR Portfolio Manager®, and we learned from you that establishing institutional benchmarks requires time and support.

    We’re providing a series of presentations and office hours to help build the cohort of museums who, like you, will establish an energy benchmark, but will also keep monitoring, improving, and reporting on that number. We hope you too will keep monitoring, improving, and reporting to build on your momentum from Culture over Carbon.

    By June 1, 2023 we’ll aggregate everyone’s 2022 data and establish the first annual energy and carbon reporting. The entire schedule of training and more information can be found here.

    Culture Over Carbon Participation

    The Data Collection phase is now closed.

    Participant Messaging Resources

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

    For questions, please contact Webly Bowles at or Erin Murphy at

    Project Information


    Culture Over Carbon is a groundbreaking research project 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 examining data from five types of museums, and 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 will establish an energy carbon footprint for the museum sector and create “roadmaps”’ to help these cultural sector institutions use energy more efficiently. The research will consider how greenhouse gas (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 will help 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 the nonprofit energy consultants New Buildings Institute (NBI).  

    Why Is This Work Important?

    Very few museums have the ability or resources to monitor and assess their own energy use, especially during this period of economic stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 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 often still struggle with how to best make good choices on energy use and how to pay for it. Your institution’s data can remain anonymous if you prefer.

    The Research Process

    NBI staff will collect and evaluate energy use data from participating institutions, including zoos and aquariums, gardens, historic sites, and five types of museums.  The comparative research will create the field’s first in-depth energy use analysis to support near-term decision-making at any institution.  It will also create the first estimate of the field’s energy impacts on climate to support strategic reductions in line to avoid the worst effects of climate change to protect cultural institutions.  This analysis will support museums’ data-driven strategic planning and implementation.  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.  The results benefit the climate system for the long-term health and safety of living beings, communities, and cultures.

    NBI is also researching how future codes and policies will impact the field.  From increased efficiency in model building codes that will affect major retrofits, to jurisdictional policies requiring energy disclosure and energy reduction over time.  The results will highlight potential facility needs to meet these codes and policies and provide time to pursue capital funds for known projects necessary for future regulations.

    Contact Us

    Please reach out to ECP at with questions about the project and Webly Bowles at with questions about sharing data and the report you’ll receive.