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

  • 4 min read


We are excited there are so many institutions interested in participating in the cultural institution industry’s largest energy study. If you missed the Culture Over Carbon office hours held in January 2022, you can view a recording of the presentation here. Additional information about the research project and estimated time commitment can be found below.

After reviewing the Office Hours, if you are interested in participating, please complete the steps listed in the Energy and Facility Data Collection section below.

Energy and Facility Data Collection

  1. Complete the Participation and Facility Information form and
  2. Share Building Information data and Energy Data
    • Complete the applicable Data Collection Spreadsheet below (Botanical Garden, Zoo, or All other Museum Types) which requires providing at least one year of energy data plus building information. If you have all of the information, completing the form will take about an hour.  However, you may need to pull reports, city records, maintenance plans, utility bills, or request information from contractors to pull the data together.
    • You can also connect to New Building Institute (Think Tank) via EnergyStar Portfolio Manager (ESPM) to share your energy data. Instructions for using ESPM are included in the spreadsheet.
    • Send completed spreadsheets and questions to Webly Bowles,

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.

Benefits to you:

  • A stipend for contributing 12 months of recent energy data
  • An energy sensitivity profile for your site

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.