Walk in (Sustainable) Beauty
Understanding and sustaining a biodiverse planet is one of four themes chosen by the Smithsonian to focus the Institution's work on the major issues of our day. At NMAI, our contributions to environmental research and related public programs center on American Indian knowledge. At its finest, Native knowledge reflects a relationship developed over millennia with the living earth, an ethos of balance derived from observation and analysis of the natural world. When applied to contemporary global challenges, Native knowledge can bring a different perspective to the quest for solutions.
The museum's staff is committed to applying the value of sustainability at work—to walk the walk—through an on-going sustainability program led by the museum’s Facilities Management Office and a committee of volunteers. For example, the museum separates paper, plastic and glass for recycling at literally every workstation, and uses drop-off points to collect and recycle less common materials, including batteries, light bulbs and printer cartridges. Facilities Management has taken the initiative to switch to environmentally safe cleaning products and supplies throughout the museum. Aerating faucets have helped the museum reduce indoor water use by more than 10 percent between May 1, 2010 and April 30, 2011. Outdoors, the museum and Smithsonian Horticulture have collaborated to reduce the use of potable water for landscaping by 95 percent. Smithsonian Horticulture composts or recycles ground materials from the museum’s landscape, as well. Conservation efforts—office lights automatically turn off at 8 p.m., as those of us who work on deadline know all too well—and new technologies like solar panels and highly efficient hand dryers in the public restrooms have reduced the museum’s energy use by more than 17 percent in the last few years.
In short, the museum is striving to be more than a place that evokes the beauty of the natural world. We want to do our part to work sustainably. For more specifics on the museum’s efforts, visit the NMAI Sustainability Practices website hosted by the Smithsonian Office of Facilities Engineering and Operations. And if you’re going to be in Washington the weekend of July 22 through 24, take Metro or ride your bike down to the museum’s annual Living Earth Festival and the symposium Creating a Climate of Change: A Sustainable Future for the Living Earth to discuss more ways we can all help build a culture of sustainability.