Six months ago, before I started my internship at PGM, I had only a vague idea of the concept of sustainability and would have guessed it had something to do with vanishing civilizations due to my background in anthropology. This isn’t far from the truth. Sustainability basically means to endure. This multifaceted concept centers on maintaining the balance between society, the economy, and the environment (also known as the three “pillars of sustainability”) for current and future generations. Balancing all three pillars will ensure that future generations will have ample resources they need to survive and endure. So it’s not a far stretch for museum’s to support and promote sustainability within their communities. Museums are stewards of history and culture by preserving objects of importance for future generations. Museums have a “unique contribution to the public by collecting, preserving, and interpreting the things of this world”, according to the American Alliance of Museum’s Code of Ethics. Museums also serve as civic institutions that bring people together from putting aside their differences and, in so doing, can help to promote individual and collective engagement with ideas and issues that will shape government policies, social values, and individual actions. It is this mission of protecting the history and cultures of the world and educating the public that coincides perfectly with the concepts of sustainability. While all three pillars are extremely important and do not exist in isolation of each other, PGM decided to focus on the environmental component of sustainability. With Roger Lidman and Collection Assistant, Laura Andrew's guidance, I was able to craft a plan that integrated the museum’s goal to address, educate, and promote “green” sustainable practices with the museum’s current mission statement.
Constructing the environmental sustainability plan for the museum wasn’t as difficult as I had expected. Roger would always say, “Don’t reinvent the wheel, just build upon what has already been built”, so we first met with the City of Phoenix’s Department of Environmental Programs to get some ideas on ways to approach and build a sustainability plan that not only reflected the City of Phoenix’s environmental sustainability goals, but to also promote and educate the public about sustainability. I also consulted with Thomas Williams, Sustainability Coordinator at Scottsdale Community College and Betty Lombardo, Manager of ASU’s Sustainability Practices Department, in order to gather ideas and feedback on the best green practices for PGM. After the museum staff had compiled an audit of their facilities and sustainability practices, Roger, Laura, and I, evaluated and generated environmentally sustainable development parameters that would be used to implement the museum’s goals and strategies. Our goals were simple: Increase Awareness, Conserve Energy, Improve Air Quality, Conserve Water Resources, Prevent Pollution, and Increase Waste Diversion. These goals were integrated throughout the facility and offices, as well as, programs and events the museum provides for the citizens of Phoenix. Each goal within the plan is supported by a detailed list of actions to be undertaken by the staff and suggested to our museum visitors, suppliers, and vendors. A particularly noteworthy part of the plan is the section on Governance and Measuring Success, which includes developing a system of performance measures and data collection to access and document levels of achievement and to remain accountable to the citizens of the City of Phoenix.
I’m extremely grateful for the experiences and knowledge I gained during my internship at the Pueblo Grande Museum. One of the most resonating aspects of this internship and coordinating the sustainability plan, was that I began to change my personal habits to reflect ones more environmentally sustainable. I began recycling not only paper, but also aluminum and plastic at home. In order to reduce my carbon footprint, I now ride the bus and light rail more often and work at home whenever I can. Bottled water has now become taboo in my household, and instead my family uses filtered water from the tap. Most surprisingly, I recently met with a woman in Sitka, Alaska, where I am interning at the Sitka Historical Society Museum for the summer, and she is currently putting together a report about sustainable tourism practices in Alaska. Through my experience with PGM, I was able to convince her that museums can play a vital role in promoting and bringing awareness to sustainability practices within the tourism industry. Six months ago, I would have been unable to talk her about the three pillars of sustainability and suggest that museum’s partner with other organizations to achieve their long-term sustainable goals. After the knowledge I have gained from my internship at PGM, I now see how important sustainability is to the promotion, preservation, and protection of our resources, history, and culture for future generations to come.
Posted By Brooke Wheeler, Museum Administration Intern