Green Initiatives at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

During the past several years, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), has implemented a variety of systems in an effort to reduce its carbon footprint. Major improvements were made during the construction of the Art of the Americas Wing, which opened in November 2010 and now serves as a model for ongoing and future updates. The MFA has conserved energy by installing energy-efficient lighting and equipment, upgrading HVAC and electrical systems, installing water-saving devices, using triple-glazed insulated glass for windows and skylights, and employing green landscaping techniques. Additionally, the Museum purchases environmentally friendly products and has instituted a significant recycling plan, which includes everything from paper to kitchen grease. These and other steps help reduce the Museum’s impact on the environment and offer cost-savings benefits. Additionally, the MFA continues to explore new initiatives that will help in its evolution as a “green” museum.

Energy

The Museum’s overall energy performance was reduced by 10 percent with the construction of the Art of the Americas Wing, which uses 20 percent less energy compared to a similar building of this type in the U.S. These improvements included efficient HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems tailored to the needs of individual spaces—such as high-efficiency motors with variable speed drives, water and air side economizers, demand control ventilation (with carbon dioxide monitoring in certain areas), and night set-back modes for offices and non-critical areas. In addition, the plant room established for the Art of the Americas Wing is designed to feed existing adjacent wings, providing a more energy-efficient ventilation system.

Due to the nature of galleries as exhibition spaces for fine art, the internal environment needs to be strictly monitored and regulated. However, to reduce energy demands across the MFA, all non-exhibition spaces in the Art of the Americas Wing, as well as the Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Family Courtyard, use high-efficiency heating and air-conditioning equipment that draws outside air for cooling and ventilation for a third of the year. Internal temperature regulation in the Shapiro Courtyard is provided by radiant cooling and heating with Mass Air Displacement Systems, which only conditions the occupied zone of the space (the bottom 12 feet), representing approximately one-third of the overall volume. To minimize the thermal transmission of the façade in the Art of the Americas Wing, triple glazing is provided in core areas including the gallery windows and skylights, reducing the demand for mechanical ventilation.

Lighting control systems throughout the Museum’s galleries continue to help reduce energy and protect the artwork with automatic schedules and dimming systems. Direct Digital Controls (DCC) Systems continue to be expanded and installed in gallery renovations and upgrades, providing not just energy savings, but also more accurate and efficient climate control for better protection and preservation of artworks.

The Museum continues to use natural gas for heating, which is not only less expensive than oil, but also more beneficial for the environment. Natural gas emits 30 percent less carbon dioxide than oil and is cleaner (producing 90 percent less particulates and 99 percent less sulfur dioxide), more efficient, and produced domestically. Additionally, the use of natural gas for heating requires less maintenance and repair.

Lighting

As gallery spaces generally require protection from natural daylight and UV light, a carefully designed computerized lighting strategy—including light and motion sensors—in the Art of the Americas Wing accommodates the lighting requirements for each individual space. High-level diffusing roof lights are supported by an energy-efficient lighting strategy, the demands of which can be tailored to the use of each individual space. Natural light is also provided though vertical side glazing, which not only reduces artificial lighting demands, but also increases visual connection between the Museum and external environment.

To date, roughly 70 percent of the Museum’s gallery spaces utilize LED lighting. Additionally, LED lighting continues to be implemented in back-of-house spaces and offices, and the MFA’s entire parking garage has been retrofitted with LED lamps.

The MFA has also implemented the installation of smaller lighting control systems that operate outside the main Lutron system. These intelligent, cost-effective solutions further reduce energy usage, extend lamp longevity and play a large role in lighting conservation to minimize exposure on sensitive works. The technology is constantly improving, and wireless control systems will constitute the next phase in the near future.

Water

Storm water management features were installed during the construction of the Art of the Americas Wing. A system of Stormceptors continues to capture excessive rainwater and allow for slow infiltration into the groundwater network, reducing the risk of flooding. There are 12 Stormceptors located throughout the Museum’s campus, which are inspected annually. Within the building, plumbing fixtures and fittings with low flow-rates, which include PIR (passive infrared) sensing water valves for sinks and toilets, reduce water consumption.

Landscaping

The MFA is committed to ensuring that planting is low maintenance, non-invasive and requires minimal irrigation. The Museum uses all-organic fertilizers and has minimized the use of insecticides and weed killers; an environmentally friendly and biodegradable organic ice melt is used, and rain sensors are used on lawn irrigation systems to reduce consumption. Additionally, all leaf and organic debris is disposed from the property for compost.

Recycling

  • Cardboard: Approximately 500 pounds are recycled per day, totaling 65 tons annually
  • Paper: Approximately 54 tons are recycled annually (disposed into blue recycling bins, eight to 12 of which are recycled five days a week)
  • Plexiglas: Approximately three and a half to four tons are recycled annually
  • Bottles and cans: More than 53,000 are recycled annually
  • Kitchen grease: More than 1,300 gallons sold annually to bio-fuel company, which refines it for fuel
  • Cooking oil: 1,450 gallons are sent out of kitchens for fuel refining annually
  • Plywood: Each piece the Museum purchases is re-used up to 10 times; lumber is reused the same way
  • Batteries: Approximately 500 pounds of lead acid, 100 pounds of alkaline, and 50 pounds of nickel cadmium batteries are recycled annually
  • Electronic equipment: More than 100 computers, monitors, printers, and cell phones are recycled annually. Ten tons of electronic waste have been processed since 2015.
  • Additional materials: The MFA also recycles refrigerant oil, waste oil, and grease

Products

  • Paper towels and toilet tissue used are all made of 100 percent recycled materials, including packaging, and no dyes, pigments, inks, or bleach are added; all meet or exceed EPA guidelines
  • Restroom soap is green certified
  • Hot cups and plates are made of post-consumer recycled products; soup cups are made of post-consumer fiber; clear beverage cups are greenware made from plants; sandwich wedge containers are BPA-free and recyclable; and napkins are made from recycled paper, using no dyes and fragrances
  • Whenever possible, cleaning solutions used contain no heavy metals, are low in volatile organic compounds, and are biodegradable (the only exception is a diluted disinfectant used to kill viruses and germs)
  • Floor scrubbing pads are made from recycled plastic bottles
  • Floor machines have a highly efficient water management system, reducing time spent on tank filling, which results in minimal water and chemical use
  • The MFA uses latex paints with low levels of volatile organic compounds for all applications

Pest Control

A key component of ongoing pest prevention efforts at the MFA is a partnership approach to structural, storage and sanitation improvements. Pests are eliminated and prevented without ever overusing or unnecessarily using pesticides. Implementation methods include:

  • Eliminating conditions conducive to pest activity
  • Monitoring and inspection
  • Mechanical and physical removal of any pests
  • Pesticide application as a last resort

In January 2018, a Weimaraner named Riley joined the MFA as a volunteer—a working scent dog in training, providing assistance with pest detection behind the scenes.

New Initiatives

The MFA has recently introduced a variety of new green initiatives:

  • In partnership with ChargePoint, the industry leader in the U.S. electric vehicle charging market, the Museum has installed two dual charging stations in its garage, which can simultaneously service four vehicles. A complementary charging session of up to three hours is included in the MFA’s regular parking fee.
  • Plastic straws, which are nonbiodegradable, are no longer given out in the Museum’s dining locations; however, straws are still available for individuals with special needs. This program annually reduces the use of 50,000 plastic straws.
  • The Bring Your Own Mug program, which offers a discount on coffee, annually reduces the use of 2,500 hot cups, plastic lids and cardboard sleeves.
  • The MFA engages the public and addresses climate issues through programming including free “City Talks.” In 2016, a number of events focused on issues related to the themes in “Megacities Asia,” including consumption, sustainability and cultural heritage in relation to Boston’s growing population and ongoing development. In 2019, Inspired by themes found in “Ansel Adams in Our Time” panelists and visitors explored environmental extremes.
  • The MFA sells art-inspired reusable fabric bags by Loqi and $2 MFA signature totes for visitors to use instead of reusable plastic bags in our retail venues.

The MFA continues to work with other museums in the U.S. and Europe on revising climate guidelines—in particular, gallery and storage temperature and humidity parameters. The Museum is exploring ways to reduce its energy consumption for the climate-controlled portions of the its historic building. In addition, the MFA is investigating ways to reduce lighting—its major use of energy—and other electrical use throughout its entire building.

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