Monthly Archives: March 2014

Public Opinion and Regulation of GMOs

The first genetically engineered crop, the Flavr Savr tomato, became available for consumption in the U.S. in 1994. Developed by Calgene, the Flavr Savr tomato was developed to satisfy the customer by giving the tomato a longer shelf life. After the failure of the Flavr Savr tomato the agriculture biotechnology industry shifted their focus from the consumer to the farmer. Today, no genetically modified tomatoes are sold in supermarkets. Instead, the majority of genetically engineered crops today are staple crops such as corn and soybeansBiotechnology companies have since marketed their genetically engineered seeds towards farmers, and have advocated for the benefits such as larger yields and resistance to pests. In twenty years GMOs have stirred up debate and controversy in government, the public, and in the scientific community.

Taco Bell’s taco shell was one of the products found to have the non-FDA approved StarLink Corn. Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Prior to the FDA approval of the first genetically engineered crop, researchers at the FDA found that GMOs posed no risk to humans, and emphasized the minimal dangers to environment. The approval resonated with the public, and in the 1990s 70% of the U.S. supported genetically modified foods. After the failure of the Flavr Savr tomato, the approval process of genetically modified food continued to develop and public opinion remained in favor of GMOs. Shifts in the public view occurred with the advent of environmental groups such as Organic Consumer Association that gained community mobilization by educating citizens on GMOs while pushing for labeling at the federal and state level.

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The Government, Corporations, and Green Capitalism

A gas leak sets of an explosion in East Harlem. By: Ozier Muhammad

No more than two weeks ago, the citizens of New York City, particularly Harlem, were shocked when they heard the news about two buildings being leveled to the ground by due to a gas leak explosion, leaving at least six people dead. It was later reported that neighborhood citizens have been complaining for months about gas odor prior to the accident, but their complaints fell on deaf ears. This neglect and disregard to the lives and well-being of the Harlem residents is not surprising in light of the fact that the Harlem community has suffered and continues to suffer from great environmental burdens.

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Energy Star: Why Not Museums?

Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, NY (Source: Teleread)

Since 2012, New York City government passed Local Law 84, a game-changing legislation for the industry.  Under LL84, every building over 50,000 sqft was required to be benchmarked under the Energy Star rating system.  Additionally, this information would be made publically accessible for anyone to see, from government officials, to business owners, and average citizens.

This legislation has already transformed the building industry in New York City, and soon the world.  Ever since the passing of this law, building owners have taken notable initiative to improve operational practices, such as retrofitting existing equipment, hiring sustainability managers,  and overall including sustainability on their corporate agenda.

However although NYC’s own Metropolitan and MoMA are easily above 50,000 sqft (2 million sqft and 630,000 sqft, respectively), museum spaces have not yet qualified for benchmarking under the Energy Star rating system.  As a result, museums have been structurally exempt from this law, missing out on the opportunity to know how effectively energy is being used in the space as well as opportunities to improve

The reason that Energy Star has not directed it’s research efforts to develop an methodology to analyze museum efficiency, since museums in general have great variability in their size, function, and internal systems, making it difficult to compare one space to another.

Additionally, developing an Energy Star systems for museums would require a large dataset of museum energy consumption to be determine how museums rank against each other.  Just like residential and commercial buildings are benchmarked against their own type, museums need to be compared to others of the same size and geographical region in order to gain effective perspective on how they should be performing.  Enough museums need to volunteer to have a set of buildings for benchmarking in order for this method to be comprehensive an effective, a time-consuming research endeavor for all parties.

Additionally, this dearth of museum regulation has been greatly influenced by the strict conditions that must be maintained with specific levels of lighting, temperature, and humidity to preserve artwork’s inherent qualities and prevent deterioration. The monumental importance of artwork preservation has influenced museums to take incredibly cautious approaches to their internal systems.


LED lighting utilized by Rijksmuseum Museum in Amsterdam (Source: Inhabitat)

There are two primary ways that museums can be environmentally friendly: efficiency of internal systems and how effectively they are operated.

Arguably the most sensitive of these systems is lighting. For certain types of art materials, the presence of wide-range UV rays can degrade a work’s surface texture. This protection is important especially for paintings, since traditional paint pigments generally derive their color from organic materials such as plants and minerals, which can oxidize and fade under standard lighting conditions.

Phillips SlimStyle LED Bulb, in stores January 2014.

However this day in age, there continues to be constant innovation in lighting across all sectors. For instance just several months ago, Philips released The Slimstyle, the first “pancake-shaped” LED light bulb. By flattening the bulb significantly reduces superfluous heat loss, resulting in lighting that is up to 20 times more effective than traditional incandescent bulbs. Furthermore, the prices for LEDs which have long had a reputation for being significantly more expensive than it’s alternatives (typically $20 each LED bulb compared to approx. $1-2 for an incandescent and $2-4 for a CFL bulb). However in the past year many local governments such as those of New York, New Jersey, and California have paved the way of environmental stewardship by subsidizing energy efficient lighting, making innovations such as LEDs affordable and easily accessible.

Next in importance comes Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems. These systems control the inside environment of museums, which includes moderating temperature, humidity, pollutants, and even CO2 levels. In order to ensure the preservation of each museum’s unique collections, these HVAC systems operate 24/7 and have historically required system redundancies.

However even this seemly unsurmoutable obstacle has been solved in the recent year. Di-Boss Total Property Optimization developed by Columbia University, Selex-ES, and Rudin Management has created the first ever building management system (BMS) agonistic to nearly all types of commercial buildings. The software uses predictive machine-learning technology to anticipate the building’s environment based on historical weather forecasts that way. If museums were to adapt this type of software based solution to hardware redundancy, museums would be able to eliminate unnecessary energy use and improve their carbon footprint, while maintaining the integrity of the art works.

What You Don’t Know About Energy Efficiency

Buildings dominate the Manhattan Skyline and are responsible for approximately 80% of NYC’s carbon emissions (PlaNYC)


Across the global landscape of energy consumption, buildings ranging from single-family homes to corporate sky scrapers dominate as the most energy intensive sector.  In New York City alone, buildings account for nearly 80% of the city’s carbon emissions.  For this reason, communities across the globe are racing to improve their building designs to cut energy consumption—and they are doing so by looking at and learning from leaders in sustainable design.

Energy Star was founded by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1992

In the U.S., buildings are generally rated on their sustainability using two classification methodologies—the LEED and Energy Star Rating Systems.  The LEED cetification program developed by the US Green Building Council grades buildings on their sustainability potential by examining the efficiency of the building’s systems and infrastructure, granting medals in different levels including general certification, silver, gold, and platinum. On the other hand, the Energy Star Program was developed by the EPA benchmarks buildings based on how each building consumes energy (also known as operational efficiency) and rates each building with a score between 1 to 100.  For it’s ability to quantify energy efficiency across the board, Energy Star has been the primary benchmarking tool by most including New York City local government, which passed Local Law 87 which required all buildings over 50,000 sqft in NYC to be benchmarked with a Energy Star Rating & it’s data made available to the public.

However as of today, Energy Star only included a limited demographic of building-type such as commercial, residential, and institutional buildings.  Museums and art galleries do not qualify for Energy Star evaluation, which has significantly obstructed energy efficiency growth in the museum sphere.

Furthermore, the lack of legislation pressure and indifference of museum decisionmakers has stagnated major infrastructural change to the ways museums are operated through the years, missing opportunities to significantly reduce energy consumption in the spaces and make the best of the millions of dollars spent developing the U.S. art scene each year.

Without the availability of comparison data and transparency in energy efficient operating practices, museum’s practices for operating their buildings have remained isolated and kept from the larger buildings community, hindering potential for efficiency improvement within this demographic of commercial buildings. Facilities managers and operators of large art museum spaces have no option but to operate these spaces based on their best guesses, missing out on opportunities for emissions and financial reductions through collaborating with facilities operators in similar spaces.

This blog series will explore the overall importance of building efficiency in general and how art museum spaces have been an overlooked demographic of building efficiency.  First, we’ll identify the identify the systems within these spaces that have potential become more efficient, and how the optimization of these systems may be hindered by spatial requirements and artwork preservation.  From there, we’ll look at case studies various museums across the world as well as an exclusive with the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).  In the final part, we’ll bring everything together by discussing sustainability innovation in the global art museum community as well as the existing climate of efficiency legislation for museum buildings.

Environmental Education and Struggling Schools

How do effective environmental programs relate to student achievement?

Seventh and eighth graders in CEEP’s Earth Force program choose a local environmental issue to study and develop a project to address it. Photo courtesy of Lakeside Views.

Seventh and eighth graders in CEEP’s Earth Force program choose a local environmental issue to study and develop a project to address it. Photo courtesy of Lakeside Views.

In the Calumet Region along the southern shores of Lake Michigan, the Chicago Field Museum serves over 2,700 students in grades four through twelve with its Calumet Environmental Education Program (CEEP). Fourth through sixth graders learn about biodiversity through field trips to local nature and stewardship activities; middle school students identify local environmental issues and develop action projects around them; high schoolers participate in ecological monitoring, attend leadership days, and work at summer internships.

“Growing up and learning through the Calumet Environmental Education Program…shaped the path my life would follow,” Purdue University sophomore Sophia Vela wrote for the Field Museum’s website. Vela is majoring in Natural Resources and Environmental Science at Purdue’s College of Agriculture.

CEEP makes use of the rich ecological resources in the Calumet Region to teach students about conservation and biodiversity. But just north of the Calumet Region, the Chicago public school system, like urban school systems all over the US, struggles with funding issues, school closings, and race and socioeconomic achievement gaps.

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