Practical Considerations

Design, Durability & Aesthetics

 An overlooked aspect of sustainable design is the beauty and durability of the materials. While not all sustainable materials are inherently beautiful or long lasting, many people who have built sustainable exhibits and environments report visitor feelings of calmness in the space. Using materials with "low embodied energy" encourages use of sustainable wood, which by its very nature feels warm. These intangible aspects of green materials help visitors feel good and connected with the natural world.

When considering which products to use, the possibilities are daunting. Is it better to use a chlorine-free product, or one that is made with non-recyclable materials? These questions and contradictions arise throughout the process. The ultimate goal is to use quickly regenerated sustainable materials that are highly durable and contribute in some way toward enhancing, rather than depleting Earth's resources.

We abuse the land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.

-Aldo Leopold     

Rethinking Cost

Another key misperception regarding sustainability is the idea that it is more expensive. While materials may be slightly more costly up front, when one calculates the savings over time, sustainability almost always wins out. By looking at leading players in industry , one can quickly assess that this must be true. Innovative companies like Interface Carpets, Patagonia, Steelcase, Herman Miller, and Nike have proven that embracing sustainability is not only the right thing to do, but also the most cost effective business decision.

True Cost

Each choice we make has a "cost." Cost is typically measured in our culture by looking at the price tag. Instead, cost needs to be measured as the total expenses of growing, producing, and transporting materials and resources, the durability of those materials, their reusability, and the cost of eventually disposing them. True cost is measured by weighing the combination of social, environmental, and economic costs against the apparent benefits associated with each choice we make.

Competitive Advantage

While there are fewer concrete examples from the children's museum field regarding economic advantage of sustainable design, museums that have used green design have already reaped financial benefits. At Madison Children's Museum , our green exhibits have been very cost effective. Not only have they cost us less per square foot than traditional exhibits, they have also lasted longer and aged more gracefully.

At both Children's Museum of Pittsburgh and Brooklyn Children's Museum, sustainable design has been a compelling aspect of each museum's case for expansion, bringing in new donors while cementing their role as community leaders.