What do beehives, a six-foot diameter sphere, and a hog farm have in common? 

Together, they are pieces of a long list of initiatives by museums across Minnesota to reduce their environmental impact, increase education, and introduce sustainable practices. 

We looked into three local organizations: The Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Science Museum of Minnesota, and the Minnesota Historical Society, to learn more about their sustainability initiatives. We also explored the different ways museums can receive funding for sustainability projects.

If you’re thinking about starting a sustainability project at your company or organization, read on to find out how these museums brought their projects to life, and four steps you can take to fund your own project. 

1. Beehives and rain gardens: The Minneapolis Institute of Art


In 2012, the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA) received a grant to build a rain garden, complete with native prairie plants, to naturally filter rainwater and melted snow before it entered the Mississippi River. 

A year later, they teamed up with the University of Minnesota Bee Lab to introduce four beehives on the roof of the museum. The bees are now an essential pollinator of city plants and trees, and are a great addition to the MIA’s sustainability efforts. 

2. Science On a Sphere® programming: Science Museum of Minnesota


Science On a Sphere® was created by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to display planetary data on a 6-foot diameter sphere. The project was designed to break down complex environmental processes and show them in a way that is both engaging and easy to digest.

The Science Museum of Minnesota (SMM) partnered with the University of Minnesota to create programming Science On a Sphere® specific to the environment and climate change, producing several films that are available to museums across the states, including: 


The SMM also has its own Science On a Sphere® display that is a part of their Future Earth exhibit

3. “More for the Mission”: Minnesota Historical Society


“More for the Mission” is the name of the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS)’s sustainability program, which is tasked with reducing emissions and costs, and conserving energy for its 150 historical sites. 

The MNHS explains that “seventy-five strategies have been identified that would save the organization nearly $2 million in utility bills over a 5-year period and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent.” 

The MNHS significantly reduced its energy usage by introducing a building automation system, optimizing their existing systems, completing an LED lighting upgrade, and implementing a widespread waste program to divert their waste to recycling, among other initiatives. 

This is where the hog farm comes in: Organic waste from the History Center’s cafe is sorted and sent to a local hog farm. In the last 5 years, the MNHS sent over 150 tons of food waste to the farm

How to fund your museum sustainability project 

Budgeting for sustainability initiatives seems to be easier today than ever before, but there are still hoops you may have to jump through to receive funding. Here are a few ways you can find funding and lobby for your sustainability projects: 

1. Apply for grants

There is no shortage of grants across the country, but particularly in Minnesota, for green initiatives. A simple search on Minnesota’s Grant Watch website will provide you with a laundry list of grants that are available for your sustainability initiatives.  

2. Fund sustainability projects with another initiative 

The Smithsonian Institution is funding their LED lighting project by selling reusable tote bags made of their old banners and billboards. This was a low-cost way for them to fund their project and reduce their energy usage over time. (Read more about this project)

3. Evaluate the overall benefits of the project to your organization

The spark that fueled the MNHS’ energy project was a 2005 report that listed the building as the highest energy consumer on the State Capitol Complex. They used this report to prioritize sustainability initiatives in their budget. 

Since then, they made significant changes that reduced their energy usage by over 50% and knocked them off the top spot for energy consumption. Not only that, but the MNHS has been featured in a number of publications for their sustainability efforts. 

4. Lead with the AAM’s call-to-action 

In 2013, the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) hosted the Summit on Sustainability Standards in Museums to start the conversation of sustainability standards for museums.

Following the summit, the AAM released a white paper encouraging museums to voice their opinions about and adopt sustainability practices to reduce their impact. Some museums used this research as their call-to-action to receive funding.

Your turn:

How did you fund your sustainability project(s)? Let us know in the comments below! 

Images: 1 + 3) Flickr/woodleywonderworks  2) Flickr/Andria 3) Flickr/Cliff