New England Aquarium

This submission reflects this organization's contribution to the climate effort, representative of their current actions and commitments as well as the ways in which they intend to step up and collaborate with others.

New England Aquarium's Climate Action Contribution

About New England Aquarium's Climate Efforts

Perhaps the most serious stress on the oceans today comes from society’s use of fossil fuel for energy, which releases rampant levels of carbon dioxide. This gas builds up in the atmosphere, trapping in excess heat around the globe, and is absorbed by the oceans, changing the chemistry of the water that surrounds and supports marine life. Rampant carbon dioxide is disrupting ecosystems and weakening food webs, changing the oceans at a global scale.

The New England Aquarium knows that we all have a responsibility to protect the oceans and work vigilantly to address the threats to aquatic stability and health. Through a series of projects since 2007, we have been working to find more effective ways to engage the public in climate science and to support constructive dialogue about global change.

Our science education team has partnered with social scientists, oceanographers, climate scientists, and other aquariums to develop and teach strategies for having more productive conversations about climate change—interactions that are engaging, grounded in science, and oriented to solutions and hope. These strategies have been adopted by science educators from hundreds of zoos and aquariums across the nation.

In 2009, the Aquarium launched the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI) with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The NNOCCI network has grown to encompass more than 170 informal science centers (e.g., aquariums, zoos, and parks) in 38 states. NNOCCI teaches environmental educators at informal science centers to use strategic communication and framing techniques to educate visitors about the causes and challenges of climate change, as well as how they can turn increased climate change awareness into tangible actions at the personal and – more importantly for sustainable change – the community levels.

We are proud of this contribution to engaging the public, so that citizens can use the best available science to guide the critical decision-making that lies ahead for our communities and the nation.

In addition, we are leading by example and doing our part to reduce our own environmental impacts:

Carbon Footprint
We’re working to reduce our impact on climate change by minimizing our carbon footprint. It takes a lot of energy to keep our pumps running. 71% of the Aquarium’s greenhouse gas emissions comes from our electricity use.

Renewable Energy
One hundred percent of the Aquarium’s electricity comes from renewable sources as a result of offsetting our energy usage annually with renewable energy credits.

Energy Conservation
From installing energy-efficient LED lights to converting some of our water pumps to direct current (DC) pumps, the Aquarium’s conservation efforts enable us to reduce our impact on the environment. DC pumps use 84% less energy per year than alternating current (AC) pumps.

Growing Our Own Fish
By culturing some of our fish species and growing live food for our collection, the Aquarium reduces energy requirements, costs of shipping, transport stress, and other environmental impacts.

Best Practices
The Aquarium utilizes best practices you can follow at home to minimize your impact on the environment. We:
Reduce the use of single-use plastics
Sort our recyclables for waste stream recycling l Compost our food waste
Install low-flow fixtures
Subsidize staff use of public transportation

Climate Action Commitments

Current Climate Actions New England Aquarium Is Taking:


Commit to Energy Conservation and Resiliency in Collections

The long-held practice of creating object exhibition and storage climate conditions of 70० +/-2० and 50% +/- 5% principle is no longer considered best practice. Instead, curators and conservators are determining appropriate conditions based on the conservation needs and history of the object and its materials, and by applying scientifically-proven concepts of materials’ conservation needs and thresholds, and the safe energy savings of night-time and seasonal drift to care for the objects while saving significantly on energy use.


Commit to Reducing Materials Consumption and Waste

Institutions can significantly reduce the impact of materials use through life-cycle planning, choosing low-impact materials, and developing convenient, clear, waste-management approaches. Begin by conducting materials or waste audits for regular activities such as exhibit construction, special events, office operations, food service areas, and gift shops. Then, by piloting new practices in specific departments or single events or time periods, you can develop tools and procedures that significantly reduce waste through simple practices. Associated with this commitment, institutions could:

  • Commit to Zero Waste (90% diversion from landfil)
    • Recommended Targets:
      • Divert 60/75/85% institutional waste from landfil by 2020/2025/2030
      • Reach zero waste to landfill by 2030
      • Set construction waste diversion targets by project
  • Commit to Eliminating Single-Use Consumer Plastics
    • Recommended Targets:
      • Eliminate single use water bottles on site by 2020
      • Institute a plastic bag ban on site by 2020
      • Eliminate single use beverage bottles on site by 2022

Commit to Community Education and Communication

Commit to offering education opportunities that are designed for staff, adults, and children, and feature information on clean energy, stewardship, individual/household climate actions, climate advocacy, and any other applicable subjects. The importance of building environmental literacy in changing habits and perceptions is profound, and organizations and institutions trusted to convene the community are among the most impactful educators.


Commit to Building Climate Resilience in your Community

By committing to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate, companies and institutions can secure their operations and supply chains and conserve natural resources that are stressed due to climate change. While there is much a business can do within their community, primary among these options is reducing water usage. Organizations can commit to increase their own water security through a range of actions, including installing water-saving devices, capturing rainwater for onsite uses, and recycling grey water. Or just commit to get engaged with your community in resilience planning.


Commit to Increase Your Use of Renewable Power

Increasing your percentage of renewable energy sources is a key component of reducing overall GHG emissions. Installing onsite renewable generation, like solar panels, is a good long-term strategy if possible. But renewable energy can also be procured through Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), renewable power purchasing agreements (PPAs), and in some locations from retail electricity providers or local utilities that offers a high percentage of renewable power. Also consider becoming an EPA Green Power Partner.


Commit to Understand and Reduce Your Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Understanding your GHG emissions is the first step to making measurable reductions in those emissions. The EPA provides an overview report and CoolClimate Network provides a simple tool for “low emitters” to better understand sources of emissions, as well as how to use that information to set reduction targets. For this commitment, it is as simple as committing to complete a greenhouse gas inventory for your business or oganization, but in the future your inventory can be used to make a commitment to set a specific goal, such as “reduce GHG emissions by 50% by 2025.


Commit to Designing and Hosting a Cross-Sectoral Forum at your Institution

Commit to holding a public campus and community forum or workshop on shared climate action plan goal setting and/or resilience assessments. These forums will compare baseline targets and align the strengths of the respective sectors to drive solutions. This is awarded as a Mark of Distinction for Second Nature Commitment Signatories.

Examples: University Climate Change Coalition; Community Resilience Building

Areas For Collaboration

We are interested in collaborating on the following:

Local Collaboration
  • Collaborate on climate and clean energy action, and to advocate for stronger climate policy at the local level
Other collaborations
Community Resilience
We have integrated the power of climate communication within the Aquarium visitor experience, and we recognize a strong need to build on our knowledge to extend our strategy into the broader Boston-area, particularly to coastal communities that are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

To meet this need, we have developed a strategy that extends outside the four walls of the Aquarium to build new kinds of community partnerships aimed at catalyzing responses to climate change. With funding from NSF and NOAA, we are piloting this work in East Boston and in nearby municipalities, including Chelsea, Lynn, and Hull. We will then be able to leverage the NNOCCI network to expand to other urban areas that will be similarly impacted by climate change.

Through a City Team approach, we are bringing together informal educators with city planners and scientific/technical advisors (e.g., Climate Ready Boston, NOAA, CZM, UMass Boston, and Metropolitan Area Planning Council), community organizations (e.g., Green Roots and ZUMIX in East Boston), and education partners. We are working with the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation and FrameWorks to develop a training program for City Teams, followed by action planning, follow-up coaching, and evaluation. This Innovation Lab training introduces theoretical perspectives on community engagement and science communication, as well as practical strategies for aligning community needs with learning goals and developing action strategies to respond to community challenges. Training includes specific tools for: listening to community concerns, identifying “unusual suspects” (trusted partners in communities who can accelerate progress), developing partnerships, convening community meetings, and linking scientists and grassroots community organizations in collaborative goal setting.

As we learn from these pilot projects and partnerships, additional investment would enable us to share our findings and extend this work regionally and nationally – through continued collaboration with Greenovate Boston, the Metro Mayor’s Coalition, Metropolitan Area Council, and the NNOCCI Network.

Key outcomes of the community climate resilience initiative include the following:
• Community organizations in participating communities gain new tools, information, and resources that, combined into shared action plans, can advance community climate literacy and community-driven responses to the threats and challenges they face, and to increase the potential for shared action to help create more livable and sustainable communities.
• Community leaders demonstrate increased science literacy on climate change issues and more broadly see the role of the New England Aquarium as an integrated community partner, rather than simply a destination to visit.
• The Aquarium deploys new strategies and tools for community engagement and facilitating community change; builds new partnerships with which to define shared priorities moving forward; and develops new perspectives on our role in helping communities better address their needs and priorities.
• Other communities and organizations in the Boston area and beyond can participate in and build on this new capacity-building model.

Organization details

The New England Aquarium is a catalyst for global change through public engagement, commitment to marine animal conservation, leadership in education, innovative scientific research, and effective advocacy for vital and vibrant oceans. With more than 1.3 million visitors a year, the Aquarium is one of the premier visitor attractions in Boston and a major public education resource for the region.
Cultural Institution
Boston, MA