Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry tracks the region’s development toward a more sustainable future, including its own!
July 6, 2015
John Shegerian: Welcome to another edition of Green Is Good. This is the GoGreen edition of Green Is Good. We’re here in Seattle, Washington – beautiful, downtown Seattle – and our first guest today is Leonard Garfield. He is the Executive Director of the Museum of History and Industry. Welcome to Green Is Good, Leonard. Garfield: Thank you, John. It’s great to have you guys in Seattle. John Shegerian: Oh, we’re happy to be here. This is such a beautiful city. Before we get talking about your wonderful Museum of History and Industry, can you share a little bit about Leonard Garfield – how you even came to be interested in sustainability and got working at the museum? Leonard Garfield: Well, that’s a good question. Seattle is a place that loves its natural environment. We love our mountains. We love our water. So I spend a lot of time out there. But I’m also passionate about history and have spent a lot of time thinking about the history of this region, the history of the United States and noticed, John, that there really is an interesting balance between preserving the world that we all inherit and making progress as we try become a better community. So I have spent a lot of my life trying to understand lessons from our past that we can apply to address some of the challenges we face today. John Shegerian: Got it. And for our listeners and viewers out there to learn more about the Museum of History and Industry, you can go to www.mohai.org. So tell us a little bit about the start of your museum and how it came to be and where you are today. Leonard Garfield: Well, we’ve been around for a long time as a museum. We’ve actually been around for almost 100 years. John Shegerian: Wow. Leonard Garfield: But we are in a brand new building in Seattle – we did a LEED-certified project, Platinum, we are in the very few museums in the United States to achieve that status – in a building that was a Naval Reserve Armory, and now it’s been completely reborn as an amazing history museum with all kinds of great stories and experiences right on the shores of South Lake Union here in downtown Seattle. John Shegerian: So you recycled the building? Leonard Garfield: We recycled the building. We followed every environmental standard, because this is a community that believes in sustaining the environment. John Shegerian: Wow. Leonard Garfield: And we wanted to make sure that we were holding true to that policy. John Shegerian: That is wonderful. How many years in advance did you make that decision, and how long did it take for you to evolve the project, build it and also then layer the LEED certification on top of it? Leonard Garfield: It was about 10 years. Maybe even a little bit longer. John Shegerian: Wow. Leonard Garfield: Like any great project, it takes a lot of planning, a lot of thought and then a lot of doing to actually get it done. We opened in late 2012, so we have been at the new museum for about two years now. John Shegerian: So what inspired you and other leadership of your colleagues to not only do that kind of project but more importantly to then make it a LEED building because, as you said, there are very few museums right now that are LEED certified. Leonard Garfield: Yeah. John Shegerian: What was your paradigm that you wanted to follow, and what was the blueprint? Leonard Garfield: We had a commitment to this community. John Shegerian: Right. Leonard Garfield: And we tell the story of this community. We safeguard its history. This is a community that has been built on a belief in the power and the richness of a natural environment. We felt we had to do our part to be sustainable in any way we could, so we set for ourselves a very, very high standard and we achieved LEED Platinum certification. John Shegerian: Wow. Leonard Garfield: And really everything we do, John, not just in building the museum or exhibits or restoring the structure, but even in our programs and the way we serve our guests and the way we treat ourselves, we try to follow the best environmental practices because really that is not only about our history. That’s really about our future. John Shegerian: Leonard, if I was to come over – and I am going to come over next time I am back in Seattle – if I was coming over today, share with our listeners and our viewers – what are some of the unique elements of some of the LEED certification and the greening of your museum that they wouldn’t see necessarily at other places? Leonard Garfield: Well, the first thing you are going to see is an amazing historic building. The building has been around for half a century. John Shegerian: Wow. Leonard Garfield: It’s beautiful. It’s art deco design. It was built during the Great Depression. It opened up at the very start of World War II. So there is a lot of history there, and that’s probably one of the most fun things about the museum. But when you walk inside, you’re going to see this incredibly soaring open space with all natural materials all restored from their original construction 60 years ago. John Shegerian: Wow. Leonard Garfield: And then some amazing exhibitry, all of which is built to be compatible with the historic character of the building and to follow the highest environmental standards. And you’re not just going to learn about history, John, you’re going to learn about where we are today as a community. In fact, one element of the museum is called Bezos Center for Innovation where we actually share the story of the history of innovation in this community including things that are happening right now. John Shegerian: Wow. And this is a very, very innovative community with lots of great entrepreneurs and great brands that have come out of here, so that must be one of the highlights for any visitor. Leonard Garfield: It really is. This is the community that gave birth to the world of flight, commercial aviation, with Boeing. We are the home of home of Amazon. We are the home of Costco. Maybe some of your listeners know Nordstrom. A lot of great brands are based right here in Seattle. John Shegerian: Including Starbucks. Leonard Garfield: Oh. How could I forget Starbucks? We love our Starbucks. In fact, you can’t go too far in Seattle without finding a Starbucks shop but also getting a great drink from Starbucks because they are pioneers in environmental sustainability as well. A lot of our local businesses have really adopted green ethics and green standards as standard operating procedure in Seattle, and we share that story at the museum as well. John Shegerian: That’s so wonderful. For our listeners who have just joined us, we are here today at the GoGreen Conference with Leonard Garfield. He is the Executive Director of the Museum of History and Industry. So, Leonard, share a little bit why you are here today and how you are interacting with the GoGreen Conference. Leonard Garfield: Well, I was contacted by the conference to shed a little bit of light on the history of Seattle in terms of its environmental innovations, its history of transportation. We’ve really done some amazing things in this community over the last many years to really try to understand how to live in harmony with nature to build a healthy economy but not to do it at the risk of preserving our environment. So there are a lot of lessons from our history that we can apply to some of today’s challenges and that’s what I’ve been talking about at the conference. John Shegerian: Got you. And you are presenting today? Leonard Garfield: Right. I presented at the keynote session, which actually, John, we just had. John Shegerian: Oh wonderful. Leonard Garfield: And it was fun, because I got to talk a little bit about Seattle 100 years ago, and you know what? We were facing the same challenges. How do we get around in a way that is environmentally sustainable? How do we build a community that has a healthy quality of life but also a robust economy? All the issues that every city in America is addressing, there are lessons from our past that we actually can learn from, and that’s what I was sharing with the conference. John Shegerian: In terms of the museum, every day we turn on the news and we’re hearing about climate change. Leonard Garfield: Right. John Shegerian: We’re hearing about water drought and shortages that are imperiling so many parts not only of the United States but the world. What are the bigger challenges that you have taken on to highlight at the museum to showcase? Leonard Garfield: Well, we start the story actually thousands of years ago because the Native American community, which was resident here in the Seattle area for millennium, actually were very, very smart about how to live in a sustainable way, and there were lessons there that they passed on to the American community, but they are lessons that really we try to shed light on now because they are important how to understand the most efficient use of materials, how to recycle materials. All of those things which seem so new to us actually have a long tradition. And then as we look at our own industry over the last several hundred years, it has been very interesting to see whether it’s in aviation, whether it’s in the timber industry or whether it’s in global retail like a Starbucks – how have companies adapted to the threat of climate change, the need for higher standards of recycling? All of those issues as they have played out over the decades we provide insight into those stories. John Shegerian: Since reopening LEED Platinum certified in 2012, have other museums from around the United States and the world come and met with you and studied your museum and how they can now try to aspire and achieve that type of status as well? Leonard Garfield: Well, the museum community around the world is really connected. We all learn from each other and lots of people have come to our museum in the last few years. We get a lot of very positive feedback. But you know, John, we are also learning from others because the one thing about sustainability is there is no real end point. It’s always learning more. It’s always being better. John Shegerian: It’s a journey Leonard Garfield: It is a journey. So just as we’ve been able to share our success with museums around the country and around the world, we are learning from others as well because there is always some way to even be better. We are all facing such a major change in the decades to come with climate change and dealing with just the population increase, and that has to play out in every institution at every level and even a museum has to learn to adapt to that so we are keeping our eyes open for best practices. John Shegerian: In your travels specifically, Leonard, when you get to go and travel and visit other museums what other museums have impressed you with their standards? And what they are also putting in place or trying to message to their client base, and what are you going to bring back to Seattle that you’ve seen recently in the last couple years? Leonard Garfield: Wow. Fantastic question because there are so many great museums. Miami is a place where some of the most amazing new museums, science centers and aquarium are being built. I encourage people to go to Miami and check out the full museum scene. They are looking at some extremely advanced ways of using sustainable architecture to really understand how that can be part of the cultural experience. There are so many great museums. There is a new natural history museum in Salt Lake City, which I encourage again your viewers to check out if they are ever in the Rocky Mountain area. So many good museums around the country. And, of course, I know you’re from New York. John Shegerian: Yeah. Leonard Garfield: We can’t forget the brand new museum of modern art, which is so phenomenal, and the Guggenheim Museum is going to be getting a giant expansion, which is going to be really, really exciting, so I would keep my eyes open for that one. John Shegerian: With regards to the sustainability revolution coming to the United States, Leonard, we seem to be late adopters compared to Europe. But China and Asia seem to be wanting to quickly catch up and get with it in terms of sustainability. When you travel abroad what do you see? Is the same trend similar with regards to museums and how they’re curated and run and built and operated as well in Europe and China and other parts of Asia? Leonard Garfield: Well, here’s a factoid. John Shegerian: Yeah. Leonard Garfield: Every year 3,000 new museums are opening in China. John Shegerian: Whoa! Leonard Garfield: Now, that may not be a factor that we’ll go to the bank with, but that is a statistic that was recently shared with me just yesterday by some museum professionals. John Shegerian: Wow. Leonard Garfield: And even if that number is not exactly accurate, we know that museums are opening almost every day in China and they know that they’ve got – and not just in the museum industry but in every aspect of their built environmental – they are facing a country that is seriously plagued by high levels of pollution, great stress but growing increasingly urbanized population. And they really are looking to Europe and to the United States for best practices. It would be interesting to see how you can accomplish rapid growth and do it in a sustainable way, because one of the things about sustainability that we have learned – and other folks in Seattle have learned as well – is that sustainability begins with thoughtfulness. It begins with planning. It really begins by thinking 100 years, even 1000 years, out before you take step one. John Shegerian: Wow. Leonard Garfield: So sometimes racing to the finish line is not always the recipe for the most sustainable solution. But we’ll see. Growing economies are exciting places. The United States in recent decades with a growing economy, they grew at the risk of protecting our environment. John Shegerian: So let’s go back to the Museum of History and Industry. What are you excited about that is coming in the coming months or years in terms of things that you are planning to do and show to the great public that wants to come and enjoy your wonderful museum? Leonard Garfield: Well, we have lots of things on the schedule but one of the things that I am most excited about is that we have begun to focus on innovation including sustainability as a real topic to explore, to create experiences for young people to learn more about it. And we’ve begun to do that. You’re going to be seeing more of that at our museum – the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle – so I would encourage everybody to just keep their eyes open. All museums are always changing, and we always try to keep something new and fresh out there. But our focus on innovation, I think, is going to be our most interesting focus over the next few years because we don’t often think of a history museum as a place to learn about what is happening now, but we understand that history really is being made by people today and we want to share that story with everybody. John Shegerian: So in other words for our audience out there, if they are interested in innovation, sustainability, entrepreneurship, history…. Leonard Garfield: Right. John Shegerian: Your museum is a place for them. Leonard Garfield: The Museum of History and Industry in Seattle, we love it when people come. We are open every single day of the year except Christmas and Thanksgiving. So if you are in Seattle come visit us. John Shegerian: Wonderful. And thank you. I’m going to come visit you and I’m going to come visit your museum next time I’m in Seattle. For our audience out there, again, it’s the Museum of History and Industry – www.mohai.org. Leonard Garfield, you are very inspiring, you’re a sustainability superstar and truly living proof that Green Is Good.