Greening the Abbe

In the autumn of 1922, Dr. Robert Abbe was forever changed when he first saw a dozen or so stone tools in a shop window on Cottage Street in Bar Harbor. His imagination was kindled and he wanted to learn more about the people who had fashioned these stones into tools, points, and utensils, and he wanted to share what he had learned with others. His vision is what inspired the creation of the Abbe Museum at Sieur De Monts in Acadia National Park in 1928.

Nearly a century later, the Abbe has evolved into an important institution for the Wabanaki Nations and for all who visit this remarkable museum. It is a place to hear, see, meet, learn, and gain new perspectives. It is a place that continues to inspire new learning, every day. As stewards of the Abbe, we need to consider the past, create the present, and plan for the future of this unique museum. As we look ahead to the next ten years and consider the sustainability - environmentally and financially - of the Abbe downtown, we have identified concrete changes that we can make to reduce our carbon footprint, lower our energy costs, and improve our facility.

Using our new strategic plan as a roadmap, we have identified areas in need of improvement. One of the strategic objectives in the plan is to maintain and improve facilities and infrastructure to support essential programs and to promote long-term sustainability. We have already started this work, and you are invited to join us in continuing this important process. Thanks to our supporters, we've raised more than $50,000 for our greening efforts since 2012, successfully completing phase one of our greening initiative!

Here are a few of the successes that you made possible last year:

  • 2017 was the first full year of operation of our new dedicated dehumidifier and we saw a more than 50% reduction in fuel consumption and cost in July and August and no increase in electricity usage. Before this new system was installed, when the chiller was used to dehumidify, we had to reheat chilled air all summer to reach our target humidity and temperature. The new system also does a much better job of controlling humidity in collections spaces, with a notable improvement in human comfort in the main gallery, archaeology lab, and collections storage.

  • Perhaps the largest improvement in efficiency and cost came when we replaced the cast-iron fuel oil boilers with new high-efficiency propane boilers. They are much cleaner and we have seen a 23.9% decrease in heating costs from 2015 to 2016.

  • We replaced a failing humidifier with a new unit and a water filtration system for more reliable and efficient operation.

  • Spray foam insulation was applied above the main gallery to better insulate that space and prevent humidified air from escaping to the unheated attic space.

  • Our recycling has improved as well, with a great set-up created to match up with the recycling program at the Bar Harbor transfer station. Virtually all plastic, glass, metal, and paper/cardboard is now being recycled.

Why Green the Abbe?

Museums are unique educational institutions. The Abbe Museum has a specific role in society that must be taken into account when considering environmental impact and operational practices. Museums in general are a special case when it comes to environmental responsibility, mainly because of these four distinct characteristics: museums belong to humanity; museums are educators; museums are forums of civic engagement; museums create and transmit culture.*

Given the Abbe's leadership role as an educational institution in the immediate community and across the state, we must take responsibility for our actions by identifying challenges, finding solutions, and implementing a plan that is mindful of future generations. The Abbe should be held to a higher level of conscientiousness regarding operations and environmental impact. By greening the Abbe, we have joined other environmentally-conscious local institutions, including College of the Atlantic, MDI Biological Laboratory, Friends of Acadia, and The Jackson Laboratory. 

Interested in supporting the Greening the Abbe campaign? Contact Stefanie Joy Muscat, at 207-288-3519 or stefanie@abbemuseum.org.

*There are numerous publications available on green design and museums, but Rachel Byers' publication Green Museums + Green Exhibits is a quick reference and makes a great case statement as to why museums should be more eco-friendly.