The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

December 23, 2008

California Academy of Sciences: A Visit to the Greenest Museum in the World

What’s it like inside the world’s greenest museum? That’s what I wanted to find out. Michael, David, and Nancy just wanted to explore and have a good time. So we all BARTed out to Golden Gate Park on Saturday to visit the new California Academy of Sciences museum.

Michael and I arrived first and checked out the cafeteria, conveniently located right inside the front doors. There was lots of organic food in evidence, as well as compostable foodware. There were also chips and cookies in plastic wrap and Mylar bags. Ah well. Nothing’s ever perfect, is it? Checking out the unattended waste station with its bins labeled Recycle, Compost, and Landfill, we spied all types of waste indiscriminately tossed into all three containers, as well as visitors reading the signs and incorrectly attempting to guess what they meant.

A staff member posted at the waste station to help educate guests might have been in order. Michael and Nancy suggested that perhaps it’s more economical for the museum to just pay someone to sort it all after the fact. “Still,” I argued, “It’s an educational institution. It’s their job to educate, right?” The raised eyebrows I received in response told me to drop it. Yep. Sometimes the perfectionist in me is really irritating.

Catching my green spirit, Michael was excited to discover the sign posted over the water fountains advocating San Francisco’s tap water instead of bottled water. And of course, he had his Klean Kanteen on hand to refill.

The first floor of the museum is home to an extensive display on Global Warming:

That was kinda interesting, but we were more interested in the stuffed animals:

Did you know that sharks eat fake plastic toys?

The museum houses a four-story rainforest, an aquarium, a planetarium, and a natural history museum all under one roof. Here are a few more photos to entice you to visit. At the end of the post are some facts about what makes this museum the greenest (to date) in the world.

According to its October 8, 2008 press release, the Academy’s building earns a total of 54 points in the LEED system, the highest sustainability rating of any museum in the world. Building features:

* A living roof planted with 9 native California species which do not require artificial irrigation contains the largest collection of native vegetation in San Francisco. The living roof absorbs rainwater and helps to prevent runoff from carrying pollutants into the eco-system. It also provides an insulating layer for the building.
* Radiant floor heating & heat recovery systems
* Solar cells provide 10% of the Academy’s energy needs, and flowing water from the bathroom faucets causes an internal turbine to generate power and charge a battery pack.
* Natural light & ventilation (90% of regularly occupied spaces have access to daylight and outside views)
* Gray water system is used to flush toilets & low flow fixtures reduce the need for potable water.
* Saltwater for the aquarium is piped in from the Pacific Ocean!

Read more about the building’s unique environmental features here.

And read more about the Academy’s sustainability efforts here.

Want to go? We didn’t have time to visit the planetarium or to see all the exhibits we would have liked to, including the tour of the green features of the museum. (The 25 minute 3D Bugs! movie was awesome and took up a lot of our time.) Let me know when you’re free. I’d be happy to go again!

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14 years ago

Strangely enough, I was just there with my kids a few weeks ago (we live in Michigan).

I have to say, I was pretty disappointed about all their green preaching, because that all went out the window by them leaving at least 4 doors wide open during our entire visit (when it was 40 degrees outside). Do businesses in California not realize it takes energy to heat buildings? There were many places we visited that left doors open. NO one does that in Michigan.


14 years ago

favorite display: jellyfish with blue background! Nice photo, Beth!

14 years ago

Funny, I just went to this yesterday too. I LOVED the rainforest exhibit, and did you go to see the green roof too? That was pretty cool. The crowds yesterday were pretty huge though. Lots of parents with young children.

I was really excited about the water fountain too. The planetarium exhibit was okay. It seemed to focus on the nearest planets outside the solar system and current research into these extra-solar planets and what kind of planets can sustain life. And of course the green message about sustaining our own planet. I wonder when it switches the film it shows, though, to see something new.

Beth Terry
14 years ago

Oh! I forgot to mention that buying your tickets online means skipping the line at the ticket window. That is what we did – ordered a few days ahead, printed them at home, and walked right in with no wait.

We arrived around 2pm and got passes for the Bugs! movie screening at 4pm (which, I will repeat, was awesome, although not for the squeamish.) It all worked out great. And even though we went on Saturday, we didn’t find it to be too crowded.

We took the 5 Fulton bus from Market Street near the Montgomery Street BART station. Other choices are N Judah street car or 44 bus from Glen Park BART station. As Natalie said, many buses service this area, so it’s not hard to find a way to take public transit.

Coming from Fresno… I have no idea!

14 years ago

Thank you for your posting. We also found it interesting and a very new take on museums in general. The third Wed. of every month is Wachovia Wednesday and is free admission. It was extremely crowded this last Wach Wed when we went but it made me want to go another less crowded day and pay full price. Plus the setting in Golden Gate Park can’t be beat. It is accessible by mass transit and you get a discount if you take transit or ride your bike. Plus parking in the Park is always a headache. And don’t miss the Bugs movie. Who knew Dame Judi Dench loved bugs…?

Wendy's Kaleidoscope
14 years ago

That sounds like a fabulous idea. Now if only I can get myself over there without the use of a car. I live in Fresno and the only option that I can think of is taking the train. I would need lots of planning that’s for certain.

14 years ago

I strongly recommend avoiding a weekend, a holiday and if you can Fridays and Mondays. We HAVE been very swamped and Tues-Thurs of non-holiday weeks are least crowded with less to no lines. ENJOY!

Beth Terry
14 years ago

It really wasn’t very busy. The line to get into the rain forest seemed long, but it only took about 15 minutes, which is short when compared with some Disneyland rides. Kids will love the 3D film Bugs! which has some amazing photography. Go for it!

Green Resolutions
14 years ago

Awesome post. I write about LEED buildings some, but we focus on commercial rather than civic buildings, so I hadn’t read about this one.

Love the pictures. And I agree that educating about trash/recycling/compost would be ideal at a museum!

Green Bean
14 years ago

I’ve been dying to go for a while and take my kids but I’d heard that it was crazy busy. How were the crowds when you went??

It looks awesome. Thanks for the vicarious trip through.