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Chicago's Shedd Aquarium Demonstrates Leading in Sustain...

Chicago's Shedd Aquarium Demonstrates Leading in Sustainability is Profitable

How does an aquarium – an institution that’s essentially a building full of chilled tanks of water – embrace sustainability in its practices? The Shedd Aquarium in the South Loop neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois, has taken on the challenge eagerly. As such, the most visited museum in Chicago, has become one of the most green – even

Exterior shot of Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, Illinois

How does an aquarium – an institution that’s essentially a building full of chilled tanks of water – embrace sustainability in its practices? The Shedd Aquarium in the South Loop neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois, has taken on the challenge eagerly. As such, the most visited museum in Chicago, has become one of the most green - even winning the governor’s award for Leaders in Environmental Stewardship in the process. All the while, their 32,000 fish and other animals can keep swimming along happily. The aquarium's efforts have shown that sustainability efforts extend far beyond carbon emission reductions, and include water reduction, ecological restoration, and education.

The aquarium has achieved these advances by renovating the building and implementing the following practices:

  •       Water use reduction;
  •       Green engineering;
  •       Invasive species resistance; and
  •       Public outreach and education.

Through some clever engineering, the Shedd has been able to reduce water and consumption considerably – about 29 million gallons saved. They have achieved this through renovations such as plumbing improvements and water-saving toilets. Additionally, their rainwater-capture system, which feeds into the aquarium’s chiller system, benefited from the unseasonably warm winter rains that Chicago saw in January. These changes have all contributed to the goal of reducing “new water” intake by 50% -- benchmarked against 2007 levels -- by 2018. These efforts have already saved the museum over $190,000. Additionally, over nine hundred solar panels have been installed on the roof to help reduce the amount of electricity the Shedd draws from the grid - keeping their interactive exhibits running, and their Arctic animal water tanks cold.

Solar panels on the roof of Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, Illinois

The Shedd has also worked to integrate green initiatives in their sustainable seafood education program, The Right Bite. This initiative includes supporting local fish farms to reduce bycatch and using research to determine the most sustainable types of native fish to catch. They are also training culinary students to identify sustainable fish to purchase and cook.

These forms of creative outreach have been a part of the aquarium’s extensive community education program to teach Great Lakes conservation. And the local fish that they don’t want around in Lake Michigan? The Shedd has sponsored recipe contests for Asian carp, an invasive species that is currently threatening Lake Michigan. They’ve also served Asian Carp burgers at Taste of Chicago, an annual food festival held in the summer. The Shedd’s community development efforts are centered around ecological understanding, education, and action days. These efforts aim to connect community members to the rich ecosystem in Lake Michigan and how it affects their daily lives.

The Shedd Aquarium has been a model of customizing sustainability efforts to the specific features of their enterprise. What can other museums in your city do to use their platform to advocate for sustainability, beyond carbon emissions? What makes these efforts engaging and useful to you? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.

Credits: Images by Hannah Flynn. Data linked to sources.

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Hannah is a fourth year undergraduate Environmental Studies student at the University of Chicago with a concentration in Economics and Policy and a minor in Visual Arts. She is interested in climate change policy, public transit, and how we can use a...