Sustainability Past and Present

The Academy continues a tradition of integrating sustainability concepts into many aspects of our work, ranging from operations within our building to the experiences of our visitors and public education. The examples you see below demonstrate how our projects are enabling us to achieve our five institutional sustainability goals. For information on the future sustainability initiatives we are working on in these areas, please visit Building a Sustainable Future.

yougurt, salads and sushi in the Academy CafeInspire Visitors

The Academy Café is one of our best places to interact with our visitors and demonstrate our commitment to sustainability. As a natural science institution, we understand the critical links between our natural environment, the food we eat, and human health. Because of this, it is important to us to provide affordable, healthy, and sustainable food options for our employees and visitors. Our Café partner, 12th Street Catering, was selected because of its commitment to practices that are good for people and the environment. They source local, fair trade, and organic foods, provide healthy choices, use recycled content and compostable utensils and paper products, convert used fryer oil to biofuel, and compost kitchen food waste. 12th Street also donates leftover food to homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and charities. We are excited about our sustainable café and hope you are too. Try it out on your next visit and let us know what you think!

Other examples of projects that illustrate for visitors and members our commitment to sustainability:

  • We discontinued printed holiday cards and replaced them with an e-card
  • For monthly membership renewal requests, we send all first inquiries via email so that people who choose to renew right away can avoid letters via mail.
  • We have installed low flow faucets and toilets and automatic faucet and flush valves in our public bathrooms to conserve water and reduce the burden on our sewers.

    Maintain a thriving employee culture

    Feet on stairsOur employees define our institutional culture and create the experience visitors have when they come to the Academy. We are committed to fostering a positive work environment that results in happy and engaged employees and a viable future for the Academy. As a part of developing the Sustainability Plan, we held a series of workshops for all employees to solicit input on the Academy’s current and desired sustainability efforts, and we have developed a cross-departmental Sustainability Committee and Sustainability Support Team.
    Other examples of employee initiatives at the Academy:

    • Academy staff participate in Drexel University’s Tuition Remission Program, whereby eligible employees can receive tuition waivers for selected academic programs at Drexel.
    • Transitcheck/Patco Freedom Cards: We provide a subsidy program for employees to encourage the use of public transportation.
    • Staff have the option to participate in the Delaware Valley Farm Share, a partnership of Farm to City and Common Market Philadelphia, which delivers local fruits, vegetables, and eggs produced through earth-friendly methods to the Academy every other week. This service promotes employee health and well-being and encourages individual employees to bring sustainable practices into their own lives.

    Enable exemplary operations

    Energy is a critical area when we consider the sustainability of our planet, businesses, and households. Finding sources of clean, renewable energy is of the utmost importance, as concerns are increasing about the diminishing availability of fossil fuels, greenhouse gas emissions, and damage to the natural environment associated with fossil fuel extraction and combustion. The Academy purchases Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) in amounts equivalent to 100 percent of its energy use through a Power Purchase Agreement with Community Energy. Community Energy provides the Academy with Green-e Certified RECs corresponding to the institution’s average monthly kWh usage. RECs ensure that capital is directed to renewable energy projects so that these projects can meet a growing percentage of our energy demand. Community Energy provides both residential and commercial renewable energy options. All of their generation projects are in Pennsylvania, which benefits our local economy by creating jobs.


    The Academy also takes the following steps to ensure sustainable operations:

    • We periodically update lighting to be more energy efficient,Wind Turbines including replacing T12s with T8s or T5s and replacing incandescent bulbs with CFLs or LEDs.
    • We installed motion sensor lighting in public restrooms, some other public spaces, the Patrick Center main office, and parts of the library.
    • We now shut down diorama lights nightly.
    • We’ve added UV filter sun protection in public spaces with ample day lighting.
    • When we needed a new roof, we installed a white EDPM roof that reflects light and thereby reduces cooling needs.
    • We use a water filtration system in floor cleaning equipment so our wash water goes further.
    • We installed low flow faucets and toilets and automatic faucet and flush valves in public bathrooms.
    • We installed five 10-gallon bottled water coolers and seven bottle-less water coolers to reduce our employees’ use of individual water bottles.
    • We switched to single stream recycling and programs for super recyclables, including computers, electronics, light bulbs, batteries, ballasts, toner cartridges, and cell phones.
    • We purchase paper that has at least 30 percent recycled content.
    • We implemented green cleaning and use of environmentally preferred ice melting materials.
    • We use integrated pest management to ensure that the most effective, least harmful methods are used for pest control.
    • We provide mentorship and teaching to halfway house members about how to work in a mailroom and take care of copiers. Our project partners include Dillworth Paxon (pays the labor rates) and Chestnut Place Clubhouse (halfway house). The Academy was recognized as the employer of the year in 2008 by the Chestnut Place Clubhouse. 

    Provide leading sustainability science

    There is considerable confusion about sustainability and climate science among the general public, and confusion can lead to inaction, both at personal and societal levels. As much as we do know about the impact humans have on the natural world, we still have a lot to learn. For both of these reasons, it is vitally important for institutions of science to contribute to the body of research and to help to bring credible science to the public, lawmakers, and other key community stakeholders.

    For decades, the Academy has conducted research in areas connected to sustainability, starting with the work of Dr. Ruth Patrick, who made significant advances in our understanding of the impact of pollution on streams and water systems. This work continues today with a wide range of projects geared toward understanding aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems and the impacts of human activities through monitoring, measuring, and documenting changes. The Academy is currently involved with a number of projects monitoring the impacts of climate change in places as far afield as Mongolia and as close to home as Barnegat Bay. Academy scientists are also working to assess the impacts of natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, study the impacts of Hurricane Sandy on the salt marshes of the Delaware River Estuary, and document the biodiversity of Amazonian fishes.

    Other examples of Academy sustainability science can be found here.

    Empower our community

    Creating a sustainable world for future generations will require individuals, businesses, and governments to think differently about their relationships with the natural and human resources that sustain us. The action and broad-based behavioral changes that will be needed to address the complex challenges facing our planet will entail a widespread level of understanding and collaborative problem solving.

    Over the past decade, the Academy has become a key player in the environmental and sustainability community in the greater Philadelphia region. Through public programming that brings together top scientists, policy makers, and the general public around issues of critical environmental importance, the Academy provides nonpartisan, science-based information on key environmental issues, promotes solutions, and builds awareness. In addition, the Academy acts as a logistical hub for local working groups organized around sustainability issues. 

    The Academy offers the following educational programs and opportunities for engagement on sustainability topics:

    • The Academy’s Urban Sustainability Forum (USF), a collaboration of local organizations with the common goal of making Philadelphia the greenest, most livable, and most sustainable city in America, hosts monthly public programs.
    • Green Condo/Co-op Initiative (GCCI) is a coalition of Greater Philadelphia area condo and co-op owners interested in sustainability housing. The Academy supports GCCI by holding public educational events and hosting the organization’s meetings.
    • Profitable Pathways to Sustainability provides a forum for senior executives in the private sector to explore and develop effective methods and practices for aligning business and sustainability in their own organizations and in the region.
    • Research Seminars for College Students and Scientists foster collaboration and transfer the unique knowledge and resources of Academy scientists to peers and future generations of scientists.
    • For upcoming sustainability programs, click here.


    What's New in Sustainability

    Plan your visit, check out our new exhibits, and find out about upcoming activities.
    Discover the past and explore the future of the natural sciences in our online exhibits.
    Make a difference, browse our programs, and get involved with the natural world.