Food, Energy & Sustainabilty Resources


Consider starting a conversation with your local utility company or with local companies who are involved in alternative energy systems.  Your museum could become a demonstration or test site for the utility company, or at the very least a place to show off their innovative new technologies. This could include solar power, wind power, geothermal power—whatever your conditions might suggest.

In Madison, local utility company Madison Gas & Electric was a big player in our project, donating and installing solar panels on our Rooftop Clubhouse, helping to  fund a solar power exhibit, the Solar Chicken, and paying the costs for development and printing of both our Green Guide (PDF) and Green Scavenger Hunt (PDF). The solar power from the rooftop goes back to the grid, and the chicken lays a “golden egg” every time a certain amount of energy is created. MG&E also been incredibly gracious in helping us marketing our green initiatives, and have become incredible programming partner on our rooftop, too!


Start a conversation with your local sanitation department about helping you create a pilot composting program at your museum. Many municipalities are working to find new ways to decrease the amount of material sent to “the dump.”  You could start small, with a worm bin near your museum’s café, a compost container in your staff kitchen, or a composting site in your outdoor space if you’ve got some.  Eventually, you could create a more comprehensive composting program, too.

MCM has three styles of composting at the moment.  We have one compost bin that is shared by our flock of rooftop chickens, which contains things that are safe for them to eat.  Other larger bins on the rooftop are primarily for yard waste. And our third and most comprehensive compost station is a pilot program with the City of Madison.  The composting station is located next to our café and gets picked up every week by the City of Madison to take to itsdigester facility 45 minutes away.  If successful, the pilot program will be spread to all city residents within the next two years.

Squashed house - photograph by Zane Williams, copyright 2010 Photograph by Zane Williams © 2010
Rain Harvesting

Harvesting rainwater is another great way to keep your water close to home. Rain barrels and rain gardens are a terrific way to reuse rainwater or filter rainwater naturally, and are fun, too!  If you are in wine country, your local vineyards might have extra barrels for you to use for this purpose, or you might find a local company that makes or distributes them in your area, and would be willing to donate.

Three different models of rain barrels are used on the premises of MCM. Two wooden barrels are on the grounds of our log cabin, while the other three plastic rain barrels are on the rooftop. While they don’t have the capacity to store all the water from a heavy downpour, they help teach conservation and good stewardship practices. The small plastic rain barrels were handpainted by visitors during a program, and the largest 300- gallon tank also contains a beautiful wind-generated water pump. When it’s windy, the water is pumped up to the roof level and then gently meanders back down a water run.

Local Food

Working with a local food vendor who specializes in healthy, local and organic ingredients is another way to keep your institution grounded to the local economy. By working with a local vendor you trust, you and your visitors will know where your food is coming from, and even collaborate with some of the contributing farmers on programming. You can also work directly to customize the menu for your clientele and offer unique food for special events.

Madison Children’s Museum’s food vendor, The Roman Candle Sparkler, offers pizzas and pastas made with local and organic ingredients in addition to a number of other regional specialties, like locally made ice cream and granola. The owners are also parents who share our beliefs about sustainability. The restaurant uses recyclable dishware and compostable napkins and silverware, and the owners were receptive  to changing their practices to accommodate the new composting program. The best part about the relationship, though, is that because they are local and can make independent decisions, they are totally open to trying out new things, including selling a new organic baby food made by one of our members.

Alternative Transportation

Alternative transportation should be considered when choosing the location of your museum or project. Your project could be a great way to partner with the municipal bus system, city transportation department, local bicyliung advocacy groups, or walking clubs. All of these organizations could help you link safe walking and biking routes and bus routes to your museum website, or could help you figure out hoe to encourage more people to visit the museum by carpooling, biking or other. Additionally, local businesses that are involved in the alternative transportation business might consider donating objects or materials to help with your efforts.

MCM is fortunate enough to be located in pedestrian and bike friendly community with great infrastructure in place to encourage alternative transportation.  It is also home to a vibrant national bicyling industry. Thanks to Trek Bicycles, a locally based bike industry leader’s financial contributions, MCM has more bike parking than parking stalls for cars. Our partnership with Bicycle Benefits alows people riding their bikes to the museum to get discounted entry; and staff worked with the City transportation department and B-Cycles to ensure that the new bike sharing facility was located within a block of our museum. Additionally, the museum is a bus pass outlet, located on the Capital square, where every bus route in town stops, making it ideally situated for bus trnasportation. MCM employees are encouraged to walk, ride a bicylce or use a staff bus pass for off-site meetings whenever possible.