As responsible custodians of priceless collections, museums have made use of advances in technology to regulate such things as temperature and humidity to ensure the long life of their treasures. Yet, the more energy they use to house and preserve objects, the more they contribute to global warming, which has the potential to destroy the very environment in which these collections exist. By building and retrofitting to a green standard, museums can resolve this paradox and become responsible stewards of both.

In increasing numbers, thirty-nine by our count, museums across America are building to the U.S. Green Building Council's green design standard. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), is a voluntary, consensus based national standard that offers guidance on the development of high performance, environmentally sustainable buildings. In addition to benefiting the environment, buildings able to satisfy the rigorous benchmarks within this green design paradigm are enjoying lower operating costs. But how are museums meeting these criteria? And are they worthy of emulating in our homes? Here is a look at three very different museums.

 The Mark Twain House and Museum, Hartford, CT
In 2004 the Mark Twain Museum in Hartford, Connecticut, became the first museum in the United States to achieve a LEED-New Construction (NC) certification. The iconic American author may not have agreed with the decision to build a memorial to him, but as a believer in technology and innovation, he definitely would have approved the decision to build it to the LEED standard. Robert A.M. Stern, the project's architect, wanted to create a building that did not compete with the existing Twain house. His solution was to build the 35,000 square foot facility into an existing hill. In doing so, Stern created an appropriately inconspicuous building, and, since earth covered structures maintain core temperatures more consistently throughout the year, the museum enjoys huge annual energy savings. An additional subterranean design feature was the use of a geothermal heating and cooling system. By harnessing the constant core temperatures of the earth, the building requires less fossil fuel and reduces its green house gas impact on the environment. Other noteworthy green features include: advanced air filtration systems; lighting schemes that allow daylight to permeate the facility, thereby reducing lighting costs; and the extensive use of building materials that were either harvested locally or sustainably.

The Getty Center, Los Angeles, CA
Inspired by Governor Schwarzenegger's commitment to achieve a 20 percent reduction in energy use in state-owned buildings by 2015, the 1 million square foot Getty Center renovated its five-year-old complex to achieve a LEED-Existing Building (EB) certification. To reduce escalating operating costs, the museum directors switched from incandescent lighting to compact fluorescent lamps, which use a quarter of the energy and last up to ten times longer. Additionally, the museum installed a "smart" louver system that detects the amount of light required in relation to daylight so that no energy is wasted. Parking facilities are located underground, allowing for more open space around the facility. Above ground parking, by comparison, displaces rainwater, adds to the ambient temperature in the local area, and is not aesthetically pleasing. The Getty Center earned additional LEED credits for choosing gentler cleaning products that have the benefit of decreasing pollutants and minimizing impact on the artwork. Finally, the museum elicited the involvement of the community by making it easy to recycle at the cafeteria and by providing carpooling and public transport incentives for patrons.

The DuSable Museum, Chicago, IL
Like the Getty Center, The DuSable Museum of African American History was inspired by political leadership to go "green." The city's Mayor Daley is known for promoting Chicago's green roof program, where flat roofs are fitted with soil and plantings. Benefits include lowered heating and cooling costs, rainwater retention, and longer roof life. Although the DuSable Museum, currently seeking a LEED-NC certification, does not plan to incorporate a green roof, it is selecting other LEED criteria to reach its certification. A deciding factor in the museum's decision to go green, according to Marilyn Hunter, one of the museum's trustees, was the moral imperative to "leave a legacy to the community."