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Small Actions Spark Big Changes

You can make our planet more sustainable

At the Academy of Natural Sciences, we believe that individual actions can truly make a difference. Each month of 2020, we’ll guide our community in a conversation about how everyday choices can affect the health of our environment. Follow along with us here, on our Blog, on social media @acadnatsci and #TakeActionANS, through email and in the museum to join the conversation!

April 2020: Plant!

tomatoes in bowl

Seven Steps to Sustainable Gardening

With the outbreak of COVID-19, people across the world are spending more time at home. Being stuck inside can be difficult, and time spent interacting with nature often can provide much-needed respite.

Gardening, whether in your yard, in pots on your windowsill or in a square foot of space between your house and your sidewalk, is a wonderful way to enjoy nature while still adhering to social distancing recommendations. As you plan your garden this year, consider how you can take steps to create a garden that is kind to the environment and does not over-rely on natural resources.

On our blog, we provide seven tips on planning, planting and caring for a sustainable garden.

Here’s a sneak peek:

1.Think about your gardening goals.

Are you hoping to grow flowers, food or both? Do you want to cultivate unique plants? Have you considered ways to use your garden to increase biodiversity or sustain local wildlife? Are you exploring a mix of the above?

It’s important to think critically about what purposes you want your garden to serve. Many people grow gardens not only for the plants, but also for the cool native wildlife that the garden will attract, such as bees, birds and butterflies. You can, for example, grow coneflowers to attract the American goldfinch, or you can cultivate certain morning glory species to attract the golden tortoise beetle, which is the fastest color-changing arthropod in the world! If you focus on planting native plants and on worrying less about holes in leaves or petals, your garden may provide a nourishing space for local wildlife.

Learn more about sustainable gardening on the Academy Blog:

Why are plants important?

Resources on Sustainable Gardening


We’re Walking the Walk

Many team members at the Academy have their own gardens or enjoy raising potted plants. A number of our colleagues shared their own small, everyday, sustainable actions for gardening that we shared above. Here is a collage of staff members at work in their own gardening spaces!

Planting for the Environment

grass in a jar

In Plant the Tiny Seed, Christie Matheson helps the youngest naturalists understand how tiny seeds bloom into stunning flowers. Through delicate collage and watercolor graphics and poetic, simple text, she demonstrates the steps involved in planting a few seeds, taking care of them and watching them grow.
Readers are encouraged to “push” the seeds into the pages, wiggle their fingers to water the seeds, tap the clouds to bring rain and clap to wake up the sun. They then can follow the growth of a zinnia and better understand the role it serves in a garden of bees, butterflies and other animals.

Find a digital copy of the book at your local library or on YouTube. Then, do the following activity (or help your kids help plant a garden of their own) to learn more about the process at home. While you work, explain the main things that plants need to grow, including sun, water, soil and space.
Don’t have the book at home? No problem! Follow the prompts in our Planting for the Environment blog and learn about planting on your own!

Upcoming Topics

Each month this year, we’ll guide a conversation in the galleries and online to share how small actions can spark big changes in our world. Coming up next:

  • May: Get Outdoors
  • June: Eat Local
  • July: Reduce Single-use Plastics

March 2020: Using Less Water

child and parent use faucet

Using Less Water: A How-to Guide

It seems like water is all around us — but did you know that only one percent of the water on our planet is available for drinking? About 97 percent of Earth’s water is saltwater, and another two percent is frozen in ice caps and glaciers.  

Our world’s population, along with our need for clean freshwater, is growing, but our water supply is not. According to the United Nations, about 2 billion people are currently living in areas facing serious water scarcity. By 2040, it is estimated that one in four of the world’s children under 18, or 600 million, will be living in areas of extremely high water stress. Our water enables us to run our businesses, protect our communities and keep ourselves alive, so it is critical that we work to reduce water usage in our everyday lives.  

Do you know how much water you use each day? Most people have no idea! People in the U.S. use approximately 100 gallons of fresh, drinkable water per day for bathing, drinking, flushing, cleaning and yard care. And this number only takes into account the amount of water we use directly every day.  

Everything we buy, the energy we use and the food we eat requires water to produce. In fact, Americans’ actual water “footprint” – the amount of water it takes to produce our food, energy, clothes and more – is about 2,000 gallons of water each day. We consume about 95 percent of the water we use without ever seeing it. Purchasing recycled goods, carpooling with friends and eating locally grown veggies all will help to reduce our water footprint. 

What else can we do to use less water? Check out our blog to find out.

Visit Us and Join the Conversation

Just beyond the Academy’s lobby in our Science at the Academy gallery, you’ll find a temporary exhibit space where you can join the conversation about what using less water means to you. Using a magnetic talk-back wall, write down what small actions you’ve taken to benefit the environment, and watch a video to find out how others have done the same.  

How can we use less water?

Resources on Using Less Water:

daily water use chart 

We’re Walking the Walk

The Academy’s commitment to use less water relies on institutional changes, as well as staff members’ willingness to make seemingly small, everyday, sustainable actions. This month, we’re teaming up with our colleagues for the following initiatives: In April, May and November, the Academy and Philadelphia clothier United By Blue have formed a community partnership aimed at removing 25,000 pounds of trash from the Delaware River in the Philadelphia area. Cleanups will take place at designated streams and creeks along the Delaware this spring and fall. The cleanup schedule will be posted on the Academy’s website and on

Inside the building, the Academy has chosen to install water-friendly fixtures where possible. Some Academy sinks have low-flow faucets, which save hundreds of gallons of water each year! The Academy’s low-flow toilets save hundreds of gallons of water per year.

The Academy encourages visitors to drink tap water rather than purchasing single-use plastic water bottles. The Academy has hydration stations where you can fill your reusable water bottles and avoid buying plastic water bottles during your visit.

In other environmental news, Drexel University (including the Academy) is participating in RecycleMania, a friendly, nationwide recycling competition among colleges and universities. Throughout the months of February and March, we are tracking the amount of paper, cardboard, aluminum, glass, plastic, cell phones and computer equipment recycled to be benchmarked against the other participating institutions.

February 2020 - Talking About Climate Change

there is no planet b protest sign

Talk to Someone You Love About Climate Change

Why is it that talking about our changing climate can lead to such discomfort among ourselves and our loved ones? 

“The debate over climate change in the United States (and elsewhere) is not about carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas models; it is about opposing cultural values and worldviews through which that science is seen,” writes Andrew J. Hoffman, University of Michigan professor and author of How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate

“Those cultural values create a pattern of shared basic assumptions that tell us the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to problems and situations we face. […] As a result, when different groups view the same science through opposing cultural lenses, they see something very different.” 

Even the most dedicated advocates may feel uncomfortable disagreeing with a close relative or friend who doesn’t share their worldviews on climate change. This might be because of a desire to preserve a relationship or it may be due to something else, like concerns about creating awkwardness, spurring an argument, sounding “too smart” or sounding not smart enough. 

So what do you really need to say or do to have an effective conversation about climate change? Are there times when you should (or even shouldn’t) provoke or join in the conversation? 

On the Academy blog, we take you through some simple ways to approach a conversation about climate change with people in your life.

Visit Us and Join the Conversation

Just beyond the Academy’s lobby in our Science at the Academy gallery, you’ll find a temporary exhibit space where you can join the conversation about what climate change means to you. Using a magnetic talk-back wall, write down what small actions you’ve taken to benefit the environment, and watch a video to find out how others have done the same.  

What does climate change mean to you?

Resources on Talking About Climate Change

Resources on Managing Climate Change’s Emotional Toll

Global Temperature Anomalies from 1880 to 2019 (make sure to watch until the end!)

We’re Walking the Walk

The Academy’s commitment to combat climate change relies on staff members’ willingness to make seemingly small, everyday, sustainable actions. This month, we’re teaming up with our colleagues for the following initiatives:

Talking About Climate Change

By informing, initiating and convening conversations that matter, the Academy creates a trusted space for civic discourse. Academy evening programs such as Town Square and Academy Conversation are designed to engage and provide relevant, accessible educational content to the public on environmental issues. Our programs focus on critical global issues in environmental science by featuring prominent thought leaders and their findings on biodiversity, freshwater issues, climate change and evolution.

Environmental advocates, scientists and community members come together for an opportunity to further their knowledge about environmental and sustainability matters through accurate, real-time scientific information. After participating in these programs, attendees have told us that they feel confident discussing climate change outside these special forums, with family members, friends and others who are close to them. 

Sustainable Love Notes

Yep, that’s right we’ve got sustainably packaged, customized candy hearts for our staff featuring sayings such as “science matters,” “climate change is real” and “be a force for nature.” Fun? Definitely. Frivolous? Maybe not. We’re hoping that staff will take them home, share them with relatives and friends and help their loved ones digest the important messages featured on the hearts.  

January 2020 - Recycling

recycling bins on street

Recycling 101

In January 2019, we learned that over 50% of Philadelphia’s recycling was being sent straight to an incinerator in Chester. The problem was part of a larger issue with recycling nationwide — that the market for purchasing recycled goods, with China being the primary buyer, had shifted greatly. In 2018, China decided to no longer accept recycled materials that didn’t meet new stringent rules around contamination and mixed materials. Soon, recycling, which had actually been profitable for Philadelphia, became an expense for the city.

One of the main reasons that much of Philadelphia’s and the United States’ recycling is so expensive to sell is that it is deeply contaminated. You can help address this problem by knowing what you can recycle and how best to clean your recycling. On the Academy Blog, find out the answers to these common questions about recycling in Philly:

  • How clean should my recycling be?
  • What can and can’t you recycle curbside?
  • What can you recycle at a special facility?
  • How can you reduce the amount of recycling you create?
  • What does yard waste and composting have to do with creating less waste?
  • What resources can help me recycle properly in the Philadelphia suburbs? 

What question do you have about recycling?

Sometimes recycling properly seems like such a difficult code to crack that you may want to give up. But you’re not alone, and we encourage you to keep trying! Together, we can make a difference by sharing what we know and supporting others as they learn. Here are some questions that our visitors and staff have about recycling. Do you know the answers?Join our conversation on Facebook!  

Recycling Resources

We’re Walking the Walk

The Academy’s commitment to combat climate change relies on staff members’ willingness to make seemingly small, everyday, sustainable actions. This month, we’re teaming up with our colleagues for the following initiatives: 


The Academy recycles every day — not just in January! In additional to single stream recycling items, we also have spaces to recycle plastic bags, chip bags, batteries and small electronics. 

Academy Swap

In January 2020, the Academy is holding our first "Academy Swap." Employees can bring in everything from unwanted holiday gifts to used household goods and clothing. We’ll donate leftover clothes to charity and recycle or dispose of other items properly. We’re also having a battery recycling and paper shredding event for our staff. 

stacks of recycling materials