I’ve been working hard to ensure libraries understand that sustainability involves far more than “going green.” Embracing the Triple Bottom Line definition of sustainability helps libraries think holistically about the environmental, economic, and social aspects of their library and community. Nonetheless, libraries have a lot of work to do on the “going green” side of things.
Libraries are steeped in work that speaks to their economic viability and that of their communities. Our professional ethics are rooted in the creation, promotion, and preservation of socially equitable access for and treatment of those we serve. Both of these are part of the everyday work of simply being a library. Is there a constant need for vigilance on these fronts? Absolutely.
However, are libraries working as diligently on being environmentally conscientious and helping our communities do the same as they are on the economic and social equity sides of things? Not as much as we should.
We got off to a very strong start: we are the founding mothers and fathers of the “sharing economy.” As such, we help reduce the need to own everything and likely have an impact on the amount of stuff that ends up in landfills. But after that our commitment to environmentalism wanes.
From the inside out
If ours are truly caring, purpose-driven institutions that hope to convey the priority we place on the well-being of those we serve, we must create, operate, and promote a local and global environment that speaks to the health and sustainability of human beings.
Each choice we make tells a story about what kind of institutions we are and what we aspire to be. Each choice provides an opportunity to lead by example, to apply sustainable thinking to full advantage for those who work and learn in our facilities and live in the communities surrounding them as well as those who live in the communities where the materials, chemicals, and production take place to facilitate these operations. Yet few libraries have strategic plans that consider a commitment to sustainability or policies that prioritize sustainable choices in purchasing, cleaning, and design for construction and renovation projects.
One library that does is the West Vancouver Memorial Library, BC, which cites “Sustainability” as a core value in its strategic plan. After asking 1,500 users what they think is most important for the library to focus on in the future, the library chose sustainability as one of its top strategic priorities. Sustainability is woven throughout each item, from staff and collection development to communication and community partnerships: “We manage our resources responsibly to maintain financial, social, and environmental sustainability for the well-being of our community,” according to the plan.
One example of how the library manages its resources responsibly is through its “Green” Building Operations Policy, which targets “improving building performance, reducing costs, creating more productive and healthy work and public spaces as well as affording the Library the opportunity to take a leadership role in environmental stewardship for our community.” It addresses purchasing, housekeeping, solid waste management, integrated pest management, erosion control, landscape management, and plumbing.
The West Vancouver Memorial Library became the first existing building in Western Canada, and the only library in Canada at the time, to be awarded Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification from the Canada Green Building Council.
“But green costs more”
The cost of maintaining sustainable facilities, of course, comes into play. Being environmentally conscientious does not have to cost more, though in some cases it will. Library leaders need to do the research, make the case, and make the right decision for their library. The data is out there.
The General Services Administration (GSA) owns and leases over 376.9 million square feet of space in 9,600 buildings in more than 2,200 communities in the United States. It has crunched the numbers, and here’s what it found:
“High-performing green buildings provide the best value for the taxpayer and for the public through both life cycle cost benefits and positive effects on human health and performance,”according to Kevin Kampschroer, chief sustainability officer, GSA, and director of the Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings.
From the largest expenses, such as building a new facility, to the smallest—let’s say copy paper—we’ve got expanding options, techniques, and approaches that make the right decision affordable and justifiable.
Do the work. Think through the options. Our communities are watching and learning from us.