February 17, 2018

Our Zero-Carbon Campaign | BackTalk

We have a responsibility to make carbon reduction part of our mutual mission

I WAS AT New Zealand’s ­annual library conference, ­LIANZA, held in late 2010 in Dunedin, and had an epiphany.

After delivering my talk, “Working (Not Washing) Green into Your Library’s Mission,” which I sincerely thought was “on the edge” (the conference theme), a revised horizon unfurled before me. I hadn’t even finished getting across the idea that sustainability needs to be worked into a library’s values, mission, goals, objectives, policies, and processes when I knew I hadn’t gone far enough.

The real edge, I realized, is for libraries to make a national or even global commitment to carbon reduction—because it is the right thing to do. Universities, governments, and corporations are taking this step. Just check out the University of California–Merced’s triple commitment to carbon neutrality or the cities of Davis, CA; Boulder, CO; New York; and San Francisco—all of which have aggressive goals and efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

Expanding our local focus

Green efforts in libraries have been locally focused and mostly geared to facilities. Hundreds of green buildings have been completed or are in the works. With our spanking new green buildings we have inspired our patrons and served as an exemplar for other projects. Just look at the tiny new Chrisney Library in rural southern Indiana. It operates on solar power with, so far, a zero energy bill. It provides savings that allowed the town to run a new library and is doing its part in carbon reduction.

Across North America, libraries have taken the lead in green architecture and design. Some have adopted green cleaning methods, green IT, paper reduction, preferred parking for hybrids, bike loans, meter loan programs, e-newsletters, recyclable library cards, healthy and/or local foods at events, and remodeling with green materials and finishes. Building green and operating green are only parts of the picture. We can’t stop there.

Working green into the library’s mission to ensure green trickles down through operations and into the future is key, but virtually no libraries have embedded green into their purpose. Getting libraries to embrace that effort could take years. We need something that will lift us out of the details and into a daring vision that enables significant results. We need our associations or an alliance of entities to make a commitment with bold goals and support to reach them.

Let’s start at $33 million saved

By my estimate, U.S. public libraries spend about $330 million each year on energy to heat, cool, ventilate, light, and manage their buildings. That number, based on an average energy cost of $1.75 per square foot, is sure to continue to rise. Add all the other types of libraries and spread this across the globe, and you can see the positive impact of carbon reduction. Our profession inhabits more facilities in the United States than a major fast food chain, and as such we have a responsibility to make carbon reduction a central part of our mutual mission.

Just imagine if we reduced our dependence on carbon-based energy by ten percent. That might only take changing out light bulbs to CFLs and LEDs and/or switching to more energy-efficient computing. The result would save $33 million annually. A 20 percent reduction would yield $66 million. Then, if we collectively took those dollars and plowed them back into the further greening of our buildings, we could look forward to more savings the following year. Or, we could direct some of that windfall to programming, collections, or staff ­training.

We could also invite our suppliers to join us, expanding the impact.

A professionwide commitment

What’s needed is a set of national or international public library objectives calling for zero-carbon use by 2025. The American Library Association, International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, and all national library organizations could work in partnership to develop a cohesive statement and set of principles to serve as a call for libraries to go green. Let’s dub it the ­ZeroLibraryCarbon campaign or whatever. Libraries would gain fiscal benefits, support of global warming initiatives, and enhanced public perception.

This initiative would result in a “triple bottom line”—to borrow a phrase from the Urban Libraries Council’s 2010 Partners for the Future report on sustainable communities. By being cheaper to operate and replete with planet-friendly practices and functions, libraries would be elevated in stature in their communities and beyond.

Why hasn’t this happened already? Who knows? My answer is, let’s get going. We have a whole lot of library professionals who would relish the chance to lead or support the effort to set national or even international objectives. Never underestimate the power of unleashed green champions. Let’s give them the political support to get the job done.

Author Information
Louise Schaper, former Executive Director of the Fayettevile Public Library, AR, LJ‘s 2006 Library of the Year, writes, speaks, and consults. See also her “Let ‘Green’ Creep” (Library by Design, Spring 2010, p. 6-9) and the Q & A “Lead with Green” (LJ 5/15/10, p. 22-23). We welcome opinion pieces for BackTalk. Please send them to ffialkoff@mediasourceinc.com
Louise Schaper About Louise Schaper

Louise Schaper (lschaper@me.com), retired Executive Director of Fayetteville Public Library, AR, is a Library Consultant and LJ's New Landmark Libraries project lead.