May 22, 2018

Sustainability, Squared: Great Buildings Are Just the Start | Editorial

The six projects that won the 2018 AIA/ALA Building Awards are worth a good look. The awards, presented each year by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the American Library Association (ALA), celebrate excellence in architectural design and help identify trends to consider in new buildings or renovations. This round names great facilities whose exciting design choices are underpinned by green systems that lean into sustainable thinking.

All six have embraced energy-efficient choices. The Austin Central Library, TX, is seeking Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification, as is the Pico Branch of the Santa Monica Public Library, CA. The Eastham Public Library, MA, is LEED Gold. The Laurel Branch Library, MD, didn’t apply for certification but did rely on LEED standards for guidance (check out its living wall and more, p. 26). Nebraska’s Hastings Public Library aimed to improve energy efficiency drastically, arriving at a number of system decisions that promise big savings to come. And the Tulsa City-County Library, which is on target for LEED Gold, won the 2017 Henry Bellmon Sustainability Award for its integration of green approaches. Each deserves close study.

Then take a deep breath and read all about the new library at Colorado College, pictured on our cover. It’s a net-zero facility, meaning that its systems generate enough energy to equal—or zero out—its energy use. How the project achieved this goal and plans to follow through is detailed in Lisa Peet’s “Reaching Net Zero.” It’s quite beautiful. I’m particularly struck by how the design seemingly takes every opportunity to maximize the connection to the outdoors and the striking landscape. It’s also setting a new bar in the evolution of the college’s sustainability plan and helping speed the established campuswide sustainability commitment.

Commitment, with follow-through: sounds easy, right? But not every library that wants to deliver on the desire to build green, create a more sustainable internal culture, or take the lead on a community’s resilience planning has the tools to get there. That’s where the New York Library Association Sustainability Initiative, of which I am a cocreator, has been focusing. It has created a benchmarking system for public libraries, the Sustainable Libraries Certification Program (see “Certified Sustainable”), which provides a mechanism for public libraries to realize their sustainability goals—in existing buildings or through new projects. Benchmarks for academic and school libraries are in the works.

Right now, the first libraries are moving through the process, and others are joining, together embodying the momentum so needed to help address climate change. Library buildings that go green are one great step, integrated sustainable thinking throughout the institution is another. We are on the way.

This article was published in Library Journal's May 1, 2018 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller ( is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.

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