Green libraries: Going eco-friendly for Earth Day 2024


It was a pivotal moment in the early history of the modern environmental movement. On April 22, 1970 — long before "climate change" and "sustainable development" were in the common parlance — around 20 million Americans took to the streets to demonstrate peacefully in favor of environmental reform.

Spearheaded by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, this was the very first Earth Day, which has since become an annual event, and not just in the United States but all over the world.

By the 1990s, Earth Day had become truly global, and it now has official recognition from the United Nations. The UN General Assembly designated April 22 as International Mother Earth Day through a resolution adopted in 2009.

Because of their role as community hubs for connection and education, public libraries are in a unique position to support and promote sustainability — not just on Earth Day, but every day.

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Sustainability: a core value for librarians


In 2019, the American Library Association (ALA) adopted sustainability as a core value of librarianship, noting that this consists of practices that are environmentally sound, economically feasible and socially equitable (this is known as the "Triple Bottom Line"):

Libraries play an important and unique role in promoting community awareness about resilience, climate change and a sustainable future. They are also leading by example by taking steps to reduce their environmental footprint.

In 2021, the ALA resolved to pursue a goal of carbon neutrality for all of its in-person conferences by the year 2025. 

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Green and sustainable: libraries lead the way

Last summer, we ran a blog post on some of the innovative programs libraries employ to inspire environmental stewardship in their communities. We noted then that the public library is a great example of sustainability in action: patrons check out books and other materials, make use of them, and then return them to the library for other community members to enjoy:

This is an inherently sustainable operating model, with members of the community sharing access to the same resources: instead of each individual purchasing their own copies of books, magazines or DVDs, libraries enable the sharing of these items among multiple users. This reduces the consumption of materials and promotes the reuse of resources, thereby minimizing waste and increasing energy efficiency.

Here are just a few other steps library professionals can take to reduce their branch's carbon footprint, minimize the negative impact of library operations and promote environmental sustainability in the communities they serve.

The making of a green library

Efficient and renewable energy: To make a more green library, implement energy-saving lighting, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. This can include using LED bulbs, programmable thermostats and efficient appliances to minimize power consumption.

A library might also consider installing solar panels or invest in other renewable power sources to generate electricity. This can help reduce reliance on fossil fuels and decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

Water conservation: It's important for green libraries to implement water-saving measures such as installing low-flow faucets and toilets, and using drought-resistant landscaping. This helps conserve water resources and reduces electricity usage associated with water treatment and distribution.

Green libraries go digital: Increase digital access to library resources to reduce the need for physical materials and transportation. This includes digitizing collections, offering eBooks and online databases, and library resources accessible remotely.

Most public and academic libraries also provide their users with the use of news platforms like PressReader, which allows them to read content from thousands of international newspapers and magazines in digital form.

In addition to titles geared toward just about every other interest, from news to music to food, PressReader features a number of publications that focus specifically on the environment and sustainable living.

Promote sustainable transportation: Encourage staff and patrons to use sustainable transportation options such as walking, biking, carpooling or using public transportation when visiting the library.

Providing bike racks and designated parking for fuel-efficient vehicles can also encourage eco-friendly commuting.


Waste reduction and recycling: Implement recycling programs for paper, plastics, glass and other recyclable materials. Encourage the use of reusable containers, cups, and utensils in library cafes or at events.

Reduce paper waste by printing double-sided and encouraging electronic communication and documentation.

Green procurement: Source environmentally friendly products and materials for library operations, such as recycled paper, non-toxic cleaning supplies and sustainable furniture. Consider the environmental impact of purchasing decisions and choose vendors with strong sustainability practices.

Education, outreach and collaboration: Raise awareness among staff and patrons about environmental issues and encourage eco-friendly behaviors. Offer educational programs, workshops and events focused on topics such as climate change, conservation and sustainable living.

Partner with local government agencies, community organizations, and other stakeholders to advocate for policies that support environmental sustainability. Collaborate on community-wide efforts such as tree-planting campaigns or upcycling initiatives.

These types of joint events and programs can help expand the reach and impact of environmental programming, while also providing patrons with opportunities to connect with local sustainability initiatives.

Green building design: We have often said that great library design evolves alongside the needs of the community. When constructing or renovating library facilities, prioritize architecture and design principles that characterize green buildings, such as efficient insulation, natural lighting and passive heating and cooling techniques.

Aim for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification or other green building standards.

By implementing these strategies, libraries can significantly reduce their carbon footprint and contribute to a more sustainable life for their communities.


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