Dandelions are Beautiful

Building green and practicing sustainability are two more ways libraries can help improve our communities.

I just viewed Small Scale Green, a presentation by Daniel Snydacker, Executive Director, Pequot (CT) Library, tailored for smaller, existing libraries (versus new construction).  Unfortunately I think you have to have gone to ALA Summer 2009 to view this excellent archived session at the Learning Times site, so for those of you who won’t have access, here are some of the highlights.

A major point was that renovating existing buildings is much greener than building new ones.  Materials used in older buildings (e.g. granite) are often more energy efficient.  Snydacker emphasizes that there are a number of low cost steps that you can take to make your library more energy efficient and be an example for sustainability.  He points out that buildings are responsible for 71% of energy consumption, 65% of waste output and 39% of CO2 emissions in the US, so greening your library can really make a difference. 

The first thing he recommends is taking your utility company up on that offer for an energy audit.  It will help you concentrate on problem areas where you can save a lot of money.  Also, consider buying green power over the grid. 

Check out LEED to see how green you are already and where you can make immediate improvements.  Do you have adequate bicycle storage, access to public transportation and xeriscaping?  Do you use daylight for lighting and recycle (not just cans, but paper too, and could you compost any garbage)?  And if you recycle do you also buy recycled, local materials?  Many furnishings companies are making it a priority to use recycled components in their products and buying locally means you cut down on energy (and costs) in transportation.  

Do your office and cleaning supplies and paper use recycled (or environmentally safe) materials, and do you recycle paper that just has one side used (at BCR, we just make sure there’s nothing confidential on the other side)?  Look for “certified” green products that are often comprised of rapidly renewable materials like fast growing wood.  Set your printers up so they print double sided as a default.  At your public copier give people a price break on double sided copies and you’ll be amazed at how much less paper they use.  Circulate green tools like the Kill A Watt meters and reusable book bags.  Maybe you could even have a bicycle lending program.  Use laptops instead of desktop computers wherever possible.

Do you have reflective roofing to reduce heat?  If not consider painting it white, or putting in a green roof (your patrons will love it).  Or maybe you can install a slate roof, which lasts much longer than fiberglass, so cuts down on the new materials and transportation costs used in replacing your roof.  Lighting consumes 1/2 of a building’s energy, so use compact fluorescents instead of incandescent bulbs.  Painting rooms white will reduce the amount of lighting needed and you can use daylight to supplement this effort.  Use occupancy sensors for lights and heating.  Have windows that block the sun’s rays in summer but allow them in in winter, and keep them clean too.  In summer, if weather and security aren’t a problem, open windows at night and close them during the day to help your AC. 

Greening can also help staff.  Remember your HVAC – reducing bad air will cut down on sick days and make for a happier workplace.  Set it for slightly higher temperatures in summer and lower ones in winter, and keep HVAC filters clean.  If you buy a new system, have an independent third party assure you it lives up to its promises before signing off on any work.  Encourage off site work whenever possible as well as carpooling.  Underwrite transit passes for staff.  Have a staffer take LEED training so they can spot areas where you can improve (and encourage good behavior like using email for storage  of important correspondence instead of printing things and asking patrons to sign up for virtual newsletters and overdue notices so you don’t have to mail paper).

It’s great that the Green Movement is catching on and funders are starting to require green components and LEED certification before supplying any money, but you still have to answer to residents.  To counter objections, prepare charts that show how going green will save the library money.

Outside, have reflective paving in your parking lot and give priority parking to hybrids and environmentally friendly vehicles.  Don’t use pesticides and turn off the sprinklers – you’ll need to mow less, and lawnmowers are a huge source of air pollution.   The most common grass for lawns, Kentucky Blue Grass, is also the thirstiest so try to avoid using it anywhere.  If people complain about your lawn, educate them on why you’re doing it and point them to your new Sustainability collection or renewable energy programs for more information.  Native wildflowers are so colorful and they use much less water than grass, so let those gorgeous dandelions grow!

Jeffco's new green bookmobile

9/4 Wow, my county library system has the first green bookmobile.  They use solar power for lights, laptops and climate control.

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One Response to Dandelions are Beautiful

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