30 May 2008

What Does It Mean to be Green?

I've been thinking about sustainability an awful lot lately. And in a lot of ways.

I am the co-chair of Sustain Champlain, Champlain College's campus wide sustainability initiative. In about an hour, I am meeting with our college president to advocate for the overwhelming need on our campus for a sustainability coordinator. While Champlain does an incredible job of improving our facilities to be more energy efficient, a key component to sustainability, we have, in my opinion, a ways to go in terms of developing a culture of sustainability on campus.

Ryan Deschamps wrote a terrific post on sustainability based on a conversation we had back in April. As he pointed out, doing the bare minimum is no longer enough in the library community. We need to be leaders in sustainability on our campuses. ACRL seems to agree as sustainability is one of the tracks at the bi-annual conference next year. Frankly, I am really looking forward to hearing what libraries are doing to lead sustainability efforts on their campuses. But I am more interested in hearing what sustainability is to libraries, and to institutions of higher education as a whole.

Admittedly, I might seem "hard core" to some people, especially people that don't live in Vermont. I ride my bike or ride the bus to work. We have one car. We recycle. We are avid gardeners. We compost. We use phosphate-free soaps and detergents. We keep our heat at 68, maybe 70 in the dead of winter.

Funny that those actions are even remotely considered hard core. As I type them up, they seem minimal to me.

And that gets at what I think is the biggest problem on our campus, and on most campuses: a culture shift. Michael Stephens highlighted a great post by Nicole Engard, a new blogger to me about not giving out handouts during classes or conference presentations. At the end of her post, Nicole said "I feel for everyone who had to make this decision because they’re going to be bombarded with librarians complaining about not having handouts!" This gets at what I see as the overarching problem: the prevailing view that my individual preferences override the societal need for change in order to preserve our society. Better that I have a handout that I invariably will toss than have to keep the conference books with presenters information, take notes, or pay attention or care enough about what I hear to seek out information when I get back to my desk. This, from a profession that is trying to teach students that there is more to searching and information seeking than the easiest thing available. Steven Bell, who commented on this post, mentions that the paper is recyclable, so it's not so bad. Perhaps, but I have yet to be in any conference, classroom, store, or street where recycle bins are as prominent and available as garbage cans.

There are a lot things to think about as libraries, educators, and just plain people decide to go green. It is about infrastructure, leadership, accountability, engagement, regulation, fiduciary responsibility, resource allocation, longevity…the list goes on. But I think that as bedrocks of education and knowledge in practice, we need to set examples for our students as they head out into a world that is going to change because of energy, water, carbon, and waste. We need to show them and offer them tools to conceptualize, apply, and develop new ways of learning, doing business, and living in a way that not only mitigates but improves our spaces. If not institutions of higher ed, then who?


david silver said...


i'd like to see a permanent trend that places libraries smack in the middle of the go green movement. libraries are already the go-to place to educate oneself/ourselves, and these days educating ourselves about going green is more important then ever.

and i agree with you: what we need to do is develop a culture of sustainability on campus. i hope you continue blogging about this sheck!

Ginger said...

Since you're really dedicated to being green here’s another suggestion that you might be interested in mentioning to the college president or using in your own home. BIOHEAT! It's oil heat blended with every-day products like corn and avocado. The best part is that it's non-toxic and biodegradable, which is great. And get this, if everyone using heating oil used a B5 blend, 400 million gallons of regular heating oil could be conserved. This would be one big step towards helping our environment.

Libraries are a good place to go to educate yourself, but you can easily get more info or tips on going green from:

I work for NORA which is how I am able to share all of this great info with you.

Ryan Deschamps said...

Thanks for the link!

I'm proud to say that Kelli and I did not use hand-outs for our presentation at CHLA. That said, everyone had access to a computer -- so it was fairly easy to use a wiki (http://chlaweb20.pbwiki.com by the way), stick some slideshare/Google presentations on it and a bunch of links and then ask everyone to email themselves the URL.

I'd like to see more of less paper at conferences in general though. Thanks for this post!

Brandi Tuttle said...

i keep mine @ 55 in the winter! poor jim just freezes. course, i do keep it a bit lower than i should in the summer at 72.

we are dedicated to doing our part and i think we are doing a good job. though i know we can do more. it's all about finding a happy balance, right? what you can do, afford, etc. i am willing to be "inconvenienced" to be green. and i think that is a key point as people start to try and go green.

yay sheck! lemme know how the garden turns out this summer. bigger and better!!