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?