Green Workplace Champions – Quick Wins and Small Actions

In the last few months in the news, we have seen Earthquakes devastate parts of Turkey and Syria, floods in the Caribbean and tornadoes in Mississippi in the last week.  These natural disasters are hard to predict but one thing we all know…we have to be prepared for them.  The negative impact on climate change and environmental crisis is having a greater impact on the Earth and us – and is more long-term.  This means we really have to think of strategies and practices that we can inform and empower our workforce, professionals and our communities as we face these challenges together – now and the future.

One of the most interesting and inspiring events this month has been the Green Libraries Conference hosted by The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP). It was an opportunity for library and information professionals to come together to share ideas, learn from each other and to get into action of protecting the Earth from climate and environmental crisis – see my photos for some information on the sessions.  

The Green Libraries Manifesto was launched last year in a partnership with CILIP, The Arts Council, The British Library, Julie’s Bicycle and Libraries Connected.  The aims of the partnership was to ‘develop a UK-wide, cross-sector programme focused on the contribution of librarians, information and knowledge professionals to the sustainability agenda’. Sustainability is a topic which is being looked at not only in my profession, but in all ways of life with individuals who are keen to get involved and take positive action.  

On the other side of the Atlantic, the American Libraries Association (ALA), has also launched guidance and resources to support environmentally friendly policies and actions with their motto: “To thrive and evolve into the future, ALA must adopt the ‘triple bottom line’ mindset of sustainability: We must embody practices that are environmentally sound, economically feasible, and socially equitable”.  And it was proposed by ALA’s Task Force on Sustainability to have sustainability included as one of their core competencies for libraries and information professionals.  

As a British Library staff and President of SLA 2023, I am very conscious of how important these issues and actions are for our environment, digital and physical spaces – and ultimately for our customers, patrons and our own lives.  I have also been able to understand more and more the issues and changes required as it also feeds into my work in supporting businesses in their ideas and the growing of their companies.  I was really impressed recently when we held a Collaboration and Knowledge Exchange Day (CAKE) with other libraries across the UK on this very same topic – we were already being driven by the energy (pardon the pun) and the interest from COP26 in 2021 in Glasgow to our local business support in our library partners near and far.  Our BIPC North East partners have a great link for green business and I have since been able to share insights with other customers.

For SLA, we have discussed this issue at SLA Conference in the past – the first time I hear of the term environmental justice and more on Sustainable Development Goals in a library an information context was from the 2020 virtual conference.  I also met Loida Garcia Fedo (past ALA President) for the first time online when she presented a paper on the UN Sustainable Development Goals to a library community in Singapore.  Three years on, and I think we have come along a lot further in our journey as library and information professionals to tackle the issues with climate change and environmental crisis.  

The SLA Workplace Preparedness Subcommittee held an online event this week hosting my British Library colleague Maja Maricevic from the Green Libraries Partnership and Samantha Palladini from the Communities Responding to Emergency Weather (CREW).  It was great to hear the programmes and partnerships in place from both speakers as well as to collaborate on exchanging ideas – such as having local hubs, education and also building grassroots links with local communities from the USA. The Green Libraries Partnership is doing the same here and they were both aligned on the sustainable goals.  There was also a focus on environmental justice and social justice for the communities who are most affected – highlighting disparities with climate change and social inequality. 

After going to the CILIP Conference for half-day (I had to present to Masters in Library and Information Science students at City University), I did feel much better about the whole situation.  I am sharing the learning and action points with you here with you:

Some of these quick wins and small actions shared over the last week were:

  • The circular economy may seem like a big topic to take on but in its’ basic term, it means recycling items we already possess and giving them a makeover or re-purposing them.  This can range from book stacks, trolleys, furniture to the whole building altogether! 
  • Make buildings better. There was some great tips from an architecture who highlighted that instead of demolishing old library and information physical spaces – we can actually give them an upgrade and make them new reinvigorated spaces.  A conference speaker mentioned the Worst 23 Project – which looks at the worst building that need the most improvements!
  • Green is not just the colour for environmental issues generally.  It is a great idea for having plants, gardening and garden spaces in parts of the physical spaces (I know some plants are not recommended for rare books and other delicate areas).  Ideas range from creating small community garden, seeds exchange, or cleaning up areas in the local community. Access to nature is one of great ways we can improve our wellbeing and the environment around us.
  • Using Information and Data can help to paint a picture of where we are at present and where we want to be in the future.  It is best to have a starting point by checking what the current usage levels are for example, in energy levels or ventilations levels. Having this evidence will help make decisions and plans to aim for better sustainable goals.  It was great to hear the term – “Libraries engagement have agency!” which leads to collaboration and connection for partnerships, social justice and inclusion. 
  • Leading by example are the things we can all do regardless of any hierarchical structures in the workplace.  We all can be champions for green initiatives by starting small and having those necessary solutions. These can range from recycling champions to sustainability information for colleagues and our customers.  In my workplace, they have set up a Sustainability network – there are visual examples of best practice with lights going off early, computers switching off not in use and even a newsletter to keep everyone informed and engaged. Printing emails and storing emails are some earlier green champion examples, so too are reuse and refill cups and centres, which are recent initiatives and behaviour changes.
  • Quick wins and local change – although the issues with climate change may impact on all of us.  There is a need for us to stand up and support these more sustainable issues in our own homes, workplaces and local communities.  This can range from using good transport decisions, recycling waste, shopping local or providing information to our customers. We can do little by little which will have a larger impact. For example, we are getting better at plastic pollution.
  • This is new topic and area for all of us, and we are still navigating some of the unknown. We are must create specific library skills and training programmes to empower and inform sustainable actions.  The simple and best way to do this is to come up with a plan, make priorities and …take it from there!

And here, I know I won’t be end to this story.  Hopefully we can continue to share some of the ways we learn from each other now and in the future years to come. 


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