Let "Green" Creep

Ten steps to sustainable library operations

You've heard the buzz about building green libraries, but what about green library operations? You know, the things we do every day to give our customers a great library experience, like cleaning the floors, registering new cardholders, and leading a story time. In each area, we can do a better job being stewards of the earth's resources, and, in the process, we can redeploy the money saved to things our customers want. Green libraries cost less to operate, and, if you plan it right, you might find out that your library has more to spend on items like books. My experience with green libraries began back in 1998 when, under my leadership, the Fayetteville Public Library (FPL), AR, decided to build a new facility. After a very public planning process in which residents voiced their desire for an environmentally efficient library, FPL became, in 2001, the first building in Arkansas to be registered for the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification, the nation's most used and respected standard for green buildings. In 2004, the Blair Library opened. It later received LEED-NC (new construction) Silver certification. When bids were opened in 2002 and, owing to a building boom, came in higher than expected, some people suggested cutting those "green things" from the budget. The finance administrator first uttered and then persuasively repeated a definitive "no." She knew the long-term value of those "green things"—money saved every year in utility and maintenance costs. Those "green things" stayed intact, and the library ended up saving about 19 percent in gas and electric costs in the first full year; savings increased to 35 percent in the third year (see table, below). The cost of going LEED-NC Silver was paid back in the first few years.

Aligning values and practice

After the Blair Library opened, I became acutely aware that our "green library" was designed and built on a set of values that were not being carried out in day-to-day operations. The building's design team, MS&R, Ltd., produced a gem to which legions of visitors came to learn about green buildings. But with each tour, I thought, "If they noticed how un-green we were in routine functions, they'd question our commitment to sustainability." When I looked around at what we were doing, I kept hearing the values that community members clearly articulated during the planning process and could see that we were not carrying them out as we should. For example, we were:
  1. Giving away plastic book bags.
  2. Lighting up the sky and using lots of electricity with night cleaning services.
  3. Printing thousands of monthly newsletters.
  4. Gluing ads for library programs to foam core for display at service desks.
  5. Using bottled water and plastic cutlery, cups, and dishes for events.
  6. Serving candy and other unhealthy foods at programs.
  7. Driving to meetings and restaurants, even if only a few blocks away.
  8. Leaving PCs and monitors on 24/7.
  9. Adding cooling units and fans to address server and CPU overheating.
  10. Offering library cards that couldn't be recycled and wouldn't decompose.
How could we align the green values inherent in the building with operations? With so many of our actions, including mine, I saw activities trending upward in carbon emissions instead of down. What could we do? We were overwhelmed by all the critical things you do when moving into a new building, like tweaking work processes and ensuring that residents get every bit of value for their $23.4 million. Isn't serving a rapidly growing base of customers drawn to a facility that one young adult said was "just like a New York City library" enough? How would we ever have time to make operations greener? Was I sufficiently committed? (See "Lead with Green," an interview with Schaper.) Library By Design Spring 2010: Let "Green" Creep Driving home my personal embarrassment were customer complaints, with at least one in the newspaper, that the library claimed to be green but was leaving its interior lights on all night. The lights were on late for the cleaning crews, but the customers were right: we were wasting electricity!

Instill it in the mission

When I retired at the end of October 2009, operations at Blair Library were green and getting greener. We were saving money and natural resources. The building was more comfortable. More staff members than ever before were proactive about green procedures on a professional basis. I laughed when my successor, Shawna Thorup, told me that one trustee called her plan to go for LEED-EB, the certification for existing buildings and operations, "mission creep." I said, "update the mission to reflect the library's responsibility to provide services in a sustainable manner." Don't we want our libraries to be there for future generations? Don't we want to reduce carbon emissions, save money, and give our customers additional materials and services? Operating green means more than recycling. It's a change of perspective that makes your library stronger, richer, and healthier for your staff and the public. Operate your library in ways that don't compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs. That's sustainability. Being green is also a commitment to (1) discover best practices; (2) innovate when solutions don't exist; (3) reduce waste and inefficiencies; (4) adopt and embrace new habits; and (5) measure and celebrate progress. You do this every day; now just wear a green lens.

Be a green pioneer

Your community needs visible and tangible examples for inspiration and ideas. There is no more visible entity than the library, so go ahead and be a green pioneer and a champion. You can start small or large. In the process, a lot more people will be visiting your library and asking questions. Ultimately, you'll be changing lives in more ways than you thought possible. The FPL journey to green actions did not begin with a written plan or a consultant telling us what to do; it started with open eyes and self-examination. But ten steps emerged that made all the difference. All of us working toward being green are in the early stages of what someday will be best practices. But for now, we're all learning. These steps just might be what your library needs to get greening. 1. Nurture the champions Library By Design Spring 2010: Let "Green" Creep The most important step on the way to green operations is identifying and nurturing staff members with the commitment and skill to go green. Directors, don't worry that you have to know everything. Your job is to lead, empower, and support.
  1. The facilities manager must be a champion. If you don't have a green-leaning facilities staff, share your expectations; support learning time but get commitment in return. Make clear that going green requires abandoning existing notions of how things are done.
  2. Personality also matters when considering champions. Sam Palmer, my quintessential director of facilities and sustainability, had the skills, respect, and a natural bent to share and spread the "wealth" of emerging knowledge about green strategies. Plus, he is a joker, a bonus! Making "green" fun encourages participation.
  3. Give champions room to succeed and fail. They need a commitment of resources, whether for training or time to visit or read about green facilities or to explore new products and processes.
  4. Encourage champions to network. Relationships formed with other entities and vendors are invaluable. They can result in real benefits like receiving free or heavily discounted green products and technologies.
  5. Update titles, job descriptions, interview questions, annual objectives, and job evaluation forms to reflect green operational responsibilities or tasks.
2. Transform cleaning Library By Design Spring 2010: Let "Green" Creep Every director is challenged when it comes to housekeeping. I used the motto "keep the building in opening-day condition" to inspire the staff. Green cleaning requires learning new habits, but it also offers an easy win on your path to a greener facility.
  1. If you use contract cleaners, find those trained in green cleaning. FPL took cleaning in-house, reallocated that budget, and was able to afford an assistant facilities manager, automated janitorial equipment, 2.5 housekeepers, and supplies—enough to keep 90,000 square feet exceptionally clean.
  2. Hire cleaners with little experience but a strong desire to clean—old habits die hard.
  3. Begin cleaning early, around 6 a.m.; finish just after closing. Limit after-hours work to infrequent jobs, like waxing floors. This strategy decreases electricity use and light pollution and provides for on-demand help during open hours like cleaning up spills and setting up meeting rooms.
  4. Get rid of harsh chemicals. When going green, think less is more. All you'll need is a few spray bottles, water, and several cleaning solutions.
  5. Use a simple and effective basic cleaning product. A good one is hydrogen peroxide in dilutions from one percent to five percent. It breaks down easier than most substances, and, while great as an antibacterial, it is kinder on the environment than bleach. Cleaning with commercial-grade concentrated hydrogen peroxide costs about 3¢ a gallon. FPL's cost for its 90,000 square foot facility is under $100/year.
  6. Buy specific cleaning agents that are certified green, e.g., a nonacid bathroom cleaner, a spray disinfectant, wood polish, and a carpet spotting solution. Spartan Chemicals makes GreenSeal certified cleaning products.
  7. Use microfiber cloths, which have a super ability to pick up tiny particles. Not all microfiber is created equal, however, so you'll need to experiment.
  8. Always look out for new ideas. I recently noticed that the water at a restaurant tasted exceptionally good. Ends up they electrolyze city water and use the alkaline portion for drinking and the acid portion as a cleaning agent. Even actor and environmentalist Ed Begley Jr. electrolyzes his own home's water. Who knew?
3. Deploy energy-savings lights and controls Library By Design Spring 2010: Let "Green" Creep Beyond turning lights off whenever possible (remember night sky and energy drain), think about light bulb replacement and lighting controls. Lighting is an easy fix with tangible and documentable cost savings. In many cases, lighting will be improved. Any new library should come with a lighting control system that automates on and off times and dims fixtures when sunlight is available. Motion and light sensors, timers, and energy-saving dimmers can be easily and inexpensively retrofit to existing buildings. Light bulb replacement is an easy savings opportunity. The benefits of compact fluorescents are well documented, but there is great news about LED bulbs. The greatest electricity reduction comes from using LED bulbs because LEDs reduce consumption by 50–90 percent and emit 90 percent less heat than conventional bulbs. They produce much more light than heat, so they have maximum energy efficiency. Furthermore, the ten- to 20-year life span of an LED bulb means you'll rarely have to change them, and fewer bulbs will go to the trash. The cost is high (about $54 to replace a T-8 bulb), but factor in that labor costs for changing a bulb are in the $100–$200 range, and over ten years an LED bulb will only cost around $200, while a compact fluorescent will cost up to $1200 and a T-8 up to $450. With such longevity, LED bulbs also give your facilities staff more time to spend on pressing projects. Plus, you can change the color of the bulbs. FPL's donor wall can be programmed to display any color, including those of the Stars and Stripes. First, find a good vendor partner with expertise and excellent sources of reliable LED bulbs. Be sure to assess wattage needs of under- or overlit areas; this is a great opportunity to address any issues. To get the fastest return on your investment, start the conversion with bulbs located in difficult-to-reach places or where there are specialized, expensive traditional bulbs. LED bulbs may actually be cheaper than or similar in cost to specialized bulbs. FPL found it cheaper to replace cold cathode tubes with ribbon LED lights because of the high cost of shipping the tubes. 4. Lighten IT energy use Library By Design Spring 2010: Let "Green" Creep Computers consume a lot of electricity and generate a lot of heat, thereby increasing cooling costs. To make matters worse, libraries, like many other organizations, often leave computers on 24/7. The good news is that it's easy to reduce IT electricity use, resulting in more money to buy more computers. When I hired Lynn Yandell, MCSE, to be FPL's IT director in 2008, I knew I had a green champion. It wasn't just his exceptional education and experience; he was drawn to the job because of the library's commitment to being green. He soon crafted and began implementing an energy reduction strategy. Here are some procedures for green IT, but, as with all things green, keep in mind that newer and greener technologies and software are always emerging.
  1. Deploy thin clients in place of PCs where appropriate, i.e., public access catalogs and walk-up Internet stations. Thin clients are low-power, inexpensive, small-footprint PCs with a scaled-down version of Windows. Small, fanless units with a solid-state hard drive, they use one-tenth the power of regular PCs—think 25 watts vs. 250 watts. Replacing PCs with thin clients cuts power consumption by a minimum of 75 percent; Fayetteville saved 97,200 watt-hours per day. Plus, they are a lot cheaper than PCs, in the $200–$450 range.
  2. Automate power down. When procuring new PCs, buy those with Intel VPro. They'll let you remotely set power cycles for all your PCs. Blair Library's 200-plus computers automatically shut down for 12 hours each night, saving 537,000 watt-hours daily. Monitors that are not turned off go into a power save mode that draws less than one watt.
  3. Find efficient CPUs. Computer companies are producing far more energy-efficient CPUs. New models can save approximately 130 kilowatt-hours a year per PC.
  4. Have a server strategy that guarantees power reduction. If you can't implement it all at once, do it piecemeal. Servers not only use a lot of energy, they put out a lot of heat, which increases cooling costs.a. If your library is truly innovative and bold, figure out how to divert the heat from your server room to heat the water in your café. Let me know if this works.b. Consider switching to blade servers. Made by various companies including Dell, IBM, and HP, blades are about half as expensive as traditional servers and employ 66 percent less energy. They are small-footprint, superreliable, fault-tolerant machines.
5. Use sustainable materials and processes Library By Design Spring 2010: Let "Green" Creep You'll need the help of everyone on the library staff to adopt more sustainable materials and processes. Collaboratively identify ideas and build commitment. You may be asking people to be much greener than they are in their personal lives. At one point in the FPL journey, I suggested that employees be encouraged, like Wal-Mart workers, to develop their own "personal sustainability plan." That idea never made it out of administration after someone nearly choked on what they termed a corporate-like invasion of personal life. I gave up too soon. I think an optional program to learn and think about how to green one's life would be valued by many staff members. Who doesn't want to save money? Here are some ideas to get you started:
  1. Switch to recyclable and/or biodegradable library cards. Even better, invent virtual library cards. Think of the money and resources that could be saved.
  2. Sell reusable bags. Find one that is manufactured close to home and made of sustainable materials.
  3. Switch to LED holiday lights, if you must have them.
  4. Print less often; teach everyone how to make double-sided copies. Buy paper with high recycled content and low-chlorine bleaching. Encourage vendors to make recyclable tags and labels.
  5. Use attractive, large tabletop or freestanding reusable sign holders. While FPL's signs were attractive, using spray adhesive is a hazard, and putting foam core in the trash is not green. Too many libraries have too many paper signs taped onto walls and doors. Less is more.
  6. Implement an e-newsletter, and cut the paper one. Consider an e-newsletter service like Constant Contact. As an interim step, keep your print newsletter, but decrease its frequency to a few times a year, and offer a simple but attractive half-page monthly listing of events.
  7. Rid your library of bottled water. Do this for your health and the environment. I did this by dictum but in conjunction with the installation of water filters on many faucets. Our purchasing agent found great "water coolers" at Sam's Club to use at events.
  8. Rid your library of plastic cups, cutlery, and dishes. After an event, just look at the size of your trash. Instead, buy, rent, and use the real stuff for events. At the very least, use products made of recycled content that can be recycled. Yes, I know what you're thinking. I've done my share of dish washing.
  9. Offer healthy and sustainable food at events. If you do offer food and drink, be sure it's natural. Partner with a local natural food store or farmer's market; locally grown food is the most sustainable. Model good food choices and eating practices.
  10. Organize recycling and reuse efforts and train staff. Make bins attractive, label them clearly and keep them clean. Find sources for items not taken by your local recycling office.
  11. Add bike racks and consider initiating a bike-lending program.
  12. Create a smoke-free campus. In Fayetteville, this meant no smoking up to the sidewalk. This is hard to enforce but much appreciated by those who want to enjoy those spaces.
  13. Acquire hybrid or electric vehicles and recharging stations. Hybrid vans and bookmobiles are already available; electric vans with a 100-mile radius are about to debut.
  14. Deploy remote returns to reduce traffic and use of fossil fuels. FPL's bins were donated by a bank and located at its branches.
  15. Make building alterations and maintenance sustainable. Consider registering for LEED-EB (existing buildings) or start small by ensuring green materials are used in alterations or maintenance projects, e.g., paints and other finishes with low volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and use Energy Star appliances in staff and meeting room kitchens.
6. Adopt alternative energy solutions Library By Design Spring 2010: Let "Green" Creep Someday your library, home, and vehicle will be powered by alternative energy sources. By starting now, your library could reap significant savings (and have more money for collections) and get a leg up in knowledge. At Blair, we dreamt about going alternative but stopped with technologies that were top-of-the-line energy efficient yet relied on fossil fuels. The dream didn't die. While contemplating applying for a Public Library Innovation Grant from the International City County Management Association (ICMA), I ran into Alan Mantooth, an electrical engineering professor, at a holiday party, where a plan was hatched. The library and the city would partner with the university, an electric utility, the state, a think tank, and a local start-up with some cool patents that made solar power systems more efficient. The Solar Test Bed project was born and then enabled by the good folks at ICMA. It will result in a solar photovoltaic system mounted on the roof of the library to generate a small amount of electricity, ten to 20 kilowatts, saving about $5000–$10,000 a year. Student designed, the system will eventually be a platform for testing locally invented superefficient inverters that convert solar energy into a usable form. The project will help develop the region as a "green valley," serve as an incubator for local business, educate citizens, and promote private and public partnerships. Most important, it is a deep learning experience that will lay the groundwork for future efforts. Get started now with understanding these technologies, and take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.
  1. Start by becoming aware. Tour projects, network, and read articles. Learn how other types of entities are deploying alternative energy systems, e.g., "Wineries Draw on Wind Power" (Wine Spectator, 4/30/10).
  2. Start with the right project. If you are a Texas library, go solar!
  3. Start small. Solar hot water can have a fast payback especially if you have a café. Small, inexpensive solar photovoltaic projects can have a positive impact on the bottom line and the community.
  4. Ensure the right players are assembled, e.g., mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, solar experts, and the power company.
  5. Think alternative when it comes to funding.a. There are companies that lease solar systems. The library could use its energy savings to carry the cost of the lease. Or, consider third-party financing and repay the loan with the savings.b. Find partners for public tests. You'll get the equipment, and the partners will get lots of publicity.c. Seek private and public dollars. Is there a rebate program? Will a foundation provide funding if matched by local government?
7. Continue commissioning Library By Design Spring 2010: Let "Green" Creep When your library moves into its new energy-efficient building, you'll want it to deliver the maximum performance and, thus, savings. Commissioning is a process by which your facilities manager learns how the library's building systems work and fine-tunes them for maximum performance. It is a key step in opening a new building, especially LEED buildings that come with energy use projections. It takes training, time, and continual updating and tweaking to get the best results from your library's automated lighting and HVAC systems, as well as from its plumbing, refrigerant use, irrigation, water capture, and air quality monitoring systems. Because conditions like weather and large events affect the building's interior climate, regular system adjustments are needed throughout the building's life span. Ongoing commissioning is critical; it saves money and reduces the building's carbon footprint. 8. Invite community support Enable your customers to help make the library greener so that you can add services for them. Consider whatever wild ideas might arise and give them a whirl. One idea FPL implemented emerged from the "carbon credit" concept. Carbon credits are sold by organizations that develop or invest in clean energy or other environmental solutions. Corporations and individuals buy them to offset their use of carbon-based energy. The carbon credit company gets capital to continue its work, and the buyer has a cleaner green report card. Riffing on that idea, Fayetteville created the "eco-fan card," a library card composed of biodegradable material that customers can buy instead of getting a free card. The beautiful card appeals to library supporters and those who care about the environment. All proceeds go directly to efforts to make the library more sustainable, like buying more LED bulbs or solar panels. If the cards are successful, the library could raise $100,000 for green efforts. 9. Educate and be a leader Library By Design Spring 2010: Let "Green" Creep There is no better institution to educate the community about green buildings than a public library. We're open to everyone, relatively transparent, and are always looking to promote what we do.
  1. Incorporate green initiatives into your public and media relations; keep your board and elected officials fully informed. Use all your regular routes, including Twitter and Facebook. A power outage at Fayetteville's announcement for its Solar Test Bed project offered a surprise media opportunity and a funny anecdote to heighten awareness of the project.
  2. Offer speakers and programs that educate the community and your staff. Some hugely successful programs included talks by Amory Lovins, CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute, and actor/green advocate Ed Begley Jr., as well as youth programs like "Solar Bug Tug," in which young adults made solar-powered toy boats, and a screening of the Academy Award—nominated documentary Food, Inc.
  3. Conduct tours of your green facility or green operations. Let this be known via your web site, Chamber of Commerce, builders associations, or civic groups. Broadcast green tours on your local community access channel or YouTube. Set your green champions free on the civic club circuit.
  4. Partner with other organizations and libraries to do great things.
  5. Don't forget book displays. Practical books and DVDs on living simply or building green homes fly off the tables.
10. Put it in writing Build "green" into your strategic and HR infrastructures. I didn't do this but should have. A year after we moved into Blair Library, we began a strategic planning process, and the light bulb mentioned earlier had not gone off for me. The plan barely mentions the word "sustainable" and only in the context of funding. Whether you're just starting or well on your way to sustainable tasks, create a strong foundation with the support of staff and stakeholders.
  1. With stakeholders, amend your values list with the words to express sustainability, for example, sustainable choices, and green practices in all that you do.
  2. Build sustainability into your strategic plan. It ensures buy-in from stakeholders, assuming your library uses a broad input process.
  3. Incorporate green values into your policy manual by amending existing policies or developing new ones. If you have purchasing policies, amend them to clarify decisions—paper must have at least 50 percent recycled content or cleaning products must be certified green. Or, be bold and develop a carbon-neutral policy that must be met within, say, a decade.
  4. Consider measurable goals for each green step in this article, e.g., reduce electricity use by five percent in 2011. Then clearly articulate how your library will achieve that goal, e.g., the light bulbs on the second floor will be replaced with LED bulbs by the second quarter 2011.
Remember, you won't know if you go green unless you know how much was consumed before you went green and how much you consume after. If the goal is to reduce paper use, brainstorm ideas with staff, develop a plan, and implement. But first record how much paper your library used in the previous year as a baseline. Then begin your effort to reduce paper use. Record use at specific intervals, then compare the same time periods. Success? Celebrate and share the news. Little progress? Look at what's happening and adjust the strategy. Eventually, you'll manage by the numbers, just like those hybrid car owners who adjust their driving habits because they see in real time how much, and how little, gas they are consuming.
Gas (CCF) Electric (kWh) Total kBTU** Total $ kBTU/sf $/sf % savings kBTU % savings $
Industry Standard* 19,567 2,092,106 9,151,710 $154,960 104.0 $1.76 0.0% 0.0%
Design Budget (2003) 16,312 1,744,093 7,629,350 129,183 86.7 1.47 -16.6 -16.6
Actual 2005*** 20,539 1,785,280 8,204,838 124,972 93.2 1.42 -10.3 -19.4
Actual 2006 10,821 1,516,080 6,286,346 116,025 71.4 1.32 -31.3 -25.1
Actual 2007 13,528 1,510,800 6,546,881 100,829 74.4 1.15 -28.5 -34.9
Actual 2008 13,121 1,276,960 5,707,138 106,192 64.9 1.21 -37.6 -31.5
Actual 2009 13,931 1,274,160 5,780,934 98,506 65.7 1.12 -36.8 -36.4
*ASHRAE 90.1-1999: American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-conditioning Engineers; an international organization that establishes standards for the uniform testing and rating of heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration equipment.** kBTUs: British Thermal Units (thousands)—a measure that serves as a common energy use denominator.*** Commissioning Period.
Author Information
Louise L. Schaper, M.L.S., is passionate about innovation, sustainability, technology, books, edgy magazines, slow food, art, and design. Since retiring in 2009 as executive director of the Fayetteville Public Library, AR, the LJ Library of the Year 2005, she divides her time among consulting, bicycling, painting, cooking, writing, and reading

Tied to the City

Every library is structured differently and that structure can affect how you go green. For instance, some libraries rely on their cities for IT support or janitorial services. If the city isn't going green, you'll need a strategy. Every city wants to save money and that could be your ticket when you talk with the department head or mayor. In Fayetteville, the library has a dotted line relationship with the municipality. The library has been the green leader in some areas, while local authorities have taken the lead in others. We help and learn from each other. Getting to that point requires strong connections. Begin the conversation at whatever level makes sense, and be patient. Start green with an area the library controls and share the success with your city. That just might get the ball rolling. Remember, we're all pioneers when it comes to green operations, and pioneers, while self-reliant, help one another.
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