Don’t Let This Moment Pass You By | Sustainability

In the wake of the president’s announcement that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, an unprecedented, decentralized groundswell of support to combat climate change in our country has emerged.

In the wake of the president’s announcement that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, an unprecedented, decentralized groundswell of support to combat climate change in our country has emerged.

Leaders of 125 cities, 13 states, 902 businesses, and 183 colleges and universities have already declared their intent to continue to ensure that the United States remains a global leader in reducing carbon emissions by reaching toward the goal set for us within the Paris Agreement: to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) 26–28 percent by 2025. Participating cities and states represent 120 million Americans and contribute $6.2 trillion to the U.S. economy. Firms and investors that have declared they are “still in” on the Paris Agreement account for a total revenue of $1.4 trillion and include over 20 Fortune 500 companies, including Apple, eBay, Gap Inc., Google, Intel, Microsoft, and Nike, in addition to hundreds of small concerns.

This is an important moment in history for libraries to pay attention and participate. Not only do we have the chance to shine as we set our own goals to reduce GHGs through our facilities current and future, this is an opportunity to help our municipal leaders understand the powerful role libraries can play to educate Americans about our options for better ways of heating, cooling, and constructing facilities. Our reach, the respect we receive in our communities, and the good examples many of us are already setting perfectly position us to make a great impression on those leaders striving to continue on in the face of the president’s announcement.

Goal setting

In May, I keynoted a fascinating and exciting event along with Matthew Bollerman, my cochair for the New York Library Association’s Sustainability Initiative Committee (NYLA-SI). Cosponsored by the Queens Library and NYLA-SI, it was titled “Agents of Change: The Importance of Sustainability in Public Schools, Universities, and Libraries.”

The event featured a who’s who of sustainability leadership in the largest city in the country—New York:

  • Mark Chambers, Director, Mayor’s Office of Sustainability
  • Meredith McDermott, Director of Sustainability, New York City Department of Education (the largest school system nationwide)
  • Tria Case, University Director of Sustainability and NYSolar Smart, City University of New York
  • Alex Mikszewski, Energy Manager, Brooklyn Public Library
  • Garrett Bergen, Associate Director of Facilities Management, New York Public Library
  • Tameka Pierre-Louis, Sustainability and Energy Liaison Officer, Queens Library

The event, organized by Pierre-Louis, was designed to bring together education leaders who can have a considerable impact on OneNYC—New York City’s blueprint for “inclusive climate action for all New Yorkers across four key visions of Growth, Equity, Sustainability, and Resiliency.” This plan is directed toward the citywide commitment to reduce GHG by 80 percent by 2050, with new investments in renewable energy, electric vehicles, and solid waste management to help improve air quality across the city and bring about an important shift away from carbon-intensive sources of energy.

Catalyst & convener

Libraries were not just at the table for this event, they were its catalyst. Pierre-Louis did not wait for an invitation to the table; she made the damn table herself.

A member of the NYLA-SI, Pierre-Louis saw a need and did what library people need to do in the coming years—she brought together the experts, the people who can make something happen, and made the introductions, the connections, that their city needs to be successful in its plan. She created a critical network for people to learn from one another and cheer one another on and forged a new path to help one city’s educators be the leaders their city needs in the face of the climate crisis.


The climate crisis is real. We do not have time for obstacles such the president’s attempt to reject the goals set for our nation by the Paris Agreement. A growing number of library leaders understand this and see the need to seize the opportunity to do two things:

  • Get real about goal setting in your own library: set GHG reduction goals, adopt sustainable design for your building program, and have your board pass a resolution or policy that demonstrates an organizationwide commitment to doing what is right when it comes to the environment.
  • Reach out to the sustainability and municipal leaders in your community and help them see how the library can be a partner, catalyst, and convener to help your community reach its own goals to combat climate change.

Rebekkah Smith Aldrich is Coordinator, Library ­Sustainability, Mid-Hudson Library System, ­Poughkeepsie, NY; a judge for LJ’s 2015 New Landmark Libraries; and a 2010 LJ Mover & Shaker

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