Pollution Prevention Week, Libraries, and Sustainability

By Laura Barnes

Pollution Prevention (P2) Week is celebrated each year during the third week of September. I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of it. Although the concept of pollution prevention is familiar, the phrase itself isn’t widely used these days. P2, also called source reduction, is any practice that reduces, eliminates, or prevents pollution at the source. Reducing the amount of pollution produced means less waste to control, treat, or dispose of. It also means fewer hazards posed to public health and the environment.

What does P2 Week have to do with libraries? A lot, as it turns out. Pollution prevention is the cornerstone of sustainability. Earlier this year the ALA Council adopted sustainability as a core value of librarianship. In the announcement, ALA President Loida Garcia-Febo said, “By adding sustainability to its core values, ALA is recognizing that libraries of all types can act as catalysts and inspire future generations to reach solutions that are not only sensible but essential to sustaining life on this planet.”

The good news is that the library’s core services prevent pollution because they encourage people to borrow rather than buy. The Library of Things movement has expanded collections beyond books and movies to include seeds, American Girl dolls, prom dresses, interview clothes, tools, kitchenware, and art, among other things. Library computer labs are important community resources for those who don’t have internet access or a computer at home. Most people don’t think about these services as pollution prevention. It’s just what libraries do.

Libraries are trusted information sources within their communities. This gives them a lot of influence when it comes to fostering community sustainability. Some ways to leverage that influence to drive change are to:

  • Look at library operations through a prevention lens. Where can you improve energy efficiency, conserve water, or reduce the use of toxic chemicals? Can you use reusable tableware and decorations at events? Can you reduce your paper use? What happens to your computers when you upgrade your labs? What do you do with your weeded materials?
  • Use your building and operations practices as an educational tool. Tell your community what you’re doing, how much money you’re saving from making changes, and what you’re spending that money on instead.
  • Partner with community organizations to encourage pollution prevention in your community.
  • Develop programs with sustainability themes. Bring in speakers to help businesses in your community improve their environmental performance.

Over the next several months, I’ll be writing about ways that you can incorporate sustainability into your library’s operations and program content. If your library is already a community leader in sustainability, let me know what you’re doing. I’d love to share your story with the Illinois library community.

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