Why are libraries becoming green?

First, libraries have been expanding the scope of their mission statements, to include working for the betterment of mankind.[citation needed] Second, technology is no longer a barrier. Third, it is great for the image of the library. Finally, sustainability offers the library a degree of independence, because cost of maintenance goes down, as does reliance on the volatile fossil fuels market.

All libraries have a mission statement, and spoken or unspoken, libraries are here to improve the condition of mankind. An institution can no longer, in good faith aim to improve the human condition while contributing to the destruction of the future: Buildings produce about 40% of the dangerous greenhouse gasses emitted into the atmosphere (Anisko & Willoughby, 2006). The environmental debate has evolved. The fact that humans are having a negative impact on the environment is no longer seriously questioned. Now, two questions shape the debate: What is our responsibility to fix it, and what can we do to fix it? Individuals and private organizations have a right to find their personal answers to those questions, but libraries are an investment in the future of our society. Libraries have a responsibility to not contribute to the destruction of the environment, to educate the people regarding our current situation, and empower them to make a difference. Libraries are discovering that their green building gives them a great opportunity to educate the citizenry (Tseng, 2007). As libraries continue to take a more progressive stance on improving the human condition, sustainability will have to be a central theme.

The availability of the technology and knowledge to build green buildings has passed a tipping point. Green buildings are constructed all over the world in every sector of the economy; residential, commercial, non-profit, government, etc. Another breakthrough is the diversity of green technology. There is an abundance of options, so any green builder has the ability to capitalize on the local natural resources available, and customize the building to most efficiently operate in the local environment. Along with the advancement of technology, the increasing awareness of environmental issues decrease the burden on the green builder. With the development of organizations like the USGBC and the FSC, green builders have information resources available to them. These organizations offer measurable levels of achievement to strive for, along with acting as watchdogs to help prevent the exaggeration of green credentials or "green-washing." With these advances, sustainable construction is no longer a utopian fantasy, but is simply becoming the way good buildings are being built.

The library is undergoing an identity transformation. It is struggling to stay relevant, as a vocal minority predicts its demise. While its image as an outdated institution is not entirely deserved, it is trying to assert itself as an irreplaceable part of the community, that plans on being an assertive force for good in the 21st century. Green design helps it do that three different ways. 1) A sustainable building makes a statement that the library is investing in the future of the community. 2) Sustainable buildings are smartly designed, aesthetically pleasing, and are powered by state-of-the-art technology. When people see these emerald marvels they will no longer be able to maintain false stereotypes regarding libraries as anachronistic relics from an analog age. 3) More and more people take environmentalism seriously, so a green image is a good image. The public awareness on this issue is only going to increase. Libraries want the public to believe that they are still relevant, and that their mission is to better humankind. Many have decided that a green library is a physical manifestation of their mission statement, and it provides an image of how libraries want to be seen in the 21st century.

As publicly funded institutions, libraries are constantly battling with budget issues. Swings in the economy can affect the tax dollars coming into the library, as well as new legislation. Sustainable design offers libraries a way to reduce maintenance and energy costs, providing them with a degree of independence. Thanks to computer modeling software, building planning can be done more efficiently than in the past. Precise estimations on quantity of building materials can prevent waste and save money. Simulations can also be done to predict how big of an HVAC system the library needs. Solar 5.5 is a computer program that builds a 3-D model of the library's energy performance, and then plugs in various passive and Active Design strategies to see what kind of effect they would have on each other to maximize the energy savings and cost of the building; it has saved some California libraries up to 46% of the energy cost compared to meeting minimum state requirements (Boyden & Weiner, 2000).

One of the most important features of green design is a shift from the reliance on depleting fossil fuels to renewable energy resources. The independence from fossil fuels will save the library large sums of money, and it will relish its independence if prices continue to rise. Money will also be saved by having higher morale, health, and productivity from employees. The architectural firm Heschong Mahone conducted a study that indicated students perform 25% better on standardized tests when in classrooms lit naturally. High levels of CO2 can decreases performance as well. Savings can also be increased, because there are governmental incentives to capitalize on, and some utility companies offer incentives too (Boyden & Weiner, 2001).

Because of the long-term nature of the library, green design is potentially less expensive than standard design, as heavy up-front costs often pay for themselves, waste is reduced, efficiency is increased, and energy and water are conserved. Evolving libraries of the 21st century are integrating sustainable practices, because it is becoming the most cost-effective way to do things.