The Greening of ACRL

March 15, 2009

ACRL's green giveaways In 2009, ACRL conference planners set a precedent that will be difficult for ALA members and staff to ignore. As the most eco-friendly major event ever held by an ALA division, ACRL's 14th National Conference, March 12-15, may well serve as a model to follow for other units and ALA itself. Two of the most prominent green features were the sturdy, pragmatic, green conference bags made of recycled materials (contrasting sharply with the oversized orange bags used at recent ALA conferences) and the tangible lack of handouts at program sessions (thanks to presenters making their materials available through the Virtual Conference).

Left to right: Kerri Odess-Harnish, Kate Zoellner, Charles Forrest, Karen Munro, Juliet Kerico, Paula Walker It wasn't easy being the first to be green. The Green Component Committee, established after the last ACRL conference in 2007 in Baltimore, had to make much of it up as they went along and essentially wrote their own charge (which in essence was "reduce, reuse, recycle"). First, they prepared an online survey to find out what green features ACRL members wanted to see in their conferences. The top five preferences were:

  • 95% – recycle paper handouts
  • 90% – recycled materials in the convention center
  • 87% – donate excess food or compost wasted food
  • 77% – put a limit on promotional items and giveaways
  • 75% – reduce paper handouts

Charles Forrest presents an RIA gift certificate to Tory Ondrla for her help with the committee Because ACRL made the committee a structural component of conference planning, it was able to work proactively with the local arrangements and virtual conference committees. The ACRL staff, especially Conference Supervisor Tory Ondrla, was strongly committed to sustainabilty and encouraged the committee at every step. At a Saturday panel session on "How to Green a Library Conference," committee members summarized the greenest features:

  • 240,000 mailed paper pages were replaced with electronic mailings (including an online-only service manual for exhibitors that also eliminated some 200 binders).
  • 80% of all attendees signed a Green Pledge that committed them to put sustainable ideas into practice. Everyone who took the pledge earned a green leaf watermark on their badges.
  • Green Speaker Robin Chase, cofounder of Zipcar and current CEO of GoLoco, was invited to speak Sunday morning on how libraries might model useful approaches to the crises of resources.
  • The badge holders, like the bags, were made of recycled materials.
  • The giveaway timers, which sit next to you in the shower and alert you when four minutes are up, were a big hit (someone said they "made a big splash").
  • The program book was printed on recycled paper in soy ink, at no extra charge to ACRL.
  • Leftover promotional items were donated to local charities.
  • Leftover food was donated to Fare Start, a culinary training program for jobless and homeless people.
  • Exhibitors were given an opportunity to showcase their green products and services in the program book.

Seattle itself is on the cutting edge of sustainable practices, which made this conference the perfect place to start. The Washington Convention Center was already engaged in many green practices, among them:

  • carpet made from recycled fabric in the exhibit hall
  • reusable pipe and drapes
  • reduced lighting during exhibitor setup and takedown
  • abundant recycling bins
  • water coolers in the hallways and exhibit floor for free refills to avoid purchasing bottled water

The committee plans to develop a manual of green conference practices and post it online for other ALA units and chapters. Committee cochair Charles Forrest summed up their work: "We are dealing with limited and shrinking resources and we have to constantly keep in mind how our activities affect the environment of the planet. We must introduce alternatives in order to be environmentally responsible."