Vernon Area Library working to turn the page on climate crisis

"Grounds to Grow On" box for recycling used coffee pods

Managers and staff at Vernon Area Public Library have been working to reduce the environmental footprint of operations in cost-effective ways. A team of employees from across the library took a close look at supplies and practices and recommended changes that could be implemented under the existing budget.

Reducing resource use is an immediate win: a greener footprint can also lower bills. Through the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance STEP program, the library has received facility energy audits and energy-saving products including new faucet aerators, occupancy sensors, vending sensors and LED light bulbs, at no charge. The library is automating heating and cooling cycles, planning additional lighting control updates and changing the parking lot lights, all with an eye toward lowering energy use.

Library staff found a way to save at public programs, too, by eliminating plastic water bottles from library events. Single-serving plastic water bottles require resources for bottling, distribution and recycling. Now instead of bottles, the library provides a pitcher of filtered tap water and cups for program attendees. Tap water saves all those resources and costs a fraction of bottled. And staff learned as they researched that tap water is usually the healthier option. Bottled water contains microplastics and, in most communities, tap water has stricter quality controls than bottled.

Office paper use has been curtailed by not printing unless necessary, setting computers to print on two sides and using electronic messaging channels such as in-library TV screens and email.

For the printed newsletter, communications staff cut its length by 20 percent and moved to printing on 100 percent post–consumer waste recycled paper. The move saves 32 trees, more than 2,400 gallons of water, electricity equivalent to that used by an average Illinois household over 20 months and the equivalent of carbon emissions of nearly 5,200 car miles — that's about the same as driving from New York City to Los Angeles and back. These Earth-friendly savings are experienced every time the quarterly newsletter is printed.

Other Earth-friendly improvements include collecting all patron and staff beverage pods ("K-cups") for recycling. A program called Grounds to Grow On separates pod components: the grounds become compost and the plastic and foil are recycled.

Paper towel use has been reduced by making washable microfiber towels available in staff kitchenettes. And staff have been encouraged to keep reusable cups, mugs and utensils at work, forgoing disposables for snacks and meals. Cleaning and maintenance staff committed to using biodegradable products and Earth-friendly equipment whenever possible.

Finally, a new remote book drop helps library patrons reduce their carbon emissions. Located outside Sunset Foods in Long Grove, the bin allows patrons to return books, movies and other borrowed items without making a separate trip to the Lincolnshire library. A second remote return bin is located near the Buffalo Grove Community Arts Center in the adjacent Grove Shopping Center.

The "green team" efforts came ahead of a community survey this summer that found sustainability to be patrons' top priority for facility improvements at the Lincolnshire facility.

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