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It’s Not Easy Being Green: Sustainability at Huntsville Public Library

I left university with a BSc in biology and geography ready to take on the world. I had studied at Trent University in one of the most beautiful natural settings a university can offer, surrounded by the forested drumlin and with the Otonabee River snaking through the middle of campus. Growing up in the GTA, I hadn’t had the luxury of having such a large natural area in my backyard, and I realized during my four years at Trent how important it was to protect the environment so that everyone could have the opportunity to enjoy it the way I do.

Alas, like most millennials, I was destined to have quite a few jobs and career changes each of which led me to where I am today. In my current position at the Huntsville Public Library, I wanted to do something that incorporated my background in science and passion for sustainability into the workplace. I am lucky enough to be involved in a library that embraces new ideas and a community that has an interest in sustainability.

So What is Sustainability?

At its most basic, sustainability gives us the potential to continue a defined behaviour indefinitely. According to the Global Footprint Network, it currently takes the Earth 1 year and 6 months to replace what we consume in 1 year. They state that, “if everyone lived the lifestyle of the average American, we would need 5 planets” to sustain us. What this means is that we are living beyond our means and need to make changes both at home and in the workplace toward a more sustainable future.

Kermit the frog once said “It’s not easy being green”, but I hope to show you that there are some simple and cost effective changes you can incorporate into your routine that will make a difference.

How Do I Incorporate Sustainability?

Working with Municipalities:
If you don’t have a background in sustainability or environmental science there’s no need to panic. Reach out to your municipality and see what their strategic goals are in terms of sustainability and try to link your programs and collections to them. Some municipalities will even have someone on staff who is responsible for corporate sustainability. This is the person you want to connect with.

Reducing Consumption:
We use so many sheets of paper each day to complete simple library tasks. Instead of printing off all those reports, download an app to help you organize and mark off your tasks. Apps such as Notability or GoodNotes are cheap and allow you to write, type, and scribble right onto the document. In the first 6 months of implementing this app, we saved approximately 400 sheets of paper.

Building Community Partnerships:
If you don’t have the background in a topic, reach out to someone who does. Get to know your community and find people who can lead workshops, discussion groups and programming at the Library. Part of our Sustainability @ HPL project included a plan to increase the amount of adult programming we offered. We started our Green Series which runs once a month and brings in a community expert to lead a workshop or discussion group on sustainability. We have had small business owner’s talk about sprouting, Habitat for Humanity lead upcycling crafts, and nature groups show people how to garden with native plants. The possibilities are endless and every community has its own groups to approach. Start with clubs like the horticulture society, master gardeners or nature clubs. Make a list of everyone who might want to offer a workshop at your library and then ask them to join you!

This is not an exhaustive list of ways to incorporate sustainability into your library. There are small steps each and every one of you can take. Simple things like using a water bottle or mug for your drinks, starting compost in the staff room, or committing to active transport to and from work make a difference.

We started small and worked our way up to bigger things at the Huntsville Public Library. We now have a sustainability collection available to the public, a battery recycling station in our entrance, new LED lighting, and solar panels on our roof. If you would like to learn more about our Sustainability initiatives I would be happy to answer your questions or if you would just like to learn more about how to make a few simple changes feel free to email me.

Remember what Kermit the frog once said:


It’s not easy being green…but green is all there is to be and I think that’s what I want to be!”

Cortney Lee-Comeau is the Coordinator of Outreach, Programs and Partnerships at the Huntsville Public Library. Cortney has lived in Huntsville for two and half years and enjoys spending time in her vegetable garden and at nearby Algonquin Park. She can be reached at Cortney.lee-comeau [at] or on Twitt @CortneyLC.

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