New York Library Association. - The eBulletin

Sustainable Libraries: Now more important than ever.

submitted by Donna Williams, Field Goods Founder

In 2014, the NYLA Council passed their Resolution on the Importance of Sustainable Libraries - recognizing the need to promote the important role libraries can play in larger community conversations about resiliency, climate change and a sustainable future for the communities that they serve.  The NYLA enthusiastically encouraged activities by its membership -- and itself -- to be proactive in their application of sustainable thinking in the areas of their facilities, operations, policy, technology, programming and partnerships.
Today, this resolution is even more important as many consider, with trepidation, how decisions at a national level may or may not play out in the war against climate change.

Suppose that local communities and individuals are not helpless in the face of climate change and that national and international policy may not be the ultimate arbiters. The idea of making a difference at a local level person by person is at the heart of American libraries.

With respect to climate change, we, as individuals, can make a significant impact on reducing emissions on a daily basis by simply changing our diet and how we purchase food. In other words, the solution is on our plate not in our tailpipes.  Information and access are essential to enlightening consumers about how they can play a role in reducing our carbon footprint by changing the American diet.

Studies suggest that food systems are big time contributors to global warming and are responsible for about 30% of all human-driven greenhouse gas emissions. There are two components of our food systems that contribute significantly to emissions: food waste and livestock.  First, an estimated 30% to 40% of all food produced is lost in the supply chain from harvest to consumption.  To put this in perspective, if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitting country in the world, as reported by FAC. Second, the global livestock industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all cars, planes, trains and ships combined.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is the international body for assessing the science related to climate change, concluded that:  Changes in diet can have a significant impact on global warming. A report by Chatham House, The Royal Institute of International Affairs, went even farther by stating: “improved diets and decreases in food waste are essential to deliver emissions reductions”.

Switching to a ‘healthy diet’ as recommended by the Harvard Medical School would result in emissions reduction of about 36%.  For Americans, a healthy diet basically means eating more fruits and vegetables and eating less meat and processed food…not too complicated or onerous…and yet we don’t make this change.

Our lifestyle choices, access to healthy food and education all play a significant role in dictating our diet. For many of us, it is simply easier to eat meat and processed foods than produce. Changing our diet from processed food to fresh produce means shopping more often, allocating time for preparation, and needing to learn to how to prepare unfamiliar seasonal fruit and vegetables. This type of behavior change requires reinventing how we purchase and consume our meals.

Many libraries have stepped up to play a role in helping address these diet challenges in their communities by hosting farmers markets or local produce services like Field Goods, providing education and a sense of community around local sustainable produce.

I founded Field Goods (based in Athens, NY) in 2011 to help address the need for healthier diets and to support small farms. Field Goods offers its customers weekly of bags of produce delivered to their workplace and to community locations such as libraries, YMCAs and other small retailers.

To be honest, when I started the company, the idea of people picking up our produce at local libraries hadn’t occurred to me, but somehow Field Goods and libraries found each other. I, like so many others, was unaware of how remarkably libraries have reinvented their mandate. Today, hundreds of families at over 45 libraries from Saratoga to Scarsdale are visiting their local libraries each week to grab their bag of local produce.

The Field Goods model provides benefits to the communities while reducing food waste and supporting sustainability. Consumers gain convenient access to local produce on a regular basis along with information that motivates them toward a healthier lifestyle. Employers and community organizations benefit from a wellness program that is truly effective in changing the habits of their employees and constituents. Small farmers benefit from selling their unique products to a new market at a fair price, and the environment benefits from drastically reduced emissions.

At Field Goods, we believe that actions at a local level can have as powerful impact, if not even greater, than national policy.  We believe doing right by our planet isn’t just about few large nations and organizations doing a few big things but rather many people doing many small things. Think small but do it a lot… make the impossible possible.