August 8, 2018

Staff from Central Library worked to achieve the highest level of certification from the Sustainability at Work recognition program.
Staff from Central Library worked to achieve the highest level of certification from the Sustainability at Work recognition program.
Central Library in downtown Portland and Albina Library in Northeast Portland are among a growing list of businesses and nonprofits in Portland increasing their commitment to sustainable practices. Both branches have earned gold certification from the City of Portland’s Sustainability at Work program.

As a public service organization built on sharing resources for the community’s benefit, the library is committed to sustainability practices. But operating 19 individual library branches across Multnomah County requires a more conscious effort to engage staff in sustainability practices and further environmental benefits.

“We felt strongly that there was a better answer than going along with all the waste we were creating,” said Greta Gutierrez, an administrator at Central Library. “We knew there was a way to incorporate sustainability solutions into day-to-day problem-solving.”

Staff sort various plastic materials at Central Library to be sent off to a specialty recycler who can accept hard-to-recycle items.
Staff sort various plastic materials at Central Library to be sent off to a specialty recycler who can accept hard-to-recycle items.
Run by the City of Portland, the Sustainability at Work program began in 2007. The program offers three levels of certifications — with gold the highest level of achievement — to recognize businesses for the number and type of sustainability features and processes they implement.

Albina and Central libraries incorporated more than 45 individual actions into their operations, which aim to improve sustainability in the workplace. Before the process began, the two libraries were already doing a number of sustainable actions, such as installing LED lights, printing on recycled paper and not purchasing plastic water bottles.

To begin working toward their certification, Central Library staff focused on small, detailed efforts. They created simple, visual signage to help others sort various types of specialty plastics for recycling that weren’t allowed in the county’s mixed recycling container.

Central Library installed water-saving, low-flow faucets.
Central Library installed water-saving, low-flow faucets.
“It can be difficult to divert some plastic packaging materials from landfills because many vendors no longer accept them,” said Library Facilities Specialist Dan Swerbilov. “Library staff did extensive research to identify new vendors who would accept the materials and then worked to educate others on the proper sorting, so we could ensure they’d be recycled.”

In addition to implementing a more robust recycling plan, Central Library staff partnered with Swerbilov and Multnomah County Sustainability Coordinator Sara Mihm to make more robust improvements to facilities, such as installing water-saving, low-flow faucets in staff restrooms (they’re already installed in public restrooms).

Across the library system, a dedicated group of staff also organized an Environmental Team to help individual library locations make improvements in their overall footprint. The team also pushes for systemwide changes, such as switching to a Vitamin C-based, non-toxic receipt paper and investing in green cleaning products.

“Libraries have an important role in the community to provide information and resources —  organizing these sustainability efforts allows us to lead by example and put our best foot forward,” said Lili Ristagno, an access services assistant at Albina Library and lead organizer of Albina’s efforts to reach gold certification.

Central Library Access Services Assistant Carol Rentschler is one of dozens of Central library staff who choose to bike, walk or take public transportation to work.
Central Library Access Services Assistant Carol Rentschler is one of dozens of Central library staff who choose to bike, walk or take public transportation to work.
At Albina Library, staff partnered with neighbor Whole Foods to further their environmental efforts.

“Albina Library is a leased space, so we weren’t able to add a weekly compost pickup service. But thanks to an agreement with Whole Foods, staff can take a compost bucket from the lunch room over to the grocer for proper disposal in their larger composting bin,” Ristagno said.

Both library locations also excel in transportation, with a significant portion of staff at each site commuting with alternative methods such as walking, biking, carpooling or public transportation. To add an incentive for staff to bike, Albina Library purchased a bike repair kit and spare lock to keep at the branch for anyone who needs to use it.

In addition to incorporating green efforts in buildings, the library offers several free, environment- and sustainability-focused classes and programs:

Central Library Eco-Roof Tour

Weatherization Workshop

Two other Multnomah County buildings have received Sustainability at Work certification: the Multnomah Building and Inverness Jail.

And, thanks to Multnomah County facilities standards, advocacy from the Library Environmental Team, and support from the Office of Sustainability, many libraries, and other county buildings, already meet several of the requirements to receive Sustainability at Work certification. Swerbilov and Mihm are looking forward to helping more buildings earn the certification in the future.

To learn more about helping your location earn Sustainability at Work certification, contact Sara Mihm in the Office of Sustainability at sara.mihm@multco.us.