Like in most small towns, the local library has a large impact on residents and visitors alike. Parents visit the library with their small children for story time, teens come to find a new book or have a quiet space to do homework, adults enjoy the extensive programming the library offers, and visitors take pleasure in finding a moment of peace during a busy vacation. The Vail Public Library is no different: boasting a myriad of programs, thousands of books, and fun for the whole family, the Library is a central part of life in Vail.
In addition to their reputation as a cultural hub, the Vail Public Library is a sustainability leader both in the Town and in Eagle County. The Library was Certified as an Actively Green Sustainable Business in 2013 and became a Gold Leader among the Colorado Green Business Network in 2016, an award they’ve maintained for the last six years.
While the Library has every reason to be proud of these sustainability accomplishments, they’re most proud of the service they provide: “serving the needs of Vail’s guests, residents, businesses and schools, being there, day in and day out, serving the people who walk through their doors. Sandy Rivera, Library Programming Associate, explained that sustainability is more than just doing good for the natural environment, it’s also doing good for the community. In this case study, we’ll explore the impact the Vail Public Library has had on both the environment and the community, an impact that has caused some patrons to coin the Library as “the heart of Vail.”
Doing Good for the Environment
The Vail Public Library has seen great success from their recycling and composting efforts. Recycling bins are strategically placed throughout the library for patrons and staff to use. The bins are collected weekly and taken to the Town of Vail’s central recycling area along with any packaging or other waste the Library creates throughout the week. In addition, books that are taken out of circulation due to damage are sent off to be properly recycled.
The Vail Public Library also has a composting program for staff. In addition to composting bins in the staff kitchen and bathrooms, staff are encouraged to bring in their compost from home so it can be properly composted by Vail Honeywagon.
While recycling and composting are important, the Library knows that the most important thing to do is reduce their waste. To that end, staff are encouraged to provide reusable serviceware at Library events. For example, at children's programs, fruit punch served in reusable glasses has replaced bottled water. Not only do the children prefer fruit punch, the library reduces their total waste.
All these great efforts around waste isn’t to say that the library is perfect, no business can be. To that end, Sandy Rivera has become their “green champion,” in charge of answering her coworkers questions about recycling and composting. She advises on where certain items can be thrown and how staff can avoid contamination in the recycling and compost bins.
Sustainably managing waste has been a program at the Vail Public Library for some time. But sustainability has been literally baked into the building since it opened on July 4, 1983. When the Library opened, it had the largest green roof west of the Mississippi River and incorporated the most cutting edge green design available at the time, including day-lighting, a thermally efficient structure, and connection to the natural beauty outside its walls.
When the building was renovated in 2011, sustainable design was at the forefront of the architects minds. In addition to elevator and ADA-compliance renovations, sustainable upgrades included: energy efficient lighting, LEED certified replaceable carpet squares, reuse of concrete pavers for a new walkway, reuse of oak wood slat ceiling panels, and VOC-free paint.
The Vail Public Library operates the building using current best practices as well. These include motion activated lighting, EnergyStar certified computers, and limited use of the fireplace. The people who work at the Library understand that it’s important to have an efficient building, but even more important to operate it properly.
Town of Vail’s Green Team
To hone best practices across the different departments that make up the Town of Vail, a cross-departmental green team was established. The Town’s green team meets monthly and has roughly 15 people on it. The Vail Public Library usually sends three representatives, including Sandy Rivera, to share their best practices and learn from others in the Town.
Doing Good for the Community
The Vail Public Library recognizes that sustainability is far more than just recycling and composting, it’s also being a good community member. To that end, the Library hosts a number of community programs, including their own and outside events.
From storytime to virtual yoga and everything in between, the Library is a hub of activity all day long. Local artists also have the opportunity to display their art in the Library’s community room. Before COVID, the Library hosted vermicompost workshops with small children, allowing them to learn about composting while playing with the worms. Nowadays, children and adults can browse the science section of the Library to learn about the environment, climate change, sustainability, and other topics.
Along with the internal programming the Vail Public Library puts on, they’re also the home to many environmental programs put on by other organizations. They partner with Walking Mountains Science Center, Restore the Gore, Sole Power, the Eagle Valley Land Trust, and other organizations to host events educating the public about environmental topics.
The Vail Public Library understands that sustainability is more than just being a good steward of the environment, it's also being a good steward in your community. Their efforts both environmentally and socially have made them a community leader in green business.
They’re not pursuing Actively Green Certification to save money, join the latest fad, or increase their marketing presence. Rather, the folks at the Vail Public Library understand that they live on the front lines of climate change and that their small efforts can have huge impacts. With smoky skies all summer, mudslides, drought, and reduced snowpack, the Vail Valley bears the brunt of the effects of climate change. The Vail Public Library understands that their small actions both internally and externally through their programs and partnerships will help reduce these effects.