« Back to Sustainability

Green Stacks Environmental Library Initiative

San Francisco Public Library
Go to Website

Problem Statement

As the most democratic of public institutions, public libraries are uniquely qualified to address the problem of environmental equity – the fact that communities with greater resources typically have more access to information and options for selecting lifestyle choices that are healthy and sustainable. While the “green” movement has become more popular in the past 3-5 years, poor and underserved communities are still least likely to have access to essential information, either due to real and perceived economic barriers or language and cultural barriers. The challenge we addressed was the need to engage and empower all communities in San Francisco with resources that could impact their lives and inform their choices regarding all issues related to the environment in which they live.


SFPL implemented “Green Stacks” - a system-wide, multifaceted sustainability initiative to ensure that every community has access to accurate and relevant information and resources - increasing community awareness and ensuring the library environment is a positive, healthy model of the larger community ecosystem. As part of this initiative, SFPL:

  • Implemented green facilities maintenance practices at 27 branches and the Main Library, including everything from recycling & composting to LED lighting retrofits;
  • Designed 10 new and renovated libraries to LEED Silver or higher;
  • Designed a branch signage program highlights sustainable features of community libraries;
  • Engaged community partners to develop green spaces in and adjacent to libraries;
  • Became the first library in the US to offer a compostable plastic library card (the EcoCard);
  • Developed a year-long calendar of public programming, from summer reading programs, to special programs sponsored by the Main Library Stegner Environmental Center, to quarterly branch programs themed EAT (sustainable food) + LIVE (“greening” major life moments) + MOVE (transportation) + CHANGE (global sustainability issues);
  • Created and promoted The Green List, a recommended bibliography (all formats and ages); and
  • Launched a community awareness and marketing program in partnership with SF Environment.


Green Stacks outcomes in the current fiscal year include:

  • 5,000 Ecocards selected by patrons (as new or replacement cards);
  • 8 LEED buildings currently under construction and 2 in design;
  • Unique LEED interactive display teaching eco-literacy to young children created (with Burgeon, Inc.);
  • Green Stacks public program attendance (children, teens, and adults) exceeded 8000 in first year;
  • 157 environmental titles added to the collection;
  • 80% of library waste stream redirected to recycling and composting; waste bills reduced by 20% ($16K!);
  • Green Stacks website received 18,500 hits; and
  • 2 community gardens and 2 green roofs added at branch libraries, visited by thousands of patrons.