Library Services


UCL Library’s sustainability success and why it matters

15 March 2022

James Davis, UCL History student, writes about the role played by Library Services in supporting sustainability at UCL and beyond.

Online poster highlighting UCL's 28 days of sustainability campaign, 2022

Prioritising sustainability 

Climate change is at the forefront of our minds, prompting us all to find ways to help mitigate the adverse consequences of these fast-changing and unprecedented environmental conditions.

As students, we are all doing our bit to stop the climate crisis before it worsens. Although we have become more aware of the ways individuals can help, we may not be as well informed about how our own university is tackling the problem.

UCL Library Services is a case in point. The library forms a fundamental part of our lives as students, we are constantly making use of its study spaces and abundance of resources, yet remain unaware of its ambition to maximise sustainability.

This should change as we become more attuned to the environmental impact organisations that we rely on make. As part of this, it is important to know how our library is supporting our own personal climate-friendly aspirations.

Sustainable initiatives

Our library is demonstrating its commitment to tackling climate change by engaging in a host of innovative initiatives, spearheaded by the Library Services Sustainability Committee.

Not only does this committee prove the library’s formal commitment to becoming sustainable, it also ensures that reducing environmental impacts are at the forefront of UCL library decision-making.

The committee makes sure that energy-saving, recycling and co-operation between departments maximises the library’s efficient and climate conscious use of resources.

A prime example of UCL library’s climate action is its agreement to engage in the one-year trial of the Powered by Plants Initiative. This initiative is a way of promoting the environmental and health benefits of becoming vegetarian by ensuring that 100% of catering at meetings and events is meat-free.

Sustainability awards

In 2021 the UCL library signed up for the institution wide UCL Sustainability Awards, an offshoot of the Green Impact programme. This demonstrates the library’s confidence in the success of measures put in place to improve sustainability.

It is comforting to know that in the context of a climate crisis, with 17 nominations, the library achieved 3 Bronze, 7 Silver and 7 Gold awards. 

With this level of confidence and ambition, it is incumbent upon us as students to recognise this progress and support the library’s endeavours to achieve even more Gold awards in future.

I asked the Chair of the Library Services Sustainability Committee, Benjamin Meunier, how he plans to build on this sustainable success in future:

“The new UCL strategy is currently out for consultation, members of the Library’s Sustainability Committee have been considering how we can make change possible as a department, and contribute positively to tackling the climate crisis and be an example for other university libraries…
“…raising awareness amongst our users of how changes in behaviour can make a difference, as well as practical changes to how we operate, whether that is increasing the number of plants in our libraries, to support wellbeing and play a small part in making UCL “greener”, or working with UCL Estates to improve insulation and upgrade the fleet of vehicles which run between our stores and library sites.
“A number of library teams have hosted Student Ambassadors for sustainability initiatives and we are considering how we might enable this type of partnership with students in the longer term.”

Supporting research

With a heightened sense of climate consciousness amongst the student body and academic community, our library is rising to the challenge of recognising this interest by providing an interdisciplinary forum for the distribution of environment-related research.

To do this, the library is supporting a new open-access journal called UCL Open: Environment. This aims to bring together research across different disciplines and departments to improve the quality and diversity of environment-related research.

As students, we need to recognise how new forums such as this will become a larger part of our academic experience. For instance, courses across disciplines are already modernising degree-offerings by incorporating matters relating to climate change and environmental protection.

Cutting-edge resources

It may be easy to assume that climate change remains the domain of the sciences, but this is fast becoming an outdated attitude.

As a history student, I have seen how the humanities are also trying to integrate research into how climate affects historical outcomes. This is also becoming an increasingly common feature of the social sciences.

For UCL to remain at the forefront of these new research opportunities, the UCL library plays an essential part. Not only by heeding the warnings of our academic research by improving sustainability, but also by providing the tools we need to conduct that research.

Alongside the UCL Open: Environment journal, the library is collecting a vast body of resources for the sciences and humanities to remain at the cutting-edge.

The Anthropocene

In my first year I was introduced to the concept of the Anthropocene as a new way of viewing historical changes since the industrial revolution.

The Anthropocene is the era that we are currently living in, defined by the way in which human activity is the primary cause for climate and environmental changes. This is opposed to the preceding era, the Holocene, in which humans were subjected to the whims of natural environmental changes.

There is a host of new academic research aimed at dissecting the impact of this upon historical and sociological changes. Exploring these concepts emphasises the impact the climate crisis has and will have on geo-political forces influencing world events.

As this form of research is in its infancy, the library will play an important role in bringing new research to its expanding store of resources.

For example, I discovered a fascinating collection of essays from 2015 called The Anthropocene and the Global Environmental Crisis, marking the dawn of the geological turn and School of Environmental Humanities.

There are many more resources like this so I would encourage everyone to search through the library’s collections.