Study measured the carbon footprint of Finnish public libraries

A study conducted on behalf of the Environmental sustainability in Finnish public libraries in the 2020s project measured the Finnish public libraries’ carbon footprint. The pioneering research was done in cooperation with libraries and sustainability experts from Positive Impact Finland. The study took place in the autumn of 2020, gathering carbon footprint data from 13 public libraries across the country from small municipal libraries to big city libraries. 

The study looked into different aspects of libraries’ carbon footprint: the size, what does it consist of, and what are the differences in carbon footprint between different sized libraries. The estimated carbon footprint of Finnish public libraries is 32 000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents. In comparison, this equals to the yearly emissions of approximately 3 130 average Finns.  

The greatest part of the emissions comes from heating, use of electricity, and general purchases (purchases other than book acquisitions). Heating and the use of electricity forms roughly 2/3 of libraries’ carbon footprint. The study concludes that libraries face a challenge in cutting emissions: whilst the heating and electricity creates the lion’s share of the carbon footprint, libraries usually do not have the power to decide alone to switch to emission-free energy as these contracts are made at the municipal level.

The study also introduces libraries’ carbon handprint, which measures the positive impact on carbon emissions by enabling others to reduce their negative climate impact. For example, a book borrowed from a library has roughly a third of the negative impact on climate compared to a book that is bought by an individual and read only once. The numbers are only approximates, as there are multiple factors forming the negative and positive climate impacts. The study also urges to consider whether the emission numbers are the only indicators that should get the attention. For example, spreading climate awareness through books and other medium in libraries might have a greater positive impact that escapes measuring.

The Environmental sustainability in Finnish public libraries in the 2020s is a national research and training project funded by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture and administered by Helsinki City Library. The aim is to promote public libraries’ environmental awareness, carbon neutrality, and sharing economy.

You can read the original news on the results of the study in Finnish on the Green Library website and find the full report in Finnish here. More information on the Environmental sustainability in Finnish public libraries in the 2020s can be found on the project’s website in Finnish.