ALA Council

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Carbon offsets - clarification

  • 1.  Carbon offsets - clarification

    Posted Jun 28, 2021 05:39 PM
    I want to point out that I am actually not a big fan of carbon offsets. Or at least I'm tepid (but not hot the way the PNW is right now...). I think offsets kick the can down the road. I am also in favor of actionable sustainability and not just listing it as a value while we basically carry on as we always have. I appreciate the Sustainability RT resolution on carbon neutrality because it's broadly but not specifically directive and it forces us to think.

    However, during discussion today I was pointing out that at least based on what we paid for a 50% offset for Midwinter 2020 (ca. $27,000), if we had built in offsets into the registration, the cost per registrant would have been modest. I used 9,000 registrants for my example because that's approximately the average attendance at Midwinter for the last decade. Midwinter 2020 had lower attendance than usual (ca. 8,000) but better to go with the average. So that would be $3 per registrant, more if you factor out the comps/reduced registrations, so let's say $5. That's not a lot, which was my point.

    Elsewhere I also have raised the question of whether we know why voluntary offset participation is so low. I wonder if there are functional impediments to paying for offsets, such as organizational travel rules that limit the ability to pay for items deemed non-travel such as food, events, and perhaps offsets. If the cost for offsets were baked into the registration fee, that problem, if it exists, would go away. But in any event from a financial responsibility perspective I don't think ALA should pick up the tab for offsets and then hope that members chip in.

    Offsets aside, truly living our sustainability values is likely to have financial impact one way or the other. Executive Director Tracie Hall and Treasurer Maggie Farrell have cautioned us repeatedly that our financial situation is very "911." Through attentive stewardship we have somehow emerged from a pandemic with ALA still in existence. But we're not out of the woods and our financial challenges are not some little bump in the road to get beyond, they are systemic. Is sustainability worth it? Absolutely. But to do it responsibly it needs to be a problem to solve hand-in-hand with the Association.

    The reality is, per all current scholarship on the topic, that the biggest sustainability impact we could have as an association is to restructure how we do conferences to reduce personal air travel. We don't have a serious national rail system nor do we have flying autonomous electric cars (though sign me up when that happens). Reducing personal air travel could be accomplished -- and this is only *one* example among many options -- by holding not two but ONE conferences per year, which would at least reduce travel by the thousands of members who attend both conferences. But if we do that, we directly affect one of our three traditional revenue streams. Which would mean we need to grow our other revenue streams, make ALA more efficient, and create more revenue streams, which is of course the point of the Pivot Plan.

    The answer just can't be "this is right so ALA needs to do it." It's more like "this is right so how do we make it happen." That's how we got to such great ESG representation in our endowment fund, for example.

    Thanks,

    Karen G. Schneider
    Councilor at Large
    ALA Executive Board


  • 2.  RE: Carbon offsets - clarification

    Posted Jun 29, 2021 11:47 AM
    What if there was a calculator that we could direct people to that could help them make better decisions with travelling?  Like if carpooling is a feasible option for some instead of flying?  Maybe that along with some options of how people can offset their carbon footprint in their lives could help make a difference.   I think having a breakdown of where the carbon footprint is coming from in the conference would also help.  For one example, how much of a change would it be if handouts, newsletters, etc. were printed by request for those who need it?  It would also be interesting to see if that helps at all with the financial aspects.  Seeing the difference those choices make might encourage members to embrace those ideas.

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    Sonnet Ireland
    Branch Manager
    She/Her/Hers
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  • 3.  RE: Carbon offsets - clarification

    Posted Jun 29, 2021 02:17 PM
    Thanks Sonnet and Karen (and I hope others),

    I am sharing these conversations with the Committee on Sustainability in order to address them shortly. Our first meeting is in a few weeks.

    Matt Bollerman, Sustain RT Councilor

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    Matthew Bollerman
    Chief Executive Officer
    Hauppauge Public Library
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