Dramatically Reducing An Archive’s Carbon Footprint by Working with the City

ProjectARCC members Blake Relle and Danielle Cordovez set out to highlight an organization that took steps to positively impact the climate. Through Twitter, we learned that the City of Toronto Archives won the “Race to Reduce” challenge by lowering energy consumption by a staggering 59%. They were able to achieve this through C40 Climate Leadership Group initiatives instituted by the city. Relle and Cordovez spoke with the City Archivist at the Toronto City Archives, Carol Radford-Grant , and Project Manager, Prashant Bhalja, to learn more about this impressive accomplishment.

The C40 Climate Leadership Group consists of different government bodies and agencies within major cities whose focus is to make a positive impact on the global climate. In an effort to show leadership, Canadian officials announced plans to encourage the development and use of energy efficient solutions to take action against the effects of Greenhouse Gas emissions.  Being the largest city in Canada, Toronto took the lead in implementing C40 initiatives to show that they were actively doing their part, and not just talking about what should happen.

The city of Toronto approached the staff at the Archive to see if they would participate, and lower their energy consumption. The staff was thrilled to be part of this project for three reasons. First, the building that houses the archive was over twenty years old, and in need of upgrades. Secondly, the building’s energy consumption was higher than comparable constructions in the city, and throughout the Province of Ontario.  Finally, the staff had a hard time keeping the temperature, and relative humidity at safe levels due to the city’s extreme weather conditions.  In the winter the temperature, factoring in the wind chill,  temperatures can may fall to -40 degrees Celsius.  In contrast, the relative humidity in the summer ranges from 80% to 90%.

Making improvements to the building was necessary, and would allow safe, long term storage for the collections.  Improvements  included the installation of a new HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning)  system, and energy efficient boilers to to properly regulate temperature, relative humidity, and the air flow in the building. The new boilers require little energy to function. The  HVAC system is automated, and lowers consumption in practical ways such as shutting  off when the loading doors are open.  Radford-Grant reported that very little problems arose during the installment of the HVAC system, and boilers as the archival staff worked well with Bhalja, and discussed concerns in advance to ensure low risk of damage to the collections.

With the new HVAC system and boilers,  the Archive lowered electricity use from 200 -250 to 130 kilowatts monthly,  resulting in a 59% reduction in energy use. The reduction was so severe,  that the meter was checked and replaced by the gas and electric companies to make sure it hadn’t been tampered with.  To maintain the low monthly number, Radford-Grant and Bhalja agree that daily monitoring of consumption, in addition to staff training on how best to utilize the equipment is necessary.

Radford-Grant and Bhalja’s  advice to archivists planning to implement energy reduction practices are:

  1. Every building has room for improvement to minimize energy use. Look for it.
  2. There does not have to be a choice between lowering energy and climate control. Comfort should not be sacrificed for conservation. There is a balance that optimizes both goals.
  3. Collaborate with your area, and research municipal initiatives for Greenhouse Gas Emission reduction.

To continue their efforts, the City of Toronto Archives hopes to install a new air conditioner and improved insulated windows in the coming years.

For us at ProjectARCC, two important lessons came out of the interview with Radford-Grant and Bhalja. First, people tend to believe that they, as one person, cannot do anything to affect climate change. That is not so: each person can do their part to make a positive impact on the climate. One can install solar panels, install new windows, or install lights the automatically turn on and off. Each small thing adds up. A lot of things over the course of history have changed because one person stood up and said, “Enough is enough.” In other words, there are things that everyone can do.

Secondly, we need to work together. We are global citizens and have a duty to leave the planet in better shape than we found it. There is a lot of talk in the archival profession about working together. If we do not start working together now, when will we? We need to ask ourselves — in the style of President Kennedy — “Ask not what your planet can do for you, but what you can do for your planet.”

— Blake Relle and Danielle Cordovez

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