Rethink Green: Action for People and the Planet

By now, most folks are familiar with the 3 R’s—"Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”—and many have heard the 4th R, “Rethink.” Go Green @ Your Illinois Library focuses on this newer R—RETHINK—and introduces a 5th R: Relate.

The Fourth “R:” Rethink

The educational modules, workshops, and activities on the website are all intended to help in the process of rethinking green. Libraries can work with their communities to develop models for green engagement and living that:  

  • Benefit the planet and its people. If we reduce our community's carbon footprint by recycling but ignore social issues such as hunger or homelessness, we are not creating a sustainable community that takes care of both its residents and its environment. Many of the materials on this site encourage libraries to foster green partnerships among organizations that work on seemingly unrelated issues—to simultaneously address social and environmental challenges.   
  • Embrace cultural solutions, not just technological ones. The best ways of linking people to nature build on cultural practices that already exist in the community, many of which have been passed down for generations.   
  • Address “green” on a community level. Individual action will only go so far. Communities need to be organized to achieve real change. It is important to encourage residents to recycle and do other individual practices like turn off the lights and use compact fluorescent light bulbs. But this is just the first step to real transformation, which will only come about by exploring and pursuing our collective visions for a greener future.

The Fifth "R:" Relate

At its base, achieving “green” involves rethinking our social relationships and the systems and institutions—like libraries—that bring us together to strengthen them: to explore new ideas and creative solutions, share resources and skills, and build community. Ultimately, we need to rediscover and reinvent social systems in which we feel and act more responsible, for each other and the earth. Thus, The Field Museum would like to christen the fifth "R:" Relate. 

The Chicago heat wave in 1995 is a good example of what can happen when these systems break down. As discussed in the book Heat Wave by Eric Klinenberg, 739 people died from the heat, largely due to their social isolation. In an interview, Klinenberg explained, “The only way to prevent another heat disaster is to address the isolation, poverty, and fear that are prevalent in so many American cities today. Until we do, natural forces that are out of our control will continue to be uncontrollably dangerous” (

The ILA’s Go Green initiative was created specifically to foster such new relationships—and to help us all rethink green.

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