Knowledge Matters blog

Behind the scenes at the British Library

02 October 2023

Behind the Scenes at the British Library: Catherine Ross, Sustainability Manager

In this edition of Behind the Scenes, we sat down with Catherine Ross, our Sustainability Manager, to find out more about her role and the steps the Library is taking to make a positive impact on climate change.


What do you do at the Library?

I’m the Sustainability Manager. That means I coordinate the work across the Library to reduce the environmental impact of the Library’s own operations; our heating, lighting, travel, and waste. I also input to our wider work, finding ways that our amazing collection and partnerships can influence climate action.


Sustainability Manager is a new role - why has the Library created it?

Our new strategy includes sustainability as one of the Library’s priorities, so we knew we needed more resource to deliver that work.

The Library wants to cut its own carbon footprint, but also have a positive impact far beyond this, opening up our climate science collections for research, providing new culture and learning opportunities that support climate literacy, and supporting businesses to have a positive climate impact.


How did you come to work here?

I’m a passionate environmentalist. After 20 years of making lots of practical changes in my own life, plus voluntary work in my community with an environmental charity, I moved my career into the environmental sector.

I’ve joined the Library from the Church of England Environment Programme, where I led their work to achieve net zero carbon. From one national icon to another!


What kind of things is the British Library doing to be more sustainable?

Loads - on energy use, we’ve swapped a lot of lights for LEDs, installed solar panels at our Boston Spa site and solar thermal here at St Pancras. We’re just finishing the installation of a heat pump at Boston Spa, which will heat four of our buildings very efficiently using heat from the ground rather than a gas boiler.

We’ve massively reduced plastic in our shops and cafes. We’ve reduced our waste, and now nothing goes to landfill.

Looking more widely, we were a founding partner in the Green Libraries Partnership. Our recent exhibitions, like Animals: Art, Science and Sound, have woven messages about the climate crisis and nature loss into their story. We offer resources and webinars for green businesses. We also have a staff Sustainability Group which all staff are welcome to join, which is leading on practical changes across the Library.


Is sustainability important to you personally?

Yes, very. I’ve got three kids, and I’m scared about what the world will look like when they’re older. That fear motivates me to take environmental action wherever I can.

Like lots of people, taking action helps me manage the ‘green blues’. The injustice of climate change also drives me on. We can see in the news every week that the poorest countries of the world and the poorest people of the world are already having their lives destroyed by climate change and pollution. But it’s not just Sustainability Managers who can do something to tackle the issues; every job is a ‘climate job’, we can all do something that makes a difference.

Read more about our sustainability strategy and progress so far.