Information Brief: Archives and the Environment

SAA Position

The Society of American Archivists recognizes the intersection between archival work and the environment. SAA encourages and supports efforts to preserve and make accessible archives and records documenting the environment. SAA also will continue to assist archivists in developing and using "green" facility guidelines and standards, and provide resources and training for responding to environmental changes and disasters that affect archival records.

SAA will:

  • Advocate for preservation of the cultural and scientific record documenting groups, individuals, and organizations connected with environmental research.
  • Advocate for resources and funding for archives to gain a better understanding of the potential impact of climate change on repositories and to more effectively protect our facilities against possible environmental changes.
  • Collaborate with allied professions to monitor the impact on archives of state, federal, and international efforts in regard to climate change.
  • Support opportunities for continuing education on disaster preparedness, sustainability for archival facilities, and the integration of renewable energy where possible in archival practices.
  • Educate archivists about environmental standards[1] for facilities, particularly in the area of sustainable building design, as well as implementation of climate change adaptation and mitigation practices.
  • Monitor the impact of climate change as it affects communities, including relocation, and advocate for sufficient resources to document those communities that are significantly affected by climate change.[2]
  • Work to mitigate the effects of major natural or human-made disasters on archival collections and facilities.
  • Pursue sustainable choices when planning conferences and meetings.



 Many archivists are preserving and providing access to archives and records documenting discussions about the environment and climate change conducted by scientists and other individuals and groups. Some archivists have developed documentation strategies focused on climate-related issues,[3] and a few archives have designated positions to focus on the documentation of these issues.[4] As a result of these steps, some of the records being collected include:

  • Dated photographs of landscapes and agriculture.
  • Datasets that are useful for climate research.
  • All aspects and sides of environmental discussions regarding climate change, including the papers of scientists and activists.
  • Government records about local, regional, or national responses to climate issues.
  • Recorded lectures, interviews, and debates about the environment.

Guidelines for Sustainability and Energy Renewal for Archives Facilities

Many archivists are making concerted efforts to better integrate sustainability/energy-based decisions and standards in the construction, operation, and renovation of archival facilities, with the goal of creating appropriate environments and reducing long-term energy costs. These efforts include:

Disaster Planning, Preparedness, and Response

SAA continues to develop resources and training on planning and responding to disasters at the local, regional, and national levels. These include:

  • The SAA Foundation’s National Disaster Recovery Fund for Archives.
  • Support for the development of dPlan: The Online Disaster Tool.[9]

Education, Resources, and Training

SAA continues to develop relevant resources for its members, including:

  • Training workshops in preservation and protection.
  • A list of vendors that specialize in disaster response.


Abbey, Heidi N. “The Green Archivist: A Primer for Adopting Affordable, Environmentally Sustainable, and Socially Responsible Archival Management Practices.” Archival Issues: The Journal of the Midwest Archives Conference: Vol. 34, No. 2 (2012): 91-116.

American Library Association, "ALA Council passes resolution on sustainable libraries."

ALA SustainRT:

Berenfeld, Michelle L. “Planning for Permanent Emergency: ‘Triage’ as a Strategy for Managing Cultural Resources Threatened by Climate Change.” The George Wright Forum, vol. 32, no. 1, pp. 5-12 (2015).

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). (2014).

Hansen, J., Sato, M., Kharecha, P., Hearty, P., Ruedy, R., Kelley, M., Lo, K.-W.,Bauer, M. (July 23, 2015). Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: Evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2 °C global warming is highly dangerous. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussions, 15, 14, 20059-20179.

ProjectARCC (Archivists Responding to Climate Change):

Tansey, Eira. “Archival Adaptation to Climate Change,” Sustainability, Science, Practice & Policy 11.2 (March 2, 2016):

United Nations. Framework Convention on Climate Change:

Welch, Todd. “’Green’ Archivism: The Archival Response to Environmental Research. The American Archivist, Vol. 62 (Spring 1999): 74-99.


Approved by the SAA Council, August 2016.

[1] Examples of standards include the U.S. Green Building Council's Green Building and Climate Resilience recommendations and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), an ecology-oriented building certification program run under the auspices of the USGBC. See also the Passive House standard.

[2] Coastal communities, in particular those of indigenous peoples, increasingly are affected by environmental changes, which in turn threaten their archival record. Traditional knowledge has developed reliable methods for recording historic weather and climate variability. (Therrell, M.D. and M.J. Trotter, 2011: Waniyetu Wówapi: Native American Records of Weather and Climate. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 92: 583-592 . In recent years, communities have had to relocate from ancestral lands due to changes in the environment, which has, in turn, threatened sources of such traditional knowledge. Examples include the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw in Louisiana and the Inupiat Eskimo in Alaska.

[3] The Greater Western Library Alliance (GWLA) organized and created the Western Waters Digital Library in the early 2000s:

[6] U.S. Green Building Council:

[8] A description of the OMB’s program is available here: NARA’s Scorecard documentation is included as part of its Sustainability Report.

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