Even before the eat local/shop local movement hit its stride, booksellers around the country were looking for ways to green their businesses—from recycling to energy-efficient electricity, and, in a few cases, transforming their entire buildings to make them green. Here are how half a dozen bookstores have successfully faced the challenges of developing sustainable practices and changed their impact on the environment—and their communities—in the process.

LEEDing the Way

The 80-year-old Penguin Bookshop in Sewickley, Pa., and Mitchell’s Corner Bookshop in a 150-year-old historic building on Nantucket both changed hands in 2007. The new owners were committed to renovations using recycled, local, and green materials. Earlier this year, the stores received their official LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, becoming the first two trade bookstores to do so.

For Janet and Bud McDanel, rescuing their suburban Pittsburgh community’s local bookstore was only the first step in their long-range plan; they also wanted to invest in the community’s downtown. They decided to turn the store into a green building with bricks that match the original facade, energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, a full kitchen, a bike rack, and an employee shower. “It was very purposefully planned,” says general manager Maryanne Eichorn. “It’s on the same footprint, but it’s totally renovated to foster more community use.” The bookstore also tries to encourage a greater employee pride in green living and the local community. When Penguin reopened in September 2008, it launched a contribution program. For each customer who doesn’t take a bag, the store donates a quarter to a different nonprofit organization each month with a local connection, selected by a different employee. This month’s charity is the Diabetes Research Foundation.

ReMain Nantucket, a philanthropic organization on the island begun by Wendy Schmidt, bought the building that houses Mitchell’s Book Corner knowing that it needed work. “It’s such a presence and has been a presence in people’s lives for decades,” says ReMain’s executive director, Melissa Philbrick, who wanted to turn it into an energy-efficient, green building without sacrificing its look or that of the iconic bookstore now run by Mary Jennings and Lucretia Voight. Although Philbrick acknowledges that choosing green materials was slightly more expensive, the biggest cost was the LEED process itself. “Several time we questioned whether it was worth it because of the paperwork and the cost of going through LEED,” says Philbrick. ReMain not only persevered, but got one of the highest LEED ratings, silver.

Pedal Pushers

Last year Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass., added green delivery, by tricycle. “The nice thing about the service,” says marketing manager Heather Gain, “when local people order, they automatically get green deliveries.” A MetroPed trike pulls up outside the bookstore six days a week and consolidates book orders with those from other local businesses. So Harvard Book Store customers can get sweets from Taza Chocolate, kale from Savenor’s Market, or fish from a local CSA along with their books. Those in the store’s 02138 zip code or nearby can get same or next-day delivery. Further out, MetroPed offers 1-to-3–day delivery. Now the store is looking into another sustainable delivery service to go beyond Route 128. That may call for motorized pedal power. Although the delivery service hasn’t been used much yet, Gain anticipates a lot more deliveries when the store’s new Web site at harvard.com goes live soon.

Reuse, Renew, Recycle

“I feel like we’ve been recycling for 20 years, as soon as Asheville opened a recycling center,” says Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe manager Linda Barrett Knopp. The store van, currently driven by intrepid recycler/bookseller Sadie Adams, goes to the town recycling center every week with bottles and plastics from the cafe, as well as paper and cardboard from Malaprop’s and its sister store, Downtown Books & News, which carries used books. “People recognize the van and really appreciate it,” says Knopp. “It’s time-consuming to sort the recyclables, but it’s worth it.” However, not everything recyclable ends up at the recycling center. Gardeners who want coffee grounds need only ask; scraps of paper are cut up for notes; cardboard tubes are turned into pencil holders; and used books that don’t sell are donated to prison libraries.

Earth Day Every Day

Inspired by the first Earth Day in 1970, Nelson “Buck” Robinson (1939–2004) founded 900-sq.-ft. Toad Hall Bookstore in Rockport, Mass., two years later to generate funds to support environmental projects. Since then, says store manager and board member Amy Pierson, Toad Hall has donated more than $135,000 to projects like a nature trail and a companion curriculum guide for teachers in Gloucester or the Ipswich Green Pages, a compendium of green resources. Schools and organizations submit an informal two-page proposal for awards that typically range from $200 to $500, although when A Perfect Storm came out, the store’s sales rose and it gave numerous $1,000 grants.

Toad Hall is a general bookstore with a solid environmental shelf and a strong children’s section. Even its sidelines have a green component—wooden pens made with recycled parts and mittens lined with recycled fleece. Part of the reason the store has managed to sustain itself through tough bookselling times over the course of nearly 40 years reflects the care with which Robinson set it up as a 501(c)(4). He also bought the building, which has since passed to the Nelson B. Robinson Marital Trust. The store pays rent on a sliding scale, and some costs are partially offset by a rental apartment with water views.

Solar Power

For Stanley Selland, facilities operations manager at Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore., being green is “part of our consciousness. It goes back to [store founder] Michael Powell stocking used books,” and the green ethos goes well beyond recycling. In December 2008, Powell’s earned the distinction of having Oregon’s largest solar electric installation of 540 solar panels (Mitsubishi UD5 series) on the roof of the 60,000-sq.-ft. warehouse that is home to Powells.com. According to Michael Powell, “It made perfect sense for our business financially, and it supports our values as a company. We are continually looking for ways for our business to lessen its impact on the environment.”

The installation has outperformed the original projections of providing 25% of the facility’s energy needs, says Selland, who with facilities planning manager Craig Roethler tries to make decisions that are sustainable across the board. When Powell’s recently moved its Technical Store from a 10,000-sq.-ft. location to a smaller space across from the flagship store, it reused as much shelving as possible. The wood purchased for additional bookcases came from the Yakima Reservation, whose management of its forests exceeds the green certification requirements. Powell’s has also begun running its three older trucks on biodiesel fuel, even though it’s more expensive.