The Guelph Tool Library and the UN SDGs: Reduce consumption, strengthen local resilience, foster community well-being

The Guelph Tool Library offers Guelph residents access to affordable household products while providing an opportunity to reduce consumption habits, fight climate change and improve community cohesion and resilience.

The television host slowly opens the front door—revealing an entryway that’s absolutely loaded to the rafters in clutter. Stuffed animals, clothes, gift boxes, old electronics. It’s difficult to walk through the modest home, let alone live in it.

The premise of the show, Sort Your Life Out, is to help the homeowner, Sue—and other contestants–dig out of the clutter by relocating all of their home’s contents to an empty warehouse, spacing each item out evenly on the bare concrete floor, and helping the individuals decide what to keep, recycle and donate. 

On this particular episode, the drone camera pans over the neatly-organized items to reveal “stuff” as far as the eye can see—532 plastic shopping bags, 205 hair rollers, 30 umbrellas, 18 unused toothbrushes, 17 old digital cameras, 443 pairs of shoes, and many, many other things.

The aerial image is jaw-dropping—and seemingly designed to make you wonder what your home’s contents would look like if they were laid out in a similar fashion. Because, unfortunately, this elderly woman isn’t the only person out there who’s grappling with the side effects of overconsumption. 

If everyone on the planet consumed resources the way Canadians do, we’d need five earths to sustain our habits. The bulk of these resources are manufactured into products that we purchase, use for a short while and then throw away. Greenhouse emissions are created through every step of this process—including resource extraction, manufacturing, transportation, shipping, returns, packaging, waste hauling, and even decomposition.

The trend is contributing to climate change, overflowing landfills, biodiversity loss, ocean pollution, anxiety, depression, and a host of other environmental and social ailments. It’s something more than half of Canadians want to change—including Susan Carey, John Dennis and Saba Saneinejad. 

In fact, it was this trio’s concern for the environmental and health impacts of overconsumption that led them to learn about lending libraries—and ultimately drove them to help bring the Tool Library, and other “value-retention” services, to Guelph. 

“I’m an idea person, while John is an action person. So when I said ‘I wish we had a tool library’, John’s response was ‘Let’s do it!’,” she recalls.

The idea appealed to Susan and John and, later, Saba, because it not only offered people an opportunity to reduce their consumption habits, but it also helped strengthen local resiliency by transforming unused products sitting in people’s garages into community assets. If your fence gets damaged after a windstorm—or you need a wet-vac to deal with a flooded basement—you don’t have to buy new expensive tools to fix the problem.

At the same time, because these types of libraries mimic the age-old practice of sharing tools between neighbours, they also foster a sense of community. They are often a hub of activity—bringing people together to learn about, or practice the art of, living with less. And in most cases, people are all-too-happy to donate previously-used tools rather than throw them away, or simply financially support an organization that allows others to avoid buying new.

“When we went to the Toronto Tool Library to learn how to start a similar establishment in Guelph, they mentioned that a lot of their members don’t actually use it,” Susan says. “They just love the idea of living in a community that has this type of venture, and wanted to support it.”

The Guelph Tool Library: In a nutshell

The Guelph Tool Library became a registered non-profit in 2016, with the help of a City of Guelph Wellbeing Grant. As a provider of value retention processes, its goal was (and is) to enhance the Guelph community in five key ways:

  • Provide affordable access to products
  • Reduce consumption to help reach zero waste goals
  • Fight climate change by reducing emissions tied to consumption
  • Help prepare for and build back better after crisis 
  • Improve community cohesion and resilience

Today, situated in its third location in Guelph’s Quebec Street Mall, its membership has grown to 800—and its service offerings have evolved far beyond tool lending. In fact, the library now lends over 1300 household items that run the gamut from baking ware to folding chairs. 

Additionally, the non-profit has expanded to include many new value-retention initiatives and events that fall under its umbrella. While the list is often changing, a few of its offerings include, or have included:

The Circular Store: A thrift store that offers ultra low pricing while acting as a hub for recycling and community care.

Guelph Seed Library: A sharing hub where community members “borrow” seeds—essentially taking seeds, growing them, and harvesting a similar number to “return” to the seed library for the next year.

Repair Cafés: Bi-monthly, pop-up events where volunteer “fixers” help visitors fix their broken items.

Freehub Community Bike Centre: An initiative that offers access to a bike repair stand, common bike tools, replacement parts, and assistance from volunteer mechanics.

Sew on the Go: A mobile service offering clothing repairs to residents in retirement home.

Grow Community Garden: A “learning” garden where volunteer members grow fresh, organic produce for themselves in private plots, and donate food grown in dedicated community plots.

Circular Computer Project: An initiative that promotes digital equity by refurbishing and redistributing used laptops to those in need.

Circular Economy Month: A month of events designed to promote the benefits of circular thinking. 

Living Better on Less: A 6-week outreach program that teaches participants how to optimize living on a fixed budget while reducing their environmental impact.

Free to Read: A used book sale where people can donate their used books, and purchase “new” ones! Proceeds from the sale go towards the Books for Inmates Program, which supports literacy programs in correctional facilities across South-Western Ontario.

The role of the SDGs

Given the nature of its services and mandate, the Guelph Tool Library is making traction on virtually every UN SDG. Some of the highlights include:

SDG 13: Climate Action – Circular practices, like those supported through the Guelph Tool Library, are an effective way to promote sustainable consumption and boost climate resiliency (by making tools and equipment more accessible when recovering from climate-related events).

SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production – The Guelph Tool Library focuses on amplifying reuse, promoting affordable access to essential items, highlighting the impact of consumption and advocating for a sharing economy.

SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities – The organization demonstrates and champions sustainable behaviour in the Guelph community. It does this by helping the municipality reduce waste, introducing people to the environmental benefits of the sharing economy, and building community resilience by connecting neighbourhoods and increasing access to tools and equipment.

SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities – By acting as an alternative to traditional ownership, and increasing access to tools and other essential household items, the Guelph Tool Library is making otherwise-expensive household items available to more people. 

SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth – The circular economy abides by a different model of economic growth—and the Guelph Tool Library offers a small-scale example of what could be. It supports a vision of economic growth that’s inclusive, community-centric and sustainable.

Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being – Cluttered homes have been scientifically linked to higher stress, low self-worth, depression, isolation and behavioural issues. Not only does the Guelph Tool Library’s programs offer a pathway to decluttering—and consumption reduction—but many of the programs encourage people to connect with others in the community, which is important for mental health.


To date, the Guelph Tool Library has issued over 30,000 item loans—meaning, it’s prevented 30,000 consumption events in this small city. That said, the organization’s impact doesn’t end there. Through its other value-retention initiatives and events, it:

  • Contributes over 500 lbs of produce, annually, to local food pantries via the GROW community garden
  • Sent over 4000 softcover graphic novels and comic books to support Books for Inmates, through its Free to Read initiative 
  • Helped 250 community members develop sustainable skills through hands-on workshops—skills like clothing repair, seed saving, beeswax wrap making and clothing upcycling
  • Recycled and rehomed over 2500 kg of household goods at Re-Purposefest, a one-day community recycling festival
  • Repaired over 800 items at its bi-monthly Repair Cafes (between 2018-2022)

Looking forward

The Guelph Tool Library membership has more than tripled in size between 2021 and 2024—and Susan anticipates its services will continue to surge in popularity in the coming years, as people get more accustomed to the benefits of circular thinking.

With a central location downtown Guelph, and partnerships with city-run programs the Tool Library has gained notoriety locally. “We’ve built up some credibility, by partnering with the public library and city-run programs, that increases our success of applying for grants” says Susan.

“As a non-profit, we’re always hand-to-mouth. We’d love to reach a level of operations where we can feel more financially secure,” Susan explains. There are some ways to make life more financially secure—one option being to apply for grants and community benefit agreements that offer multi-year support. 

The Tool Library is also planning to expand its programming in the next year and beyond. A few potential ideas include a “mug library”, which would aim to cut down on take-out cup usage by allowing food establishments to send coffee home in second-hand mugs that patrons are welcome to keep or return – as well a new maker’s space that would offer additional space for community use and connection. Funding is a challenge here too, as Susan explains “to set that up, you need the right ventilation, wiring, lighting, insurance, people to oversee proper use of tools…it’s expensive.”

This SDG Impact Story was written by Vanessa Chris, Founder and Principle of h2h content. Vanessa is a veteran b2b journalist-turned-copywriter who’s been telling compelling business stories for the past 18 years. While she’s written for virtually every industry under the sun—as well as numerous Fortune 500 companies—her favourite projects are those that amplify the voices of socially- and environmentally-conscious organizations. Organizations that aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo, and that believe communication—transparent, authentic, human-focused storytelling—is integral to creating a better planet for all. You can learn more about Vanessa, and the work that she does, at