Save the date for the "Green Living & Learning Tour" - September 29th

You are invited to the 2nd Annual Green Living & Learning Tour! Be inspired by your neighbors and learn new skills!

Join us in a day of discovering the thriving, resilient, sustainable community we have in Oak Park and River Forest!!  Seize this opportunity to learn about sustainable living right in your community by touring green sites, asking questions and participating in workshops that will give you the skills to do it yourself!  Bring your whole family and end the day at the community pot-luck filled with music, games, more fun learning opportunities and camaraderie.  Click here for more details.

The ' Green Living & Learning Tour is a great opportunity to:

  • Listen to the stories of your neighbors as they describe their green initiatives, their implementation experiences, and the results of their work.
  • Learn about practical, everyday ways to apply ecological principles
  • Speak with knowledgeable volunteers and homeowners
  • Meet like-minded neighbors

The Green Living & Learning Tour will be focused on 4 priority topic areas of OP/RF’s Sustainability Plan (PlanItGreen) which are highlighted in the tour visits and in “how to” skill-building opportunities:  (Topic area samples appear below.  Details and registration will be available on at by Aug 27th.)

Energy:  We are moving toward renewable sources of energy for heating, cooling and transportation, and we use energy efficiently in our homes and buildings!

  • Tour visit:  Historic Oak Park house with geothermal heating and cooling, a tankless water heater and other sustainability features
  • “How To”:  See a energy assessment demonstration, receive information on making your home 15-30% more energy efficient and learn about the rebates available to assist you in this initiative.

Waste Reduction:  In nature there is no waste and there is no "away"  -- so we reduce, reuse, and recycle everything!  We are moving towards "zero waste!"

  • Tour visit:  “Green Block Party” – features a composting demo and info on making your next block party or other gathering a zero waste event.
  • “How To”:  Learn how to start your own vermiculture system (composting using worms) to help reduce the organic matter that you send to the landfill.  Plus you will leave with contact info for a mentor to call when questions arise!

Water:  We value our water as an essential resource that supports life, so we conserve it, we support the natural water cycle and we keep toxic substances out of our water supply.

  • Tour stop:  See the first house in Oak Park to install a grey water system which will take water from washing (showers, tubs, laundry) and recycle it for use in flushing toilets.  The system is anticipated to reduce water usage by 27%, or approximately 14,000 gallons per year.
  • “How To”:  See a demonstration of how to disconnect your downspout and redirect the water appropriately into a rain barrel, rain garden, bioswale or other options.

Food:  We are transitioning to a food system in which our food is produced locally & ethically; and we work to provide and promote local, healthy food available year round.

  • Tour stop:  We’ll have a bee keeper this year – another first in Oak Park!  Visit the hive and hear fascinating facts about bees.  While there you are also invited to enjoy a honey tasting!
  • “How To”:  The Sugar Beet team, our hosts for the food-related tours and demos, will demonstrate “how to” get your garden going with planting garlic starts to be harvested next spring.  They'll also show you how to preserve the harvest with a canning demonstration.

Share your ideas, volunteer, participate!

Planning is underway now, and passionate, talented volunteers are needed for the planning committee and on the actual day of the event. You may also know someone that is doing great things in your neighborhood that you think others would like to see.  Please let us know by emailing

Oak Park Township Shares News of Green Features in its New Senior Center

Based on information from Gavin Morgan, OP Township Manager News of the many green features of the new OP Township Senior Center opening this week was shared, along with several other success stories, at the PlanItGreen Institutional Stakeholders meeting held on July 10th.   The building is located at 130 S. Oak Park Avenue, across from the township main offices.  An opening ceremony for the new facility will be held on Saturday, August 11th at 10am with a public open house from 10am-1pm.

One major sustainability feature is that the existing building itself, which was in poor condition, was entirely reused and upgraded, thereby saving its “embodied energy”.  Bricks, mortar, lumber, glass, etc. stayed out of the land fill, did not have to be transported via fossil-fuel powered vehicles, and did not have to be replaced with newly manufactured materials.

Hats off to the OP Township leadership and contractors involved in this project!  It's a great example of "putting on" an ecological / sustainability lens as we look at the many choices we make!  Continue reading for many more great examples of choices that reflect a commitment to sustainability!

Other features that are great examples of sustainable building practices include:

  • Added substantial exterior envelope insulation
  • Installed a white roof, to reduce urban heat island effect
  • Brick for the renovation project was locally sourced from Marseilles, IL
  • New high efficiency furnaces & air conditioning with programmable thermostats were installed
  • New high efficiency hot water heater was installed
  • Increased natural ventilation through new windows on first floor
  • Increased natural light
  • Zoned lighting controls in Meeting Room
  • Occupancy sensors to control lighting
  • Large capacity for parking bicycles
  • Existing tree in rear of the building saved rather than removed for additional parking
  • The facility encourages non-motorized transportation through availability of bicycle racks and location in a walkable neighborhood
  • Very low flow toilets, urinals and lavatories were installed
  • Carpeting used is made from recycled materials
  • Wheel stops in the parking lot are made from recycled materials

Finally, building materials previously stored on premises were donated to the non-profit ReBuilding Exchange (, thus diverting more materials from the landfill for reuse and helping to provide training opportunities for “green collar” jobs.

For more information about the Oak Park Township Senior Center project, contact Gavin W. Morgan, Oak Park Township Manager, 708-383-8005,

Say "No" to Inevitability and Speak up for Sustainability

Comments to the OP Village Board on the Expansion of the Eisenhower Expressway by Jenny Jocks Stelzer I know that there are many complexities to dealing with the Eisenhower Expressway reconstruction, so I attended the recent village board meeting to speak up for the three complexities that are important to me, as a person who is invested in sustainability. Here’s what I said to our Village Board:

  1. Watch your language. “The potential widening of the Eisenhower” very quickly becomes “the eventual widening,” and then “the inevitable widening” in the public’s mind. The language of inevitability bulldozes those who are less informed than you are and, for better or for worse, the public is less informed than you are. So, it’s up to you, Village Board, to manage the discourse.
  2. We live here; we don’t just drive here. While the IDOT solutions may alleviate congestion or road safety problems, remember that myopic solutions often trigger the law of unintended consequences. It is not okay for us to accept the perceived inevitability of “more cars” when we live in an EPA-designated nonattainment area for the pollutants lead and particulate matter under the Clean Air Act. It’s actually not a controversy: breathing IS more important than driving.
  3. Don’t forget true sustainability. The widespread acceptance of the inevitability of more cars goes in one direction, fast. It is up to us to alter that trajectory of community disinvestment. Let’s support a plan that doesn’t incentivize the hours-long commute and makes possible a community’s development of its own economy. We want people to live and work in Oak Park, not just drive past.

These may be concerns you have, but you might be thinking, “She should have said ___, or focused on the very important point ___.” So, what can you do? Whatever you do, don’t sit back and accept the language of inevitability. Write to our local papers. Email our Village Board. Attend the board meetings and use your 3 minutes of Public Comment to speak up for sustainability.


Save Energy, Save Money, Save the Planet: Energy Impact Illinois and Interfaith Green Network Promote Home Energy Retrofits

Submitted by James Babcock

Affordable and Accessible Home Energy Efficiency Program

The Interfaith Green Network is continuing to ramp up efforts to implement the goals of the PlanItGreen sustainability plan for OP/RF by bringing actionable strategies to local congregations and households.

To that end, four Interfaith Green Network members, representing Oak Park congregations, along with 15 other Chicagoland residents recently met at the offices of Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) for an in-depth briefing and training session about the energy efficiency program, Energy Impact Illinois (EI-2). The goal of the initiative is to bring the program directly to community residents so that homeowners are informed about this affordable and very accessible way to reduce their carbon footprint, make their homes more comfortable and more valuable, and save money at the same time!

 Essential Components:

As explained by Anna Markowski of CNT, Energy Impact Illinois is for single-family residences, condo’s, and buildings with four or less units. The essential components of the program are as follows:

Accredited Work Force: All participating contractors are certified by the Building Performance Institute (BPI). In addition, CNT has vetted each contractor by observing at least five of their work sites to see that they meet construction standards. CNT will continue to inspect a percentage of the work sites as the program grows.

Incentives: Energy auditors are currently offering an initial energy assessment for only $99. This assessment includes a blower-door test, thermal imaging, and a combustion safety test of your furnace/boiler equipment. Typically, the cost for such an assessment is $350-$800 depending on the size of your house. The assessment report will include a recommended retrofit plan, including associated costs and the estimated energy savings.  The homeowner can choose from these recommendations the strategies that they wish to implement at this time.

Financing: Unsecured loans from participating local lenders are available to applicants who wish to avoid the upfront cost of energy efficiency retrofits. For the first building in Oak Park to participate in the program, the owners found that the loan cost was less than the monthly energy savings after construction was completed. (Nationally, investments in the energy efficiency of buildings have realized, over the last 20 years, some of the best rates-of-return available anywhere!)

Great return on investment plus increased home value

The bulk of home energy efficiency can be accomplished by air sealing (plugging leaks in the “building envelope”) and by adding insulation to attics and walls. To qualify for the program, homeowners must agree to retrofits that accomplish a minimum of 15% increased efficiency. According to Markowski, because of the nature of the housing stock in the Chicago area, 98-99% of our houses can attain this added efficiency fairly easily—even new construction! Homeowners who want to replace old furnaces or boilers with high efficiency units, automatically qualify for Energy Impact Illinois.

Homeowners who look forward to selling their homes in the future should know that the local Multiple Listings Service now officially recognizes green homes.  This is a recent development.  Bonnie Marx of Green Energy Improvements reports that in other locales, homes with such listings have been appraising about $20 higher for every dollar in annual energy cost savings.  So a house with $2500 in annual energy bills (gas and electric) with a not unusual 30% reduction could see $750 in annual savings, and appraise for $15,000 more.

Increasing Home Energy Efficiency is Effective Strategy to Mitigate Climate Change

The goals outlined in the PlanItGreen sustainability plan for Oak Park and River Forest call for an overall increase in energy efficiency of 30% and a reduction in climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions of 30%, both over the next ten years. CNT data for Oak Park indicates that private residences, through their use of electricity and natural gas, currently account for almost 30% of the village’s total emissions. This, plus the fact that energy efficiency retrofits lead to cost savings, makes Energy Impact Illinois one of the most effective strategies that any one person can employ to help mitigate dangerous climate change.

Hold a House Party for 5-10 Friends and Neighbors and get a FREE Energy Assessment

If you would like to schedule an energy assessment, call Anna Markowski, CNT Outreach Coordinator, at 773-328-7045. An added incentive of a free assessment is being offered to homeowners who host a “house party” of 5-10 friends and neighbors to see first-hand how the energy assessment is performed, and to learn more about Energy Impact Illinois.

Interfaith Green Network volunteers have begun to promote Energy Impact Illinois by recruiting “hosts”, and planning larger meetings for interested congregations and other community organizations. If your group is interested in reducing your carbon footprint in a most significant way, and would like more information about EI-2, you can contact volunteers Dick Alton ( or Jim Babcock ( Further information also at



Reflections on "A Sense of Wonder"

by Sally Stovall I had seen “A Sense of Wonder” with Kaiulani Lee on film and it was deeply moving. So when I saw the live performance on Saturday evening (April 21, 2012), nothing was new.  However, the Q&A with the actress afterwards, blew me away.  Below are a few notes to myself that I want to remember from that amazing conversation!

Kaiulani Lee wrote the play and has been performing it for 22 years.  When asked how she came to do this play, she told her personal story.  When she was a mom with 4 children, she thought she was doing all of the right things . . . going to the farmers market, planting a garden with the kids, encouraging creative activities.  But as her husband, an environmental attorney, started telling her about what he was seeing in some of his work regarding the environmental impact of some of the big oil and chemical companies, and the looming threat of global warming, she said it frightened her. She realized that she couldn’t just “take care of her own.”  She felt compelled to do something. She decided to use her training and experience as an actress as a platform for that something.   Note to Self #1:  We share the same home!  We’re all in this together!

Another question from the audience was, “How do you see where we are now?”   In her response  Ms. Lee first acknowledged the challenges that we face.  We are pouring 100% (or was it 100 times?) more chemicals into the environment today than we were in Rachel Carson’s day. Climate change is no longer something that might happen in the future, but rather it is a reality today.  But, she also said, that as she has travelled around to cities and towns all over the this country and beyond for the past 22 years, she has observed that the environmental movement  too, is huge.   Kaiulani Lee identified the same energy among people in her audiences as Paul Hawken wrote about in his book, Blessed Unrest:

When asked at colleges if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same:  If you look at the science that describes what is happening on earth today and aren't pessimistic, you don't have the correct data. If you meet the people in this unnamed movement and aren't optimistic, you haven't got a heart.”

And to bring it home as Ken Trainor did in his article, “When Unrest is Blessed,” in the Wednesday Journal last October, “Think of all the people you know in Oak Park and River Forest who belong, without knowing it, to the Largest Movement in the World.”  Note to Self #2:  We are not alone!  We are part of a huge global movement -- and a dynamic local movement -- working to restore, rebuild, recover, and re-imagine the future.

In her closing remarks, Kaiulani Lee shared two reflections which also caught my attention.  She shared that she chose to name the play, “A Sense of Wonder” rather than Silent Spring, or something with Rachel Carson in the title, because she sensed Rachel Carson’s deep respect for and sense of wonder of the natural world as she observed and explored its designs. It was her relationship with the natural world that sustained her through the many difficulties that she faced in her life.  Ms Lee also made a point that Rachel Carson was not, in one sense, an extraordinary person, although her story is pretty amazing.  Her message was that Rachel Carson took the (limited) abilities and the (limited) energies that she had and did what she could do.   Note to Self #3:  We are the people that will make a difference today, and we will be sustained in that work if we maintain that sense of wonder in relationship to the natural world that we all begin with it as children – like Rachel Carson did.

Saving Money and the Planet with Home Energy Retrofits

by Doug Burke

A new program in Illinois offers homeowners “one-stop shopping” for home energy retrofits.  It provides guidance in saving energy and money in homes.  Since buildings use more energy than cars or any other single sector, saving energy use in homes saves more greenhouse gases than anything else that most individuals can do.

Many people would like to have more energy-efficient homes, but don't know exactly what to do, what is efficient, how much will it cost, how much will it save, how can they tell if the work was done right, etc.  The goal of Energy Impact Illinois (EI2), a government-funded program, is to guide people through these questions.

A presentation at Oak Park Village Hall on March 21 laid out the program.  EI2 checks out qualified contractors who are certified in energy efficiency.  They can refer you to a contractor (their site lists a number of qualified contractors).  They will inspect the work after it is done.  They will give you a Green certificate at the end, certifying that your house is energy-efficient.  They have lined up lenders to make loans to pay for the work, if that is needed.  In other words, they will guide you step by step through the process.

Gary Cuneen, executive director of Seven Generations Ahead, and his wife Erica shared their experience with the process as it was implemented at their Oak Park two-flat.  The contractor recommended $10,000 worth of work.  With the help of EI2, they got a seven-year loan with payments of $170 per month.  The energy improvements are saving them about $200 per month, which means: they are much more comfortable from day 1, they are helping the planet from day 1, they are saving a little money from day 1, and in the long run, after the loan is paid, they will be much better off with a more valuable house.  The contractor the Cuneens used, Green Energy Improvement, says they can typically cut energy bills by 30-50%, which is equivalent to taking a car off the road.

There is nothing you can do as an individual that will fight global warming more than retrofitting your house.  Please check out this website operated by EI2:  Energy Impact Illinois.  At that site, I recommend clicking on Learn How to Maximize Your Savings.

A Sense of Wonder By Kaiulani Lee - April 21st

Presents . . . A Sense of Wonder by Kaiulani Lee, A Fundraiser for PlanitGreen

Performance at The Arts Center of Oak Park, 200 N. Oak Park Avenue, Oak Park, IL, Saturday, April 21, 2012.  Celebrate Earth Day and the 50th Anniversary of Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring", a book many consider to be the catalyst for the modern environmental movement in the US and beyond.  A Sense of Wonder, written and performed by Kaiulani Lee, is a celebration of Rachel Carson's life and work and has been touring the US for over ten years.

"I was deeply moved by Kaiulani Lee’s incarnation of Rachel Carson in A SENSE OF WONDER. This sublimely written and subtly choreographed performance brings to life the remarkable spirit of a woman who changed the way we see our world." - Bill Moyers, PBS

The play has been the centerpiece of regional and national conferences on conservation, education, journalism, and the environment. She has performed it at over one hundred universities, dozens of high schools, the Smithsonian Institute, the Albert Schweitzer Conference at the United Nations, the Sierra Club's Centennial in San Francisco, and at the Department of the Interior's 150th anniversary celebration. A Sense of Wonder has played throughout the provinces of Canada, in England and Italy. In addition, she opened the 2005 World Expo in Japan and in May 2007 performed the play on Capitol Hill, bringing Miss Carson’s voice once again to the halls of Congress.

Program Agenda

5:00pm - 5:45pm                              Reception for Host Committee and Corporate Sponsors 5:45pm-6:00pm                                Welcome and Introduction 6:00pm-7:15pm                                Performance of A Sense of Wonder 7:15pm-7:30pm                                Q&A with Kaiulani Lee

Ticket Pricing:

Students:                       Free of charge (must be 13 years or older and show school id at the door) Standard entrance:       $25 per person Host Committee:            $100 donation includes (2) tickets to performance as well as entrance to pre-event reception 5pm - 5:45pm Silver Level Sponsor:   $250 donation includes (2) tickets to performance, entrance to pre-event reception and recognition in program book Gold Level Sponsor:     $500 donation includes (10) tickets to performance, entrance to pre-event reception and recognition/logo in program book

See Seven Generations Ahead web site for more information and to purchase tickets.

One Earth Film Festival 2012 in Oak Park & River Forest

by Amy Boruta

The “Next Big Thing” in Oak Park/ River Forest

Are you eco-minded and interested in participating in a thought-provoking event?  Do you want to learn more about the how we can live more sustainably and how you can get involved?  Green Community Connections (GCC) is planning the One Earth Film Fest 2012 that will take place on April 27th 29th.  The One Earth Film Festival was inspired by the Washington DC Environmental Film Festival which celebrated its 20th year last month with over 30,000 participants.  GCC’s film festival planning team has been honored to have the opportunity to get expert advice from the organizers of the DC film fest on films and festival production.  The GCC planning team anticipates great support from the community and throughout the Chicago area for the debut of the One Earth Film Festival in Oak Park / River Forest. Distinguished Environmental Films

Up to two-dozen long and short films on topics related to climate change, sustainability, and the power of human involvement are being selected.  Over 300 films have been evaluated, more than 70 have been screened, and many of those selected have received critical acclaim within the environmental film community. There will be some films created by local Chicago-area filmmakers, and there will be films for the whole family.  The screenings will take place throughout Oak Park/ River Forest over the weekend and will be kicked off with a celebratory event on Friday evening, April 27th that celebrates the intersection with Arbor Day.

 7 Great Reasons to Participate in the One Earth Film Festival

  1. See thought-provoking, transformative films that provide insight into climate change, sustainability, and the power of human involvement.
  2. Springtime in Oak Park and River Forest is spectacular.
  3. This is an opportunity to deepen our understanding of the challenges and be inspired by the solutions portrayed in the films.
  4. You can enjoy a pre- or post-film meal at one of our great area restaurants.
  5. Be part of something important.
  6. Have fun watching films and getting to know like-minded people!
  7. You will leave feeling more hopeful.

Stay Informed & Get Involved

A full schedule of films and locations will be available on the Green Community Connections web site and on our Facebook page by April 10th, or follow us on twitter to stay informed about this event.

If you would like to be a part of the team of volunteers that is making this event happen, we still have a few openings, and would appreciate your participation especially if you have skills/experience in: PR, web marketing, organizing, photography, social media marketing, videography, greeting and hosting people, and website tech skills. If you are interested in participating in the planning or volunteering during the event, please contact Amy Boruta.

Energy Impact Illinois - Low Interest Loans for Energy Efficiency Improvements


Energy Impact Illinois is an alliance between government groups, utilities and consumer advocates with the mission of helping residents and businesses reduce energy use and costs.   See web site to:

  • Learn. Read through the resources to understand more about energy efficiency and how you can start saving today.
  • Find energy saving actions and financial resources. Use MyHomeEQ to get personalized recommendations based on your home and its energy usage. Or, visit the “Find Energy-Saving Actions” tool to learn about more actions you can take and find incentives, rebates or low interest loans that are available to you.
  • Upgrade a broken or outdated appliance. If something breaks down or you need to replace an appliance, learn about options for selecting a more efficient model and making other improvements in your home at the same time to maximize savings.
  • Find trusted energy professionals. If you have a project that requires a professional, our “Find an Energy Professional” page can direct you to experienced contractors in your area.

Congregations to Pilot Program for Sustainability

By Jim Babcock The Interfaith Green Network of OP/RF has agreed to participate in a pilot program to begin implementing the PlanItGreen Sustainability Plan. In an upcoming workshop, congregation representatives will learn about and discuss benchmarking metrics for three of the top areas of concern as identified by the Sustainability Plan: energy, water, and waste.  The workshop will be held Monday, March 5, 2012, 7-8:30 pm, at the Oak Park Main Library, Veterans Room, 2nd Floor, and is presented by the Interfaith Green Network, the Delta Institute, and Seven Generations Ahead. All congregations are encouraged to join this pilot program, and share experiences, learn how to save money, and gain inspiration from others who are working to clean up the environment.

In the pilot program, participating congregations will first record usage over the past year in each of these three areas.  Next, each congregation will set reduction goals and identify steps to reduce use of energy and water, and the amount of waste that goes to the landfill.

PlanItGreen Goals

In the energy area, the PlanItGreen Sustainability Plan calls for energy use reduction by 3% per year for 10 years, through energy efficiency measures. It also calls for an increase in the rate of diversion of waste from landfills to increase from the current overall 38% rate to 50% by 2015. And it calls for a reduction of potable water consumption and storm water runoff. The Interfaith Green Network sees working toward conservation goals as an opportunity to both save money over time and to become better stewards of earth’s resources.

Future pilot program events include a follow-up luncheon meeting for church staff, such as building engineers and business managers, scheduled for Monday, March 19, 12-1:30 pm, at St. Giles Church. And the pilot program will progress with a meeting in April, date TBD, to continue to discuss the many practical options and strategies for attaining the congregations’ goals.

To register, or for more information email