PlanItGreen convened its annual Institutional Leaders Forum on Dec. 5 to highlight efforts by organizations that promote sustainability and help put the brakes on climate-related impacts.

And while it is customary for River Forest Village President Cathy Adduci and Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb to attend the forum, they were in the city preparing to sign the Chicago Climate Charter, the first-of-its-kind international pact on climate change.

In their absence, Cara Pavlicek, Oak Park village manager, and Eric Palm, River Forest village administrator, reported on steps taken in 2017 toward community resilience and reducing the villages’ carbon footprints.

Pavlicek highlighted the Oak Park board’s approval earlier this year of the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge and the adoption of a non-binding resolution that calls on the Illinois General Assembly to amend the Pesticide Act. In November, Oak Park hired resident Marynda “Mindy” Agnew as the new environmental sustainability manager.

Palm pointed to River Forest trustees elevating the village’s two-year-old Sustainability Committee to a full-fledged part of village governance, making it a commission. One of its first tasks was crafting an ordinance to regulate residential beekeeping, which trustees approved in late November.

Amid these developments, PlanItGreen is staking a path to energy sustainability. That path leads straight to the sun, which is returned to Earth as solar energy.

Gary Cuneen, who is guiding PlanItGreen’s solar initiative, emphasized the importance of taking local action in the face of federal rollbacks on pro-environment regulations.  “We’re going to create our own destiny,” he said, in describing the focus on community solar. 

Over the last 24 months, a Renewable Energy/Community Solar Task Force has been laying the groundwork for a utility-scale solar array and exploring municipal aggregation that would meet PlanItGreen’s renewable energy procurement goal of 25 percent by 2020, Cuneen said. PlanItGreen is also seeking entities in both villages that would take on 25-100 kilowatt rooftop projects.

The forum also provided an overview of the third Oak Park River Forest Community Sustainability Report Card, released earlier this year. It provides snapshots of progress against sustainability goals in nine topic areas by reporting “success stories” and highlighting areas where gaps exist.

In general, there has been a slight retreat on meeting the plan’s energy goals, while both villages continue to decrease potable water use, Cuneen said. Other positive developments are the expansion of zero waste schools and the Sugar Beet Food Co-op being chosen as the best small business in the U.S. in a contest run by an organization that promotes sustainability and recycling for businesses.

As at previous forums, speakers representing various groups and organizations took brief turns coming on stage to share their one-minute success snapshots.

Some highlights: