Footprints in the land

By Joe Cressman and Sarah A. Meisch
Elmhurst, IL (June 07, 2007)- Remember the first time you recycled? Suddenly, you were part of a small but vastly important crusade. Setting that blue crate at the roadside, you felt world-wise and sophisticated. Mother Earth began to gaze more fondly on you.

Today, recycling is just a drop in the rain barrel of eco-friendly practices that have become more common, and thus, gentler on the pocketbook. In an age when stores like The Home Depot have begun to offer all-natural insect repellents, organic plant food and vegetables in biodegradable pots, jumping
on the green bandwagon could be easier than ever.
“Over the last decade, a lot has happened to further our understanding of the environment,” said Jim Patchett of Elmhurst, who founded the Conservation Design Forum in 1994. “(Sustainable practices) have become common sense. For a long time, people thought they weren’t cost effective. But all of that has been proven wrong.”The Conservation Design Forum works to better integrate buildings and homes with the environment.
On the development end, landmark events such as the formation of the U.S. Green Building Council in 1993 and the 2000 creation of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a nationally accepted rating system for sustainable development, have provided clear guidelines and incentives for using sustainable design, Patchett said. In Chicago, LEED certification for municipal and private projects is becoming more the rule than the exception.
“Chicago is truly becoming one of the greenest cities in the U.S., if not the world,” Patchett said. “This is not a small segment of the design populous. It’s becoming a part of the regulatory climate.” Eventually, the cost of going green will drop under heightened competition, he said. “As more and more contractors become comfortable with green buildings, prices will come down,” Patchett said.
The trend is gaining momentum in DuPage County. Three of Elmhurst’s largest institutions are using sustainable practices in separate multimillion-dollar projects.
Elmhurst Memorial Healthcare will use recycled materials in building its new $450 million hospital at the south end of the city, and roughly 40 percent of the site will be landscaped with trees and native shrubs. Builders also plan to create rooftop gardens that patients can visit.
Elmhurst Community Unit District 205 is incorporating natural light, better ventilation systems and resource-saving fixtures into its $40 million venture to place additions on 11 schools in the next year-and-a-half.
And Elmhurst College is pursuing LEED status for its new $24 million dormitory. Builders will use underground detention ponds, cisterns and water gardens to conserve water. The site also will include native plants and a parking lot built with permeable pavers.
The building would be the region’s first college housing unit to earn LEED certification.
In Lombard, the village is working to make its own actions and those of its residents more environmentally friendly. In April, Lombard joined a northeastern Illinois initiative called Clean Air Counts. The program aims to reduce air pollution by promoting such things as the use of energy-efficient appliances, products with low-volatile organic compounds, cleaner-emission vehicles and low-impact landscaping.
“It’s the start of a commitment toward using products and practices for a healthy environment,” said Dave Gorman, assistant director of public works. Lombard already has a thriving recycling program, with about 30 percent of what is picked up by the village’s waste management company separated as recyclable, Gorman said. “That’s a high number compared to other communities,” he said. He attributes the high participation rate to Lombard’s “recycling totes on wheels,” which make it convenient for people to separate recyclables from waste and roll it to the curb for pickup.
Lombard also is working to make new developments better for rain and ground water runoff through better management practices.
St. Paul Lutheran Church in Villa Park is working to reduce its environmental footprint. “We have a green team committee that’s looking at ways to reduce how much we use, to be able to recycle what we use,” said Debbie Espy, a co-chairwoman of the committee.
Options the green team are exploring include having people bring their own coffee mugs to events to replace Styrofoam cups and having regular dishes for church functions instead of paper products. The church already is using cloth napkins instead of paper ones, Espy said. The church got the idea from a Web site,, that offers “ecology resources to transform faith and society.” “Somebody read about it and we looked into it,” she said. “It seemed like an important thing to do.”
Besides the environmental effects, in the long run the changes could have an economic impact, too. “It will certainly save the church some money,” she said. “Not a lot, but (having your own dishes) is less expensive than buying paper products.”
For the full article, visit Elmhurst Press.