With climate change occurring far faster than scientists initially predicted, Oak Park and River Forest are lagging in their efforts to address it, as outlined in the sustainability goals they set for themselves in 2010. That was when the two communities launched a 10-year sustainability initiative called PlanItGreen, which every two years issues a report card on progress achieved — or not.
The 2018 Community Sustainability Report Card for Oak Park and River Forest is just out. And while the overall results are mixed, both communities got a “D” for their efforts in the energy category. Oak Park and River Forest have stagnated at 4% renewable energy procurement over the past six years — compared to the plan’s 25% renewable energy goal target by 2025. Also, per capita greenhouse gas emissions related to building energy use increased in 2018 compared to the last three report card years.
“A rapid and comprehensive change in policy and practice in our communities will be needed to keep pace with global forecasting,” the report card says.
Issued by PlanItGreen, the report card is a project of the OPRF Community Foundation’s Communityworks initiative, facilitated by Seven Generations Ahead, which tracks progress against sustainability goals created by both communities. It uses the universally understood A to F grading system to evaluate nine sustainability metrics.
PlanItGreen, the only multi-community sustainability plan in the Chicago metro area, engages community taxing bodies (governments, schools, park districts, libraries), major institutions (hospitals, universities, faith-based congregations), residents, businesses and community groups in implementing the sustainability plan.
A recent landmark report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change describes a world of worsening natural disasters, food shortages and a massive coral reef die-off by 2040 if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at current rates. According to the report, global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) must be reduced 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and 100% by 2050. Renewable energy, use would have to increase by as much as 67% by 2040.
While institutional leaders from both communities agree with the renewable energy goals of the plan, few are taking action. The Park District of Oak Park is a shining star, installing multiple solar panel arrays on its buildings and taking advantage of LED lighting installation rebates, among other strategies. The Oak Park Residence Corporation has procured 100% renewable energy through Renewable Energy Credits (RECs).
The village of Oak Park over the past few years has amassed a sustainability fund that stands at over $1.2 million, but it has yet to decide which efficiency and renewable energy projects the funds will support.
In other report card categories, the work of West Cook Wild Ones and other participating community institutions earned an “A” grade in Open Space/Ecosystems — as the project exceeded the goal of establishing a 500-garden native plant corridor.
In transportation, Oak Park boasts one of the highest Walk Scores nationally (78), a ranking that measures the ease of walking within a community to businesses, schools and other community destinations. Oak Park’s vehicle miles traveled have also decreased.
In the area of waste, River Forest surpassed the plan’s goal of achieving over 50% residential waste diversion from landfill. River Forest reached a 52% diversion rate and Oak Park 42%. Both communities have steadily decreased potable water consumption since 2009 (RF 22%; OP 19%), creating a positive trend line in that category.
In economic development, the nationally recognized sustainability strategy of building density in downtown areas next to transit stops — called Transit-Oriented Development — was achieved through the construction of two high-rises in Oak Park. They both have green building features, in addition to providing needed support for local businesses and reducing reliance on automobiles.
Climate change is global and the Midwest, Illinois, and Oak Park are not immune from the effects. More must be done at every level — national, state and local — if we are truly serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Here in our two communities, we’ve taken some steps in a positive direction. But, as the report card shows, it’s time to work on achieving much better grades.
For full report details, visit https://sevengenerationsahead.org/sustainable-communities/planitgreen
Gary Cuneen, an Oak Park resident, is executive director of Seven Generations Ahead.