Friday, December 27, 2013

Morton Arboretum Scores With Illumination, But Is It Green?

After hearing a minister decry the commercialized trivialization of the important messages associated with the holidays during this year's Christmas Eve service, I was struck by the power of a candle in its ability to stir the soul. And yet, two nights later, my wife and I joined the thousands of people who are flocking to Morton Arboretum to see Illumination, a new kind of holiday lighting display.  The display is truly enchanting and unique.  The display requires visitors to walk around Meadow Lake and up the small hill. Walking the path reveals an enchanting display of color and motion with interesting opportunities for visitors to interact with the display.  There are stations along the route for buying hot chocolate and cider (and yes, “spiked” if you want it) and there were several warming campfires.  I must say the Arboretum did well in making this an enjoyable family experience.

The light changes colors and brightness, with spotlights shining up into the trees.  Some of the lights are in motion, while others were stationary but revealing the beauty and texture of tree bark and branches.  There are several opportunities for interaction between trees and visitors, including the ability to cause trees to light up in response to a tight tree-hugging.  My favorite is the ability of visitors to project images of their own faces into the tree canopy.

Although Illumination allows us to see trees in a new light, I noticed it has a tendency to reduce human interaction with nature on nature’s terms; it becomes a more abstract entertainment experience.  You may disagree with me on this point, and I welcome your thoughts.

If nothing else, Illumination shows how far light-emitting diode (LED) technology has come in just a few years.  The lights at Illumination, which are mostly focused beams of light, are absolutely intense when viewed up close, and can be used more creatively than incandescent lamps.  As a side note, some incandescent bulbs will soon be disappearing from store shelves due to tightening federal energy efficiency standards, but this may not be noticed once consumers find out how many amazing new bulbs that are now becoming available.  We are in the midst of the most significant lighting revolution since the light bulb was made practical over a hundred years ago by Thomas Edison.  ComEd is a co-sponsor, and is a promoter of LED technology, as is the Cool Cities movement.

Because of environmental concerns about the promise and peril of LEDs and the possibility of the exhibit encouraging more backsliding on society’s efforts, such as they are, to reduce light pollution, I had engaged the Arboretum staff in some discussion about the sustainable aspects of this display.  The brochure states the display uses as much energy as three homes. I have not seen the math used to arrive at that figure, but there is a fallacy in arguing that LEDs are “green” when you are burning energy to save energy, a lot like spending money at a retail store where they say “you saved money today.”  We all know better.  Don’t we?  LED lights are indeed more energy efficient than older incandescent lamps, but adding this new event at Morton Arboretum – even if we judge it worthwhile – represents a carbon footprint increase for the institution. 

The Arboretum correctly points out that this is a family experience for the holidays.  In that respect, the display truly shines. It also offers visitors a new experience at gazing at the structure of trees.  And of course, it is bringing in more money to support good tree advocacy and research programs.  Finally, Arboretum staff claimed they gave serious consideration to ecological concerns such as having a winter time display that has minimal effects on insect life. 

So should you try this at home?  Arguably not!   The Arboretum had access to a professional lighting company known for supporting sporting events and rock concerts that has access to the latest technology.  The Arboretum has large grounds suitable for such a display.

But as soon as this technology begins to trickle into big-box retailing environment, I expect to see more amateur lighting projects popping up in suburban backyards.  I do not believe homeowners are as knowledgeable or sensitive as the Arboretum may have attempted to be.  Homeowners will try to make it a year-round experience, and may have a negative impact on neighbors.  It will also make it even harder to see the stars at night.  As pointed out by darksky advocates an entire generation of Chicago area residents has grown up without seeing the moist magical light show of all - the aurora borealis and the Milky Way.  My suggestion: we leave displays like Illumination to the professionals, as we should do with large fireworks.   The environmental movement should not deprive us of the human need to celebrate the darkness of winter and the magic of holidays with light.  It is indeed important to us.  So leave home with your family and visit a large display such as Illumination. With the money you save by not buying all of the latest gadgets and technology that will soon become available, consider making a donation to an institution like Morton Arboretum, or any environmental group you choose, with the money you save.

Perhaps it is another zoo-light experience done differently, but soon it will be over, and the natural environment of the Arboretum will return to peaceful slumber during the stillness and darkness of night as nature rests for the winter.

Illumination continues through January 4, 2014 at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle.

-Jeff Gahris

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The genesis of DuPage County's first food co-op

The Prairie Food Co-op has been formed and is seeking members.  Already over 90 people have joined.  After a feasibility study is completed and location selected, a retail store will open to feature local and organic foods.

“Meet the Co-op” Forum
  • Wednesday, December 5, 6:00 – 7:00 pm at the Corner Coffee House  (100 W St Charles Rd, Lombard)
The co-op invites interested folks for an informal meet-up to learn more about the co-op, ownership, and anything else you’re curious about. “Meet the Co-op” forums provide opportunities to discuss the co-op with owners and PFC Board members. Owners and non-owners alike are welcome. Appetizers will be provided. Drinks available for purchase. Come relax and socialize with some great people!

For more information, visit the Prairie Food Co-op web site.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Eco-activities and news for DuPage County

There is a lot going on in Glen Ellyn and surrounding suburbs.  Here is  a sampler of upcoming  events and news items.

Cool Calendar:

November 20 - Prairie Food Coop offers its first public forum in Lombard to learn about what a food coop store is and how to become an owner.

November 23 - Naperville Astronomical Association open house at Astronomy Education Center in Naperville.  Look through large amateur telescopes (weather permitting), NAA stargazing.

November 27 - Deadline for energy efficiency grants for schools, Illinois State Board of Education.

November 30 - This Thanksgiving, you can recycle cooking oil in Glen Ellyn.  For other locations, see the list posted on the SCARCE web site.

December 8 - Ten Thousand Villages fundraiser for Glen Ellyn League of Women Voters, shopping from 12-4 pm. - new location.

December 14 - Next restoration work day at Glen Ellyn Park district

Various dates - DuPage Forest Preserve Restoration workdays and progress tours.

News items:

Illinois DNR proposes new hydraulic fracturing rules for oil and gas wells.  The photo above shows Jennifer Hensley of the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club explaining the new fracking laws at the Glen Ellyn Civic Center during a recent Sierra Club River Prairie Group program.

The Conservation Foundation announces a new preserve.

Illinois is more energy efficient than you might think, at least when compared to other states, ACEEE.  But for renewable energy sources like solar to really take off, we need to fix the rules, veto session update

Shop local.  Due to growing demand, Glen Ellyn has a second electric vehicle charging station in its central business district, map  Naperville has them also.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Sierra Club River Prairie Group Program on Fracking

The program being held in Glen Ellyn on Wednesday November 13 is intended to provide an update on what is happening in Illinois from a public policy and environmental protection perspective.  This is an important topic for all Illinois residents.

Nov 13 - FRACKING IN ILLINOIS, Next Steps, GLEN ELLYN CIVIC CENTER, 535 Duane Street, 7 PM

 Illinois passed fracking legislation this year. What are some of the most significant components of the legislation? What do we need to do to ensure that the regulations are enforced, permits are monitored, and supporting rules are the most effective for protecting our air, water and land?



Sunday, November 3, 2013

November calendar

Eco events in DuPage County:

Nov 3 - As we end DST for another season, we ask:  Does it save energy?  National Geographic

Nov 8 - EPA public listening session for reducing carbon emissions from power plants, in Chicago,

Nov 9 - Buckthorn removal project and trail cleanups.  The following is edited for brevity.  Contact the Village of Lombard for additional information.

The Village is seeking your help to remove trash and buckthorn from the Illinois Prairie Path and Great Western Trail. The official time is 9 am-Noon on Saturday. Volunteers for the buckthorn work must be at least 10 years old and sign a waiver. The waiver may be either submitted before the event or brought that morning. Volunteers picking up trash do not need to complete a waiver. Please contact Dave Gorman, Assistant Director of Public Works, at 630-620-5765 or to sign up for a trail section. Thanks for being one of those that make a difference! - Dave David P. Gorman, PE Asst. Director of Public Works Village of Lombard, p: 630-620-5765 c: 630-769-1868 f:

Nov 13 - Sierra Club program "Fracking in Illinois: The Next Steps," with Jen Hensley of the Illinois Sierra club office, 7 pm, Glen Ellyn Civic Center.

Nov 14 - Green Infrastructure Workshop, Conservation Foundation

Nov 15 - America Recycles Day,

Nov 19 - Fall membership dinner, "The Community Benefits of Open Space," Conservation Foundation

Dec 8 - Ten Thousand Villages fundraiser for Glen Ellyn League of Women Voters, shopping from 12-4 pm.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Ten Thousand Villages Updates its Lighting

If you are like me, you may have traveled to another town and noticed advanced lighting being widely used in commercial buildings.  Light emitting diode (LED) technology is dropping in price, and due to its high performance, it is becoming embraced by many retailers.  And quietly, it has been coming to Glen Ellyn.
So where can you find it?
Consider Ten Thousand Villages, a chain of Fair Trade retail stores that has a Glen Ellyn location.  As stated on its Web Site, “Ten Thousand Villages is an exceptional source for unique handmade gifts, jewelry, home decor, art and sculpture, textiles, serveware and personal accessories representing the diverse cultures of artisans in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.  One of the world's largest fair trade organizations and a founding member of the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), the company strives to improve the livelihood of tens of thousands of disadvantaged artisans in 38 countries.”
When Ten Thousand Villages recently moved a few doors down from its prior location on Pennsylvania Avenue, it made significant advances to its lighting in keeping with its corporate principles.  Always committed to adopting sustainability practices, the store now makes extensive use of LED lighting fixtures.  The light is surprisingly bright, yet it provides a warm pleasant feeling.  This effectively highlights retail products that are on display.  Additionally, when compared to incandescent lighting, LED results in a substantial reduction in electrical use.  Consider a 10 watt bulb replacing a 75 watt incandescent: an 80 percent reduction.  In a retail store with dozens of fixtures that are lit up all day, and to some degree, all night, this really adds up.
This is a good example of what local businesses can do to reduce energy consumption while enhancing the appeal of the shopping experience.  Such initiatives show that it is not difficult to incorporate retail store improvements into community sustainability plans.

-Jeff Gahris

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

High Performance Home Construction

Last July, my wife Bonnie and I enjoyed visiting several homes meeting LEED standards that were part of Chicagoland’s 2013 GreenBuilt Home Tour.  LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and is a rating system designed to assure that buildings are properly certified for a given level of performance.  LEED is normally associated with high-end commercial buildings, but the concept has now been extended to residences. The process can be difficult, but homes that meet LEED standards are more comfortable, less expensive to operate, have a reduced risk of indoor toxic chemical exposures, and of course, promise a lower carbon footprint.  This is explained further in the website, LEED for Homes Illinois.

According to Jason Lefleur of the Alliance for Environmental Sustainability, "We had a great summer weekend to enjoy the inaugural GreenBuilt Home Tour which took place July 20-21.  With 16 participating homes, 400+ attendees, and over 1,500 site visits, our first year was a success.”  To view these lovely homes, GreenBuilt Tour.

OK, back to the tour.  The homes we visited were in pleasant suburban neighborhoods west of Chicago.  What we noticed in each home were various custom design features and floor plans.  These were not designs from a designer’s catalog. The homeowners were present, and seemed quite proud of how they integrated features that addressed their particular needs.  Many had a detailed knowledge of how the advanced features of their homes worked.  That included building envelope and window construction, bamboo flooring, geothermal furnaces, and advanced heat recovery ventilation systems.  Yes, we were talking to some serious eco-geeks, but the homes were both beautiful and functional, and they looked much like conventional homes from the street.  Interestingly, there were no solar panels.  Just high performance homes that made our home seem primitive by comparison. 

Although as a society we seem to nibble at the edges of our problems, this represents our future.  If LEED looks a bit expensive for you, be aware that in Illinois all new construction must meet the new international energy conservation standards for building construction, as described at the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity web site, ILDCEO.

With a growing interest in high performance homes, and a statewide mandate, expect in the future some rather substantial reductions in energy use that will make our communities more resilient to future price swings for natural gas and electricity.  As one local architect put it, this is a “game changer.”

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Eco Friendly Homes

From time to time you will see guest posts on this blog.  Varied opinions and perspectives are valuable. With this in mind, we have Kendala Coleman of Redfin discussing eco-friendly living and home buying opportunities from a realtor's perspective.  Be aware that homes can be "green" in different ways, and  to varying degrees.  Soon, I will summarize a few homes that were featured on the Chicago area's first Green Built Home Tour which highlighted cutting edge custom-designed homes that meet LEED standards.  LEED may not be for everyone, so it is useful to know that realtors can help steer you toward other homes with the eco-features you are seeking.

- Jeff Gahris

Going Green in Glen Ellyn
By Kendala Coleman

According to, the typical U.S. family spends at least $2,000 a year on home utility bills. By taking measures to increase energy efficiency and reduce water waste, homeowners can reduce these costs significantly and shrink their environmental footprint at the same time. Here are Redfin’s top budget-friendly home updates that you can make to help save money and make your home more energy efficient:

1.       Seal gaps on doors and windows with caulking and weather-stripping to save energy.

2.       Maintain your sprinkler system so you don’t waste water with leaky spigots.

3.       Make sure your attic is properly insulated to stabilize the climate in your house.

4.       Install low-flow sinks, showers and toilets to save water.

This list was compiled by Julie Jacobson, a Redfin Agent who is certified as a LEED Green Associate. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, the most widely used green building program worldwide.
“All of the incentives out there can really help homeowners with the initial costs associated with making their home more green. And over time, with all of the savings on monthly bills, the upgrades can quickly pay for themselves,” said Jacobson.

To help homeowners pay for these upgrades, there are a variety of city, county, state and utility rebates, as well as some federal and state tax credits and loan options available. More information on various incentives available in each state can be found in the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency, or DSIRE. Make sure to look into these programs before making upgrades to your home. This can really help increase your ROI.

What to consider when buying a home

When looking for a new home, keep in mind that houses with green certifications such as GreenPoint, EarthCraft, ENERGY STAR®, or LEED have the potential to use 20-30 percent less energy and water than homes built using conventional standards. If a home doesn’t have these certifications, it doesn’t mean it isn’t saving energy and money in ways that you can’t see. When touring a home, ask about the age of the windows, hot water heater, insulation and ventilation system. Having new heating and cooling systems often means more energy-efficient heating and cooling and more money in the bank.

Eco-friendly homes in DuPage County
Check out these popular DuPage County homes for sale with energy-efficient features:
3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths
Eco Features: passive solar home, furnace replaced in 2010
Listed by: Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage
Downers Grove, IL
813 Old Orchard Avenue
3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths
Eco Features: energy-efficient HVAC, Solar Tubes, whole house fan
Listed by: Coldwell Banker Residential
Wheaton, IL
416 N Main Street
5 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms
Eco Features: Energy independent generator, two HVAC systems
Listed by: Prudential Rubloff

Check out other featured homes in the Redfin Collection Eco-friendly Homes in DuPage County and find more energy-efficient homes in DuPage County at

If you’re thinking about buying or selling a home soon and have any questions on this information, I’m happy to help. You can read my recent reviews from clients and view my contact information on

Friday, August 30, 2013

Announcing a series of posts about community sustainability and resiliency

Expect to see in the comings days a series of posts following the theme of community sustainability and resiliency to the effects of climate change.  Although some of the topics may not seem related they really are.  In our world of highly specialized careers, we often fail to see the connections between various environmental and social problems, and the proposed solutions.  For example, the image presented here is an historic icon located in downtown Glen Ellyn.  It is from the past, any yet it holds meaning for many residents.  No wonder this photograph has been circulated by others in Glen Ellyn.  Embracing our strong sense of place, of history, and of community will be part our theme.   Follow these posts, feel free to react and comment, and enjoy the journey.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Final community survey results

In a couple of social and informative events in Glen Ellyn this Spring, we gathered information about the environmental concerns of those present.  This was not a professional survey by any means, but we learned that there is an overarching concern: we care most about our families, our communities, and the general health of the environment that supports us.

When asked about what we need to do for our communities, these are some of the specific concerns in order of popularity:

  • Sustainable food, using native plants, and gardening
  • Lawn care, pesticide use, and urban trees
  • Transportation planning
  • Public education and advocacy
  • Community sustainability planning
  • Energy efficiency in buildings
  • Use of renewable energy
When asked what we need to do to address climate change, opinions varied widely.  Although harder to summarize as bullets, ideas included:

  • Education and advocacy (in various forms)
  • Using renewable energy
  • Energy efficiency

This includes input from the residents of Glen Ellyn and surrounding communities, and includes environmental activists as well as interested citizens.   Environmental groups and municipalities in DuPage County should find this summary useful for planning purposes.  We believe there is community interest and support for doing more than what we are now doing.'

Thanks to Bonnie Gahris for summarizing the results, which will soon appear in detail in a full report.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Spring/summer eco-events

Follow the links below for green education and fun:

May 9-11, Wheaton Glen Ellyn AAUW book sale

May 18, Conservation Foundation's DuPage River Sweep

May 19, Sierra Club River Prairie Group's Party on the Farm

May 22,The Resiliency Institute, Nutrient-dense gardening

June 30, Sierra Club outing, wind farm tour

Summer activities at Morton Arboretum

Some lawn and garden tips:
Use lawn-care products like Milorganite for less environmental impact

Consider the value of trees, including management of urban flooding.  Morton Arboretums Every Tree Matters program.

Glen Ellyn's Environmental Commission has important advice on volcano mulching.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Celebrating Earth Month

Earth Month Calendar

April 21 - Arbor Week begins at Morton Arboretum,

April 22 - Earth Day Summit at Lake Ellyn Boathouse; 7-8:30 pm  (From Glen Ellyn Park District Newsletter)

Join us this Earth Day for an evening of information and inspiration. Several local environmental organizations will explain their roles in greening our community and share ideas on how you can help in these efforts. Organizations include:
  • Citizens for Glen Ellyn Preservation
  • First Congregational Church of Glen Ellyn - Environmental Ministry Team
  • First Presbyterian Church of Glen Ellyn - Earthlings Group
  • GardenWorks DuPage
  • Glen Ellyn Cool Cities Coalition
  • Glen Ellyn Environmental Commission
  • IL Coalition for Responsible Outdoor Lighting
  • The Resiliency Institute
  • River Prairie Sierra Club
  • Wild Ones: Greater DuPage Chapter

April 27 - Glen Ellyn Recycling Extravaganza,  (for similar events in other communites, see )

April 27 - Illinois Prairie Path Cleanup,

April 27 - Great Western Trail Cleanup,

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Earth Hour Comes to DuPage County

March 23 - Earth Hour party at Honey Cafe, Glen Ellyn,
You are invited to the only known Earth Hour Party in DuPage County, at Honey Cafe in Glen Ellyn, Saturday evening, March 23, 6:30 - 9 pm, for food, drink, music, and door prizes. Seating is limited, so reserve by calling Honey at 630-469-0000, by March 16. Prepayment of $25 per person is required. Includes a beverage. Please specify if you need gluten-free or vegan dining. Honey Cafe was chosen for this event because it is locally-owned and has taken steps toward environmental sustainability. Sponsored by Glen Ellyn Cool Cities Coalition in cooperation with Honey Cafe.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Winter eco-events

Some environmentally-themed events are coming up this winter:

February 23 - SCARCE Recycling Extravaganza, Glen Ellyn,

February 24 - Green Readin' book discussion, Lombard,

February 27 - Green Drinks Naperville discusses local farming, including CSAs,

February 28 - Film "Green Fire" presented at Warrenville Public Library,

March 8 - Just Views film and discussion, "When Progress Isn't! Then What?"

March 20 - Village of Glen Ellyn hosts landscaping seminar,