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An unprecedented darkness could envelope towns and cities around the world this month, and Forest Park hopes to emerge as a shining example.

For one hour on the evening of March 29, the village will join tens of thousands of communities across the globe and turn off its lights to show support for more eco-friendly and sustainable practices. Earth Hour, an international event first organized last year in Australia, seeks to inspire energy consumers to make small but meaningful changes in their lifestyle thereby reducing their footprint on Mother Earth.

In 2007, 2.2 million people and 2,100 businesses in Sydney turned off their lights for an hour, according to the web site earthhour.org. The energy saved during that 60 minute span had an impact similar to taking 48,000 cars off the highway for an entire year.

This year’s Earth Hour will begin at 8 p.m., and Chicago is the flagship city for the United States. In Forest Park, the village has pledged to shutoff any non-essential lights and is hoping that business owners and residents follow suit.

“It’s really more for encouraging our residential community to think globally and act locally,” Village Administrator Mike Sturino said.

Given that Earth Hour will take place on a Saturday evening, the municipal offices will be closed anyhow. Street lights, police offices and other critical services that rely on electricity will remain illuminated, according to Sturino.

Though it is a largely symbolic event, ComEd – a corporate participant – will attempt to quantify how much energy is saved when lights across northern Illinois are turned off. John Dewey, a spokesperson for the power supplier, said there are roughly 3.8 million consumers plugged into ComEd’s network. It’s possible, he said, that as much as a 5 percent reduction in energy consumption could be realized.

The mayor’s administrative assistant, Sally Cody, discovered the program several weeks ago and pitched it as a worthwhile program for the village. Cody said the Chamber of Commerce and Development will be invited to spread the word, and suggested restaurants could use the event as an excuse to set a more intimate mood with candles.

“It is a late hour … hopefully they’ll take advantage of it,” Cody said.