By Tom Holmes
The Forest Park Village Council created a new Environmental Commission with the aim of making the community greener at a board meeting on April 22.
Lucia Whalen, who is a contributing reporter for the Review, was chosen to chair the group. The 24-year-old started the informal "Go Green Forest Park" group just a year ago and sees herself as a convener, educator and motivator. When she met with Mayor Anthony Calderone several months ago to talk about the creation of an environmental commission, she told him that addressing sustainability issues would require a lot of expertise.
"Taking steps to reduce the community's carbon footprint requires more than just passion," she said. "I'll take the leadership role in terms of organizing and bringing people together, but in terms of technical expertise, I'll arguably be the least useful person on the commission."
That's why she and Calderone "intentionally crafted" a group of Forest Park residents with loads of experience and knowledge. Members include Karen Rozmus, the former Environment Services Manager in Oak Park who started Forest Park's recycling program; Etta Worthington, a community organizer with Western Front Invincible; Jessica Rinks, an award-winning farmer who helped start the Forest Park Community Garden; David Gulyas, a LEED-certified sustainable building and interior design consultant; William Gerst, who is a member of the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce; and architect Scott Whitebone.
Last year, Go Green Forest Park met once a month at Counter Coffee, with meetings drawing as many as 16 people. Whalen aimed to get the group to lobby to create a municipal compost system; get the village to commit to using 100 percent renewable energy; and create an official sustainability commission.
As of Monday, the group's third goal has been met. In regards to the first goal, Whalen credits resident Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin with getting Republic Waste Removal to start a program that gives compost bins to customers and picks them up weekly.
"It's a good first step," Whalen said, "but I don't think it's a comprehensive enough program. People complained that because you can't use compostable bags to contain scraps, everything gets messy and gross. I'm glad we have it and hopefully we can adjust it to make it more it more comprehensive."
Her main focus for the new commission, she said, will be on energy and waste.
"My main priority would be to get a commitment from Mayor-elect [Rory] Hoskins to commit to 100 percent renewable" energy, she said, adding that she would want the commitment to be made through an organization like the Sierra Club or Climate Reality, so the organization holds the village accountable.
Regarding waste, Whalen said the village should start by conducting an audit of where its waste goes. The next step would be to produce a report so officials gain a better understanding of what happens to waste in Forest Park, and how much the village produces, so officials can reflect on ways to reduce the village's carbon footprint.
The village could market its green initiatives, since millennials and others are attracted to communities that have the image of being green, Whalen said.
More than that, however, Whalen said she is motivated by fear. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that the world has just 12 years to reverse its wasteful practices.
"I do feel a sense of urgency," she said. "Since the national government is taking such a long time to do anything, state and local governments have a role to play. Forest Park can make a statement."
Whalen said she also sees a spiritual and philosophical component to her views on sustainability.
"One of the basic principles of ecology," she said, "is that everything is interconnected. Every single piece of garbage we produce goes somewhere and affects someone. When you start to see those connections it's really unsettling, and it also makes you feel that you have a greater responsibility.
"When you see what's going on," she concluded, "you either go into denial or you recognize that you have a responsibility."