Aurora resident Mavis Bates recalls planning an Earth Day celebration in the 1990s when recycling was just a nice idea.
“People thought I must be nuts for doing this,” she says of her Earth Day celebration efforts. “But there is a change in the air. Today people think others are nuts if they don’t recycle and care for the earth.”
After that first Earth Day event, Bates and others moved from awareness into action. They worked with the city to form a solid waste advisory committee, which led to curbside recycling and waste stickers. Efforts continued and this grass roots group, known today as Aurora Green Lights, is about to celebrate its fifth Green Fest, a day dedicated to environmental awareness and education.
Steve Tiwald, founder and executive director of the Green Earth Institute in Naperville, also recognizes a change in ecological attitude.
“In 2002, I was writing the first brochure about the Green Earth Institute,” Tiwald said. “I wanted to use the term ‘environmental sustainability,’ but it was a very uncommon word.”
He says an Internet search then provided little information when he was trying to define it. Today it’s a different story.
“But if you look for information on that term today, you will see there is a huge awareness and not only from a few people,” he said. “Business, government and schools are all aware of the issues and, more importantly, they are all taking action. I see the change, and it is remarkable.”
As Tiwald observed, it seems that Naperville, Aurora and the surrounding suburbs have not only embraced environmental sustainability but they are also actively involved in bringing about change.
Many local governments have formed committees focusing on green issues. In Oswego, there is the Environmentally Conscious Oswego Commission that keeps conservation and sustainability in city plans.
They plan annual recycling events and other efforts such as a river cleanup that is scheduled for Aug. 9.
The Yorkville Area Chamber of Commerce has a Green Committee to encourage green practices.
“We have set up a program where local businesses can be designated a green business,” says Norman Johnson, Green Committee chairman. “We set up guidelines and then do what we can to help and encourage businesses to be green.”
In addition to local government organizations, independent groups have been founded to promote environmentally sound actions.
The Conservation Foundation is a 41-year-old nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting land and rivers in DuPage, Kane, Kendall and Will counties.
The group has more than 3,500 members and 500 volunteers. The foundation supports numerous programs throughout the counties. The Green Earth Institute leases land that was donated to the Conservation Foundation for its farm and hosts many educational programs, including the Green Earth Fair in May each year.
The Green Buddha Life Sustainability Center is a newer organization. It recently opened in Aurora with a goal of spurring environmental justice and promoting environmental health for all people.
One way these many organizations promote awareness is through festivals. Yorkville Green Committee members have hosted a Spring “Go Green” Environmental Fair for six years. The Oswego ECO hosts an annual spring recycling event. The Green Earth Institute hosted their 11th Green Earth Fair in May.
“Our first open house had about 50 people who attended,” Tiwald said. “This year we had over 40 exhibitors, music and activities for about 1,200 people.”
Although many green festivals are in the spring near Earth Day, some happen during the summer.
Aurora Green Fest will be from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Saturday at Prisco Community Center and McCullough Park, 150 W. Illinois Ave., Aurora.
“This will be our fifth one,” Bates said. “Our first one had about 300 people and last year, there were about 1,500 people in attendance.”
The Green Fest trade show will feature more than 100 eco-friendly exhibitors. Nature will be celebrated with bee-keeping demonstrations and information on chickens, eagles and bats. A Green Car, Truck and Bike Expo will feature transportation options, including a chance to see a Tesla.
Local farms will be represented with information about participation in CSA as well as organic and hydroponic gardening information. Music and children’s activities will provide entertainment for all ages.
A recycling extravaganza will be set up to collect everything from computers to medications to musical instruments. See the list of items being collected as well as additional information at auroragreenfest.com.
Batavia will host the Green Fair on the Fox from 9 am. until 3 p.m. Aug. 9 on the town’s RiverWalk.
“We started as the Green Walk in 2008 but changed the name because some people thought it was a run,” says Carolyn Burnham, one of the event organizers. “We will have about 70 vendors who can help with ideas for living a more sustainable lifestyle. We want it to be informative but also fun.”
An event that also embraces the sustainable lifestyle is VeggieFest, the ninth annual vegetarian food extravaganza scheduled from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. Aug. 9 and 10. More than 25,000 people attended last year’s event on the grounds of the Science of Spirituality Meditation Center, 4s175 Naperville-Plainfield Road in Naperville.
“There are several reasons this event is so popular,” says Jonathan Kruger, one of the event organizers. “The first is that it is very family oriented with great music, food demos, arts, crafts and a food court. It is also a place where people can learn how to have a healthier lifestyle. It is a warm, comfortable, non-threatening way to learn about eating well.”
He says he’s pretty sure it is the largest event of its kind in North America.
“Last year 3,000 people took the vegetarian challenge to be vegetarian for one week,” Kruger said. “We have 800 volunteers from all over the world come to this event.”
When asked about whether all of these efforts result in change, Rebekah Axtell, an Aurora Green Fest organizer, says that the steps toward progress are steady.
“I had a bike that sat in my garage for five years,” she said.
“Then I read about a challenge to ride a bike to Green Fest, so I rode my bike to Green Fest. Now I bike all around the city.
“People want to do something to help but aren’t sure how. We provide them with affordable and attainable options.”
Examples of how to help include installing solar panels and buying produce from local farms.
“People want the tools,” Bates said. “People are developing a passion for the environment because they know it needs to be protected so it is a safe place for our children and our grandchildren.”
Tiwald said the next steps are action in many different ways.
“We owe it to our children and grandchildren to stabilize and reverse the effects of greenhouse gases by making some changes in our lifestyle,” Tiwald said. “It is not my challenge. It is our challenge.”Tags: Conservation Foundation, DuPage County, go green, Green Buddha Life Sustainability Center, Green Earth Institute