Countdown to Earth Day: Elgin Commission Puts ‘Sustainability’ Into Action
- This month, Kane County Connects will highlight the organizations that are working to conserve and protect our local environment. Check out this “Countdown to Earth Day” feature every day from now until April 22 to learn more about the people and projects that are helping to improve sustainability throughout the Fox Valley. Our guest writer today is Molly Center, a multimedia specialist with the city of Elgin and liaison to the Elgin Sustainability Commission.
We often talk about “sustainability,” but what exactly is that?
And how can a community turn sustainability planning into action?
For the Elgin Sustainability Commission, sustainability is an effort in which Elgin seeks to develop a community that is economically, environmentally and socially sustained — a community that everyone wants to live in and wants future generations to inherit.
Starting in 2009, the Sustainability Master Plan provided the city of Elgin with a sustainable vision. More than 100 Elgin citizens developed and wrote a Sustainability Action Plan, which addressed nine key areas of sustainability:
- Alternative Energy
- Economic Development
- Green Building Technology
- Green Infrastructure
- Healthy Living & Community Education
- Recycling and Waste Management
- Transportation & Mobility
- Urban Design
- Water Resources.
The action plan’s purpose is “to improve the quality of life for Elgin citizens and improve its local environment, while making Elgin a more viable and vibrant place to live.”
In 2011, the Elgin Sustainability Commission was created. The commission consists of nine members, six of whom belong to the community at large, and three of whom are city staff members. The commission meets once a month to oversee implementation of the Sustainability Action Plan, hear presentations from business, advocacy groups and other associations regarding opportunities for the city of Elgin, and nominate and award the Sustainability Honor Roll.
During the past five years, Elgin has made significant progress on achieving goals in the Sustainability Action Plan’s nine areas.
Sustainability Success Stories
So, what’s been accomplished, so far?
Here are six examples, among many:
(1) Ordinances Have Been Adopted
Ordinances are laws passed by municipalities to provide citywide rules and regulations. Elgin’s City Council adopted a tree preservation ordinance, a solar ordinance and a backyard chicken ordinance.
(2) Friends of the Fox, Conservation Foundation Programs Have Been Initiated
Elgin assisted in funding an educator for Friends of the Fox, a non-profit organization of concerned citizens taking action to protect and maintain the quality of the Fox River watershed. The city also provides the organization annual support. Elgin participates in The Conservation Foundation’s rain barrel program and supports its Mighty Acorns programming, an environmental education program that connects third-grade through fifth-grade students to multiple, meaningful and sustained interactions with their local ecosystems.
In the last year, Mighty Acorns programming at Hillcrest Elementary School in Elgin doubled from three to six classrooms.
(3) The ESC Has Held Events, Created Incentives
Elgin provides funding for events that help educate the community on sustainability-related issues. Events include “Earth Day Celebration” at Hawthorne Hill Nature Center, Elgin Community College’s “Sustainability Expo,” “Elgin’s Green Expo,” Gail Borden Public Library’s “Swap This Upcycling Event,” “Elgin Water Day” and more. Elgin has also offered home energy savings reimbursement programs and resource conservation kits to its residents.
(4) The City Leads the Way in Stormwater Solutions
To help manage storm water, Elgin installed two permeable paved alleys and 27 parkway rain gardens in neighborhoods with combined sewer systems. This helps reduce stormwater runoff and the associated pollution.
(5) The City Supports the Use of Electric Vehicles
Recently, the city of Elgin installed an Electric Vehicle Charging Station in one its downtown parking decks. The charging station is free to users and can charge two vehicles at the same time.
(6) Elgin Partners on Waste and Recycling Efforts
The city of Elgin has partnered with Waste Management to help promote its “Recycle Often, Recycle Right” campaign. The recycling industry has changed, and it is crucial to educate the public on what has changed. Some things that are generally recyclable are no longer accepted in curbside recycling programs.
What’s Next: Education and Outreach
The Elgin Sustainability Commission is focusing its efforts on education and community outreach. For example, the group is discussing opportunities for composting and community gardening. The group is also brainstorming strategies to reduce plastic bag use.
A major issue of focus is water. Elgin Mayor David Kaptain joined the Wyland National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, and is encouraging residents to conserve water and energy. The city also uses newsletters, social media campaigns and its mobile app to promote water conservation and stormwater education.
Since the recent adoption of the solar ordinance in Elgin, the city is working to promote solar as an option for residents, especially those building new homes.
In 2015, the Sustainability Commission began recognizing businesses, organizations, individuals, and educational programs with the Sustainability Honor Roll. This award is a way for the City to recognize and thank said groups for their role in making Elgin a sustainable community. It recognizes that, beyond the municipality, it takes the cooperative effort of the community, its residents and organizations, to bring change that can sustain many generations to come.