One of the essential missions of the St. Charles Park District is to celebrate and protect the natural environment. To that end, the park district established a Green Team initiative in 2013 to oversee the implementation of Best Management Practices by its staff throughout park district facilities and programs.

In a report recently presented to the park district's Board of Directors, Laura Rudow, Deputy Director and Superintendent of Parks and Recreation, highlighted successful projects and ongoing programs outlining various ways in which Green Team initiatives have had environmental benefits, positive community impact and resulted in financial savings to the park district.

"We looked at several areas, including utilities and fuel consumption, waste removal and recycling, improvements to and maintenance of our natural areas, streamlining office supply and technology, and ways in which we could incorporate or increase community outreach," said Rudow. "Although we have to factor in seasonal changes and allow flexibility due to unforeseen events, our programs have had positive impact in virtually all areas."

One of the key components in the park district's environmental impact success has been in the area of energy and fuel consumption. By reducing the age of its transportation fleet, for example, and implementing technology that monitors fuel usage, the park district was able to identify areas where minor adjustments in operating procedures could result in major savings. Software that records the amount of time a vehicle spends with the engine running when not in traffic helped the park district establish anti-idling guidelines that reduced fuel consumption.

"Whether it's electricity or water consumption, we look at data that can be measured from one year to another," said Rudow. "In the case of our fleet of vehicles, software programs like these helped us track actual gasoline usage and identify specific areas where we knew we could make a difference."

Installation of environmentally-friendly products such as T-8 light bulbs also helps the park district light the way when it comes to going green. These low-wattage fluorescent bulbs have a long usage life and are about 40% more efficient than the T-12 bulbs they replaced. Other light fixtures in park district facilities are motion-sensitive, which also helps conserve energy.

Energy conservation is an integral part of the Green Team's mission, and can be found in everything from on-demand water heaters and water softeners at the LEED-certified Hickory Knolls Discovery Center to low water consumption toilets, and sensor-activated hand faucets and hand dryers in facility bathrooms. High-efficiency boilers provide more economical and reliable methods of heating the Pottawatomie Community Center, while upgrades to heating and air conditioning controls allows staff to monitor energy needs in individual rooms and common areas.

Other areas of park district stewardship may not be as high-tech, but they are every bit as essential to its overall environmental health. To maintain hundreds of acres of high-quality natural areas, the park district conducts both annual prescribed burns and regular seed collection programs to help promote the vibrancy of the native area ecology and reduce the costs involved in restoring native plant habitats.

"We can improve more acreage by broadcasting seed we have collected ourselves and with the help of our volunteers than is possible if we had to purchase seeds or plant seedlings," said Rudow.

The efforts of volunteers in collecting and spreading seed is just one component of an extensive community outreach program that provides invaluable help to the park district in accomplishing its "Green Team" objectives. One of the most far-reaching of the park district's volunteer efforts involves its Community Garden Plots which, in 2016, produced over 4,000 pounds of food for donation to the Northern Illinois Food Bank.

Students are also a large part of the community outreach effort. Approximately 1,200 students from area elementary, private and junior high schools took part in this year's annual "Feed the Green Machine Program" which collects and sorts unwanted school supplies for reuse in numerous park district programs.

"We estimated the value of these supplies as a $1,600 savings across several supply budgets representing items we did not have to purchase," said Rudow.

From paperless billing to trash collection and recycling efforts at sports tournaments, the park district's "Green Team" initiates and evaluates policies, practices and procedures across all aspects of park district programming and facility maintenance.

"In surveys, our constituents have indicated that such measures are extremely valuable to them and we look forward to being able to continue to serve as good stewards of the environment," said Rudow.

For more information about the park district's "Green Team" procedures, contact Laura Rudow at 630-513-4344.