One of the most important books I’ve ever read, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, revolves around a key premise. Women can be the most effective change agents. In the environmental realm, women have a long history of protecting the environment and human health. Over the years, I’ve crossed paths with countless dedicated, savvy women that are making sustainable strides. Wanting to bring many of them together, I co-hosted a fun event for local green women activists and professionals last November. We were lucky to have environmental journalist Amanda Little join us to talk about her insightful book Power Trip, and the rise of women in the cleantech industry. Scanning the faces around the room, it occurred to me, it’s time to celebrate the rise of green women in our own backyard!
In this three-part series, 24 leading green women will be presented over the next few months to mark Valentine’s Day, International Women’s Day and Earth Day. Of course, this is just a glimpse of the accomplished women that abound in our communities. This month I’m excited to spotlight the first 8 green women pioneers and powerhouses making a difference in the North Shore and Chicago…an elected official, a minister, a conservationist, a community advocate, a clean tech CEO, a film maker, a professor and an architect. I specifically chose females to represent a wide spectrum of fields showing regardless of profession or for-purpose work – anyone can weave sustainability into their practice. It’s been an honor to interview each person, coming to know their work more fully and what led them to take an eco-minded path. Hats off to these determined, visionary women forging ahead with green solutions. Not only do they positively impact our region, they surely will inspire more changemakers.
Rev. Clare Butterfield, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Faith in Place
Caring for both people and the planet was a ministry Rev. Clare Butterfield could not pass up. Her non-linear path began with rural roots in Champaign County Illinois. Growing up, she loved being outside, lulled by it’s natural wonders, and was deeply inspired by her Dad who grew 9,000 trees on their property. While in seminary, her field placement with the Center for Neighborhood Technology focused on mobilizing religious leaders around issues of environmental sustainability. Spun out of this work, Faith in Place officially launched in 1999. As an interfaith environmental concierge of sorts, her organization gives religious people the tools to become good stewards of the earth. Working with many faith traditions – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Zoroastrian, Baha’i and Unitarian Universalist – Faith In Place has partnered with over 900 congregations in Illinois. Butterfield, a Unitarian Universalist minister, is guided by two commonalities: the care of creation and social justice. She strives to help congregations integrate their teachings of faith with issues of ecology and economy and adopt more sustainable practices in-house. Energy conservation and renewable energy are the key targets. The Glenview United Methodist church, a Faith in Place partner, now saves save up to 25% on electric bills from energy efficiency retrofits. Another partner, the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation’s new synagogue in Evanston is the first house of worship in the world to receive Platinum LEED certification. Sustainable farming and access to healthy local food is another important aim. Faith in Place has helped set up indoor winter farmers markets, CSA drop-offs, vegetable gardens and even a CSA community farm with congregations. As an extension of these efforts, Butterfield is working to bring the faith community’s voice into policy making by organizing advocacy workshops and trips to Springfield. Two years ago they went a step further and proposed new legislation to regulate fracking in Illinois, due to the absence of safeguards that protect public heath and the environment. Butterfield remains hopeful the faith community will play a strong role in ensuring a just and sustainable future for all Creation.
Beth Drucker personifies the “think global, act local” mantra. A dedicated environmentalist, Drucker has brought her love of nature into Wilmette schools. She works closely with the school district’s environmental committee, the children’s “outdoor classroom” gardens and the Wilmette Bicycle Task Force to promote safe student biking. She’s also a longtime member of the Environmental Law and Policy Center and Nature Conservancy with her husband Harry. A few years ago Drucker was struck by an epiphany – how would she one day answer to her kids and future grandkids about her role in the growing environmental crisis? Out of her obligation to future generations, she decided to press harder for solutions, closer to home. In 2006, Drucker and five other women formed Go Green Wilmette to establish a Village environmental commission, and later expanded the goals to raise environmental awareness and inspire citizen action. Drucker now leads the group, and works with all community stakeholders to make Wilmette a more earth friendly place to live. Go Green Wilmette hosts educational workshops and film screenings, promotes local issues and organizes outings. Recent programs include the Climate Reality Project, 350.org’s Do the Math rally on fossil fuel divestment, and service day cutting down buckthorn along the Green Bay Trail. Members are kept up to date with e-newsletters, Facebook page and website, loaded with local resources and a calendar of eco events. Drucker also chairs the group’s massive annual environmental fair, the seventh Going Green Matters symposium is coming up March 10th. Last year the successful event, co-sponsored by the Village, attracted over 700 visitors, 150 volunteers and 150 exhibitors, illustrating the strong community relationships her organization has built. Inspired by Wilmette’s engaged, close-knit group and Drucker’s mentoring, similar “go green” groups have emerged in Winnetka/Northfield, Kenilworth, Glencoe and Park Ridge. Drucker, a local fixture of all things green, is a true “Go”-getter sprouting grassroots across the North Shore.
Wilmette resident Ann Feldman has been using media to create social change for the past 24 years. As an award-winning documentary producer with Artistic Circles and a visiting scholar in gender studies at Northwestern University, she readily admits projects have a way of choosing her. While visiting Southern India in 2007, she became trapped in a taxicab during a violent blockade. Thousands of rioters and police clashed in the streets over a court decision being made on the allocation of water. Haunted by seeing people willing to die over water rights and unable to ignore this “kernel stuck in her tooth,” her focus turned to alleviating water scarcity. Seeking solutions, Feldman began creating partnerships with water experts here and in India. In 2008, Feldman taught a Water Pressures course at Northwestern University. And in 2010, she organized an education exchange to foster collaboration and youth leadership. Along with a film crew, Northwestern students and faculty travelled to waterscarce Rajasthan, India, to walk in the shoes of desert villagers and see firsthand impacts to agriculture and public health. In return, water experts from India visited Northwestern University, abundant with Lake Michigan’s fresh water, and shared water management practices. The resulting documentary Water Pressures she produced will be syndicated nationally on March 20, marking World Water Day. The award-winning film is narrated by Entourage star Adrian Grenier. Further engaging people to get involved, Feldman is encouraging viewers and Great Lake college students to take local water action and share videos and blog postings on her website and local media stations. By the year 2050, 52% of world’s population will suffer form water scarcity. By shining her lens on the water crises, Feldman is hopeful young leaders will mobilize for sustainable solutions. WTTW will broadcast Water Pressures on Thursday, March 28th at 9 PM. Join a film screening and discussion with Feldman with Go Green Wilmette and the Wilmette Public Library on Tuesday, May 21 at 7 pm.
The Art Institute’s current exhibit Building: Inside Studio Gang Architects is a fitting exclamation point to Jeanne Gang’s 2011 prestigious MacArthur “Genius” Award. Studio Gang, founded by Gang in 1997, has produced some of today’s most stunning, innovative buildings. Strongly guided by nature, community and performance, her projects are transforming Chicago and the consciousness of global architecture. Gang is popularly known for designing the softly rippled, 82-story Aqua Tower (the highest skyscraper in the world designed by a woman!) This monument to sustainability confirms that high-density building can still wow. North Shore residents are abuzz over Studio Gang’s development of the new Writers’ Theatre building in Glencoe, likely to give local culture and commerce a boost. Reminiscent of a “Shakespearean open walkabout,” a “lantern-like” urban lobby will meet with intimate live performance space. The proposed LEED building will include reused materials from the old theater, new efficient timber technology, green roof and adjoining green space. When it comes to Chicago, Gang’s bold new vision calls for renewing urban ecology and bringing people together. In collaboration with NRDC and Harvard students, she explored a new vision for the Chicago River in the book Reverse Effect. Helping reclaim this “eco-highway,” Studio Gang is designing the first Chicago River Boat House (opening in 2013) to expand public access for recreation. She also designed the Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo recognized by the iconic turtle shell-shaped pavilion. Once a stagnant pond, a restored and now thriving habitat multi-tasks as a natural wetland water filter. The Northerly Island Framework Plan developed by Studio Gang offers a 91-acre natural wonderland. It calls for converting the old Meigs Field site into “a Millennium Park of Nature,” including a reef with a shipwreck, amphitheater, urban camping sites and wild open space. With an affinity to the natural landscape since a young age, Gang’s visionary architecture practice, ever mindful of the environment, is shaping inventive, gorgeous, multi-purposed solutions. A must-see cross section of Studio Gang’s local, national and international projects will be on display at the Art Institute exhibit through February 28th.
Glencoe resident Betsy Leibson wondered what was next after retiring from BP/Amoco. After a stint volunteering with the Backyard Nature Center cutting down invasive Buckthorn, she decided to clean up a stretch along the Green Bay Trail (Woodlawn to Harbor). A friend tempted her to take it a step further and restore the area with native plants and shrubs. After getting the go ahead from the Village and adjacent neighbors, things really took off. Since 2010, she’s enlisted over 75 volunteers (plus a few Scout Troops) and spent 700+ hours tending to the trail. Friends of Green Bay Trail have removed countless pesty invasives such as garlic mustard and buckthorn; collected, cleaned and scattered over 2 million native seeds; grown 8,000 native seeds into plants (thanks to donated space from 6 greenhouses); and planted and watered the resulting seedlings. Leibson has become a familiar face to cyclists, walkers and dog-walkers along the trail who appreciate her hard work and restoration, especially now that the trail is a certified Monarch WayStation. Check out the Friends of Green Bay Trail’s Facebook page here.
Chicagoan Heidi Lubin is on a mission to disrupt old ideas about energy. As CEO and an early advisor of the start-up electric motor company HEVT, her team’s game-changing efforts are gaining steam. HEVT recently won the National Grand Prize in the 2012 Cleantech Open, the world’s largest clean tech business competition. HEVT is a spinoff from the Power Electronics and Motor Drives Laboratory project at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Their innovative technology, co-invented by their Chief Technologist Dr. Ali Emadi, combines smart software and hardware to improve the performance, efficiency, cost effectiveness and reliability of electric motors. While electric motors traditionally rely on rare earth materials mined almost exclusively in China, HEVT’s breakthrough switch reluctance motors are manufactured without these materials, avoiding the global environmental, social and supply chain risks. Soon set to roll out their product for use in electric bikes, HEVT’s new generation of electric motors can eventually be used in HVAC equipment, electric vehicles, home appliances, perhaps even wind turbines. While Lubin has a lifelong interest in enjoying the outdoors (a certified yoga, kayaking and skiing instructor) and environmental protection, her career course was set in the late 1990s. After reading Natural Capitalism and spending time in Nigeria witnessing the consequences brought on by oil production, she formed the hypothesis that clean technology was the way to go forward. She’s accumulated an impressive resume, including a law degree and MBA from Northwestern University, a broad array of policy experience from urban development to public health, and legal and finance expertise in sustainable transportation, renewable energy and environmental finance. Last year Lubin was accepted into the competitive international Astia Global Entrepreneur Program, a network of the most promising woman-led start-ups from around the world, further affirming that Lubin is on the right track. Follow recent praise for HEVT in Crain’s and Midwest Energy News.
Debra Shore, Commissioner Metropolitan Water Reclamation District
Debra Shore’s appreciation for nature first came from traveling elsewhere. Curious about her hometown’s habitats, she began volunteering with the North Branch Restoration Project in the early 1990s. Shore became inspired by the Chicago region’s rare natural beauty and by the people working to protect and restore it. As a result, she helped launch the stunning nature publication Chicago Wilderness Magazine in 1997 serving as the founding editor. Working with the Chicago Wilderness conservation consortium, she also helped found Friends of the Forest Preserves because these precious natural areas had been largely neglected. As an active volunteer on various political campaigns, the Illinois Women’s Institute for Leadership took notice of Shore and recruited her to a program that groomed women to run for office. In 2006, she surprisingly chose to run for commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD). This independent agency charged with treating wastewater and managing stormwater in Cook County with a budget over $1 billion, was hardly considered to be a conservationist’s destiny. However, believing water would be a paramount issue in the coming years, Shore chose the path less taken. Thanks to campaigning hard and speaking about the environment with passion and authenticity, she resonated with voters and placed first place in the race. While Shore admits it’s not easy changing the conversation, her foresight, patience and persistence are paying off. Her seat at the table couldn’t be more timely as a range of environmental issues now confronts the MWRD, including climate instability leading to both drought and record-breaking rainstorms, invasive species such as Asian carp, water quality in the Chicago River , and the rise of green infrastructure solutions to capture rain where it falls. With Shore’s recent re-election to another six-year term, along with other new eco-minded commissioners, MWRD’s culture continues to shift toward sustainability.
Nancy Tuchman, Professor, Department of Biology and Founding Director, Institute of Environmental Sustainability at Loyola University Chicago
The grades are in: Loyola University Chicago is rated the greenest university in Illinois, thanks in part to Highland Park resident Nancy Tuchman’s leadership. Fortunately, Tuchman’s deep passion for the environment has been sandwiched by the bottom-up energy of students and a top down push from the president and cabinet. Since 2005, the Center for Urban Environmental Research and Policy, co-founded and directed by Tuchman, has collaborated with students, faculty, staff and administrators to reduce energy, natural resource use and waste on campus. Efforts to approach a carbon neutral campus have led to a 50% decrease in energy over the past ten years, thanks to new LEED certified buildings and efficiency retrofits. Tuchman has overseen the noteworthy student run program that converts used cooking oil into biodiesel fuel for intercampus shuttle buses. A glycerin soap, made with the biofuel’s waste product, is sold in stores and will soon be used in campus bathroom dispensers. Students also learn about the food system at Loyola’s urban rooftop gardens and Retreat and Ecology Campus. This off-site campus in Woodstock gives students hands-on experience with an organic farm and CSA, as well as introduction to an outdoor research lab for prairie, wetland, and woodland restoration. Tuchman also ensures that ALL graduates are familiar with pressing environmental issues and their role in promoting solutions. Believing society is not served unless students have basic environmental literacy, every Loyola student regardless of their major is required to take core environmental science courses. As an umbrella to all of these sustainable initiatives and the Department of Environmental Science, Nancy will be heading Loyola’s new Institute of Environmental Sustainability (IES). Officially launching in August 2013, construction for the Institute’s LEED building is underway. Plans for this two-acre site include a greenhouse, and 2 aquaponics facilities producing fish and crops. Beyond preparing the next generation of environmental leaders, Tuchman, has been a professor of Aquatic Ecology for over 20 years. She dreams that her invasive species research will lead to new solutions for waterway restoration, and possibly biomass energy, in the Chicago region.
Read here for Part 2
clockwise: Linsey Burritt & Crystal Hodges, Kimberly Wasserman-Nieto, Helen Cameron, Lou Dickson, Erlene Howard, Judith Nemes, Sophia Siskel middle: Sarah Elizabeth Ippel
Read here for Part 3
clockwise: Wendy Abrams, Brenda Palms Barber, Lynn Fosbender, Dr. Sarah Pressman Lovinger, Jeanne Nolan, Ann Alexander, Karen Weigert, Amy Francetic center: Jeanne Nolan
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A huge thanks to the all the woman for sharing their green inspiration and tremendous efforts with me!
Dedicated to all the sustainable sisters I know out there working hard to make a difference. Keep going girls!
And no disrespect green guys – we need your help too!
Here’s a slideshow from green women event with NRDC and Amanda Little.