Forest Preserve District of Cook County Sustainability & Climate Resiliency Plan

FPDCC sustainability and climate resiliency plan cover

Project Title: Forest Preserve District of Cook County Sustainability & Climate Resiliency Plan 

Sector: Parks and Recreation
Location: Forest Preserves of Cook County, Illinois
Services: Resilient Solutions (Climate Resiliency), Sustainability Planning, Fostering Sustainable Behavior, Implementation Assistance

Background: In 2014 the Forest Preserve District of Cook County (Forest Preserves), a public agency responsible for protecting and preserving nearly 70,000 acres of natural areas and public open space, engaged ISTC’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP) to evaluate the current state of materials management operations, assess opportunities for improvement, and take steps toward making the Forest Preserves a national leader, among similar organizations, in waste reduction practices. The success of that project led the Forest Preserves to engage TAP to assist in developing and implementing their Sustainability and Climate Resiliency Plan. 

Approach: The process of developing this Plan, nine months in the making, included an internal and external review of past sustainability efforts, focus groups and engagement sessions across the operations within the Forest Preserves and Cook County government, and numerous topic-specific meetings. Priorities outlined in the plan, and their underlining strategies, reflect the Forest Preserves’ direction for a sustainable future.  

This Plan is based on the vision, described in the Forest Preserves’ Next Century Conservation Plan, of being a leader in sustainable practices. As an important part of their founding mission to protect and preserve our public lands and waters, the Forest Preserves of Cook County commit to using sustainable and low-impact practices in operations and challenge ourselves to consistently perform all our functions in the most environmentally responsible ways. 

Results: Published in September 2018, the plan hinges upon an overall goal to reduce the Forest Preserves’ greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 from a 2016 baseline. It also identifies a road map for Forest Preserve lands to be resilient in a changing climate, recognizing that such conditions will significantly impact land management operations as the range and distribution of species shift, along with the availability of water and other key aspects of the local ecosystem.

The plan is divided into five priority areas: 

Utilities & Emissions 

  • Focus areas include GHG emissions measuring, reporting and reductions; green infrastructure integration; and water use tracking and efficiency 
  • Major objectives include reducing energy consumption by 4.5 percent annually and developing green building and site standards for future projects 

Preserve Operations 

  • Focus areas include transportation and waste and recycling 
  • Major objectives include reducing fuel usage by 4.5 percent annually and expanding the recycling program to all Forest Preserve facilities 

Learning & Engagement 

  • Focus areas include awareness and visibility, community engagement, and employee engagement 
  • Major objectives include promoting green practices with permit holders and enhancing Earth Day sustainability programming 

Ecological Sustainability 

  • Focus areas include natural resources management and practices 
  • Major objectives include establishing Mitigating Impacts to Nature Policy as well as a Native Seed Policy outreach plan 

Implementation & Advancement 

  • Focus areas include green purchasing 
  • Major objectives include establishing a Green Purchasing Policy, establishing and promoting a plastic reduction campaign, and increasing energy rebates and incentives with utilities 

The full 2018 plan with complete objectives and targets, is available at  

On January 22, 2019, in response to a United Nations International Panel on Climate Change report, which demonstrated that the consequences of man-made climate change will become irreversible in 12 years if global carbon emissions are not immediately and dramatically reduced, the Forest Preserves of Cook County Board of Commissioners unanimously adopted a Net Zero Resolution. This resolution revises the 80% GHG emissions reduction goal to net-zero by 2050, as well as reducing facility GHG emissions by 45% by 2030 and committing to the development of a renewable energy plan. 

TAP is currently working with the Forest Preserves on plan implementation. This in part includes identifying the most advantageous renewable energy strategies, guiding evaluation of equipment in nearly 300 facilities for energy efficiency upgrades, developing a means to track emissions reduction efforts and progress, and updating the Sustainability and Climate Resiliency Plan accordingly. 

To help accomplish their GHG reduction goals, TAP worked with the Forest Preserves to develop a Clean Energy Framework, which was adopted by the Forest Preserves of Cook County Board of Commissioners in June 2021.   

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Forest Preserve District of Cook County Recycling and Waste Reduction Opportunity Assessment

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Project title: Forest Preserve District of Cook County Recycling and Waste Reduction Opportunity Assessment

Sector: Parks and Recreation
Location: Forest Preserves of Cook County, Illinois
Services: Fostering Sustainable Behavior, Waste Characterization

Background: In 2014, the Forest Preserve District of Cook County engaged the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) to help understand the current state of materials management operations, assess opportunities for improvement, and take steps toward making the District a national leader in waste reduction practices.

Approach: TAP conducted a characterization of landfill-bound material collected from District properties. Waste samples were collected from the annual Pow Wow at Busse Woods (~5000 attendees), other smaller permitted events at Labagh Woods (900 participants), and a district-operated hauling truck, which collected landfill-bound material from various locations. A total of 831 pounds of waste was sorted, into 23 material categories, over a three-day sampling period. Alongside the waste characterization study findings, ISTC gathered information and observations about the materials management system at the District, for the purpose of proposing ambitious but achievable changes to District operations.

sorting at Maywood Garage
ISTC team at Maywood Garage Facility, sorting the waste sample from Busse Woods (Pow Wow).

Results: Key findings and observations about the District’s landfill-bound waste stream included:

  • Approximately 67% (1191 tons/year) of the District waste stream was currently recyclable or compostable in the Chicago area at the time of the waste audit.
  • Recyclables represented 28% (501 tons/year) of the waste stream. “Recyclables” included glass, plastic, and aluminum beverage containers, tinned food cans, non-foodservice paper, corrugated cardboard, and other plastic containers.
  • Compostables represented 39% (690 tons/year) of the waste stream. “Compostables” included food scraps, paper towels, food-soiled paper, other paper foodservice ware, paper cups, and liquids.
  • Expanded Polystyrene (EPS or “Styrofoam”) represented 4% (71 tons/year) of the waste stream, by weight. Most of the EPS found in District waste is food-soiled, meaning it was not recyclable in the Chicago area.
  • The remaining third (33%, 593 tons/year) of the waste included materials that cannot be recycled or composted in the Chicago area. This included film plastic, trash bags, and composite materials. “Composite” materials were defines as those made of multiple material types which are difficult to separate for recycling. For example, a coffee pouch or juice box is made of layers of material that, put together, make it difficult to recycle.

TAP presented the District with multiple disposal cost avoidance scenarios. Using the findings from the waste characterization, TAP made recommendations for operational improvements in two areas:

  • Collection improvement: Related to the collection of recyclable items across District properties, and involving increased availability of collection bins, while controlling contamination of recyclables. Food scrap collection (composting) was an option for further increasing landfill diversion.
  • Permitted event improvement: Related to large events such as the Annual Chicago Pow Wow and regular permitted group events such as company picnics and birthday parties. This involved potential permitting standards to encourage Forest Preserve guests to use reusable or recyclable items and arrange for proper collection of source-separated waste.

Potential funding opportunities to support the implementation of the recommendations were also presented.

For complete details, see the project report, Recycling and Waste Reduction Opportunity Assessment: Forest Preserve District of Cook County.

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