Credit: Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

LINCOLN PARK — The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum’s new Sustainability Center, an interactive exhibit, is teaching visitors the advantages of “green-living” at every level.

Conceived in 2016 before it was put on hold during the pandemic, the Sustainability Center project was revitalized last year and celebrated its grand opening Thursday on what was officially declared Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum Sustainability Center Day by Mayor Brandon Johnson and Gov. JB Pritzker.

“We invite our guests to now imagine the future that they can create together,” museum President Erin Amico said at the opening day event at the Nature Museum, 2430 N. Cannon Drive.   

At the heart of the exhibit is a 7-foot-tall, 360-degree illuminated globe, which is surrounded by stations that educate visitors on environmentalism and actionable green living. Touch screens allow guests to take quizzes or pledge to make small sustainability changes in their own lives, like composting food waste or buying seasonal produce.

The experience gets more in-depth in its second room, a resource center featuring physical and digital bookcases. The digital aspects of the exhibit will allow it to grow and change with the latest scientific research and recommendations, while comfy couches, tables and bean bag chairs invite visitors to settle in and learn more about sustainability.

“It’s really for anybody who’s curious about sustainability, who maybe has heard that word and is like, ‘It feels big, it feels like it’s not me. If 10 companies produce the majority of greenhouse gases, what am I supposed to do?’” said Jennifer Olson, the museum’s director of guest and community engagement.

“Those people are who I was writing for in the exhibit. Because the experts I talked to working in the field say, ‘No, it does make a difference to have individual and community action at scale.”

And it’s never too early to start.

“We worked really hard to have it be friendly for all ages,” Olson said. “We would say probably the most in-depth experience is for ages 8 and up.”

The exhibit challenges visitors to learn more about sustainability and what changes they can make in their everyday lives to help the planet. Credit: Chicago Academy of Sciences / Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

The exhibit and its resource center will also serve as a long-awaited homebase for the Chicago Conservation Corps program, known as C3. It’s a grassroots sustainability movement that trains future environmental leaders on how to make a difference in their communities. 

Anchored by the motto, “You want to do something. We can help,” C3 offers one-off volunteer events through its Explorers program, as well as more in-depth training through its Leaders program.

People who complete the eight-week leadership course receive $250 from the museum to fund their own sustainability projects rooted in the specific needs of their community, from pumpkin composting events at Halloween to home weatherization workshops.

“It has been so exciting that now C3 has a home here,” said C3 coordinator Haven Denson, who attended the Sustainability Center opening alongside recent leadership graduate Stephanie Colón.

Colón is one of the more than 900 Chicagoans that C3 has trained since its launch in 2006. Having completed the eight-week course last spring, she’s tackled her first sustainability project — a beauty product recycling program — and is moving on to her second, a cleanup of 12th Street Beach.

The Nature Museum’s new interactive environmental exhibit opened to the public last Friday. Credit: Chicago Academy of Sciences/Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

With a current cohort of trainees who range in age from 19 to 62, the C3 program supports green-living projects in all 50 wards and is focused on reaching communities with higher marginalized populations.

To mark the opening of the Sustainability Center and a “recharge” of its program, C3 has set a five-year goal to reduce 4,000 metric tons of carbon emissions and reclaim 3,000 square feet of land through its community-based projects.

You can learn more about the C3 program online or at the Sustainability Center, which is on the second floor of the Chicago Academy of Sciences/Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 2430 N. Cannon Drive, and included in admission.

The museum is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily. Tickets are $15 for Illinois residents, $17 for out-of-state visitors and $8 for children 3-12. The museum is also free for Illinois residents Thursdays.

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