In the midst of a Chicago heat wave, people tend to need a good reason to go out on a weeknight. Some who attended the Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network (CSLN) meeting last month were drawn to the location, easily accessible in the heart of downtown Chicago. Others came to visit Openlands, among the oldest metropolitan conservation organizations in the nation. Newcomers were drawn by the appeal of meeting like-minded people, while old friends affectionately refer to CSLN summer meetings as “the fun ones” for their focus on celebration and relationship-building.
Whatever the reason, over 50 people crowded into a conference room on the 16th floor of the 25 East Washington building where Openlands is based. Openlands employees Danielle Russell and Al De Reu provided a glimpse into the many programs Openlands offers, including the TreeKeepers course, which has trained nearly 2,000 volunteers to identify potential tree-related problems, initiate tree plantings, and provide tree care. In other words, equipping them to “provide eyes and ears on the ground year round.”
Following introductions and a short history of CSLN, the meeting moved into a Network Mapping activity in which participants generated a rich list of networks they’re involved in, ranging from university alumni associations to statewide alliances. ICA Program Manager Caitlin Sarro asked the group about their experiences in these networks in general, as well as their unique experiences with CSLN. One member reflected that CSLN’s “broad definition of sustainability” distinguishes it from other networks. The feedback from this activity will help inform how CSLN organizers can best represent the network when collaborating with other citywide networks, such as the Chicago Community Climate Partnership. In the meantime, the data is available to be read and shared in a Network Mapping report.
Participants closed the meeting by leading and joining conversations of interest through Open Space, wherein participants identify and manage their own discussion groups. Topics included food cooperatives, how to transition an association into a nonprofit, material reuse with Barbara Koenen of Creative Chicago Reuse Exchange, timebanking with Mike Strode of Kola Nut Collaborative, measuring social impact with member Brock Auerbach-Lynn, and the beginnings of a mobility-based CSLN working group initiated by member Dan Black.
After the formal close of the meeting, the room was a flurry of conversation and loose papers as attendees prepared for a picnic at the Millennium Park Summer Music Series. This after-party provides an opportunity for informal conversations between members, supporting the peer-to-peer relationships that are at the heart of the network. As one member remarked during the Networking Mapping exercise, the greatest benefit to be gained from participating in CSLN is “the inspiration you get from other members.”
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