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  • Elaine Doremus

Alderman Melanie Rummel Walks Her Sustainability Talk

Meet Melanie Rummel, lifelong Lake Forester, environmental warrior, outdoorswoman, Alderman, and Chairman of the Environmental Sustainability Committee of the City of Lake Forest (the “Committee”). In our interview with Alderman Rummel, she sheds light on the Committee’s formation, purpose, and accomplishments thus far. It’s clear that she and the City have been taking sustainability seriously—with Lake Forest leading by example of how environmentalism in action impacts residents’ lives today and into the future.

“Lake Forest is a community that is striving to be sustainable and respect our environment and natural resources. What’s exciting is that residents can be proud of the community they live in—one that represents their values,” says Rummel, who also served on the board of Lake Forest Open Lands Association (LFOLA) for many years.

These values have long been evident in Lake Forest’s history of preserving the environment by protecting, in perpetuity, hundreds of acres of open space. The City has also been ahead of the curve on encouraging, facilitating, and approving conservation easements and conservation developments. In 2016, the City Council approved the City’s first formal Sustainability Plan. And, last year, it took things a step further by establishing the Environmental Sustainability Committee, to serve as an advisory body to the City Council and charged with reviewing background materials, discussing recommendations relating to environmental sustainability, and presenting them to the City Council for consideration.

While this might seem like a lot to wrap your head around, “What does this mean to you in your daily lives and for future generations of Lake Foresters?”

Take storm water management as an example—not an exciting topic at first glance, yet it is critical to preserving our priceless natural ravines from erosion by slowing the storm water that rushes and drains into the ravines.

“That slower process allows the water to filter out contaminants before it flows through the ravines and into Lake Michigan, which supplies our drinking water,” explains Rummel, an avid swimmer, kayaker, and water skier. It also helps preserve our arresting ravine landforms that define the unique topography of the east side of Lake Forest. This effort takes collaboration between the City and the landowners that are called upon to help shepherd those ravines on their property for future generations, by respecting set backs and planting native species to stop erosion.

Another example is recycling, which, when done wrong costs the City hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to sort through contaminated recycling. But when done right, residents are educated and understand how to recycle properly, which allows those valuable tax dollars go toward incentivizing sustainable living. The Committee has recommended the City institute credits and discounts for switching to solar or geo-thermal energy, installing electric charging stations in new construction, electrifying the public works fleet of vehicles, and more.

These are just a few of the initiatives that the Committee has propelled forward, often in partnership with other local environmental and sustainability groups. These include LFOLA, Green Minds, the League of Women Voters Climate Change Group, the Lake Forest Collaborative for Environmental Education, to name a few.

“The exciting thing about this committee is that we are very inclusive in working with other organizations in the community,” says Rummel. “After receiving a generous grant from the Lake Forest Garden Club, we started the recycling campaign by hiring Marcus Norman, who came up with the Bart the Cart education idea. We have begun discussions with LFOLA to collaborate on returning some City owned parcels back to native flora.” Rummel worked on a beach clean-up day, organized by Green Minds and Marion Cartwright, which she hopes to expand on in the spring to include other organizations—potentially with City sponsorship. Rummel is also collaborating with Green Minds on another initiative. “We are working to put bamboo straws in restaurants; they are biodegradable and reusable,” she explains.

Over the next year, the Committee will explore an ordinance banning coal-tar based sealants, curbside composting, a plastic bag recycling initiative, reduced vehicle sticker charges for electric vehicles, beach clean-up days, , and doing a carbon assessment of our community.

“It’s wonderful to feel this wind in our sails,” adds Rummel, who is proud of the Committee’s work so far.

So, what can you, as a concerned citizen of Lake Forest, do to help?

- Sign up for Sustainability Committee’s agenda and meeting notices and attend meetings to voice your support and ideas

- Recycle your plastic bags at Jewel or other locations

- Support the use of, and re-use of, bamboo straws at local eateries

- Consider purchasing an electric vehicle

- Visit: to learn more about the Environmental Sustainability Committee’s work and to get involved.


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