DuPage Forest Preserves take in more carbon than the district emits: What’s next for the organization

From all-electric golf carts to geothermal energy, the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County has explored a unique slate of sustainability initiatives to reach a tipping point in its greenhouse gas emissions: The district’s green areas now sequester more carbon than its operations create, effectively serving as a carbon sink for the county.

And district officials say they’re not stopping there. Next on the organization’s sustainability checklist is exploring floating solar panels, turning landfill gas into energy and getting its first ground-mounted solar array up and running.

“I started being a solar fan a long time ago. My wife and I invested in our roof in 2017, and the reason we did it is we want to leave a better home for our children,” district President Daniel Hebreard said. “There’s really a couple of components — another is it’s a really good fiscal investment. I've said that a few times, but I'll beat the drum every time that I don’t know that there’s a stronger investment we can make in our community than to keep getting our energy locally.”

In 2020, the district installed a solar power system on the golf cart storage building at The Preserve at Oak Meadows in Addison, marking the organization’s first major solar commitment. The preserve also became the first golf course in the nation to sport a fully solar-powered golf cart fleet.

Two years later, a new animal rehabilitation clinic and visitor building at Willowbrook Wildlife Center was approved. The project, currently under construction, will become the organization’s first “net-zero designed facility” with the help of a geothermal heating and cooling system.

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Last year, the district worked with a consultant to assess its carbon footprint. The resulting report found the carbon captured by the forest preserves outweighed emissions from operations such as district vehicles, maintenance equipment, and heating and cooling.

The report also identified gaps, barriers and opportunities for the district to continue expanding its sustainability initiatives — specifically zeroing in on energy efficiency, waste management, and continuing to reduce its environmental footprint.

“The idea is that we just want to keep pushing that needle,” Hebreard said. “Yes, we can claim we’re net-zero, but let’s show where the work is done.”

One significant focus lies in reducing methane emissions from the eight closed landfills and dumpsites that are in the district’s care.

“Emissions from the landfills are really our highest emitters across the district, and really drive our emissions numbers. We’re definitely looking at ways that we can capture and use that gas, so that’s kind of priority number one,” said Jessica Ortega, the district’s manager of strategic plans and initiatives.

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Alongside exploring ways to turn landfill gas into natural gas or using it to generate electricity, the district also is looking at incorporating solar at the sites.

With the district’s first ground-mounted solar projects incoming this year at its Danada headquarters, solar remains a strong sustainability pathway for the organization.

Next up is the possibility of floating solar panels installed on a stormwater basin at Salt Creek Marsh, home to the Salt Creek Greenway Trail directly below Interstate 390. With a ComEd substation immediately west of the basin, the project would be located in an ideal location for grid connection while not limiting recreational use, Ortega said.

“The substation allows us to feed in five megawatts of power, so they’re not getting it directly from coal or nuclear — they’re getting it from solar right there on a pond,” Hebreard said. “It’s a nice area to highlight something good environmentally because you’ve got a countywide substation, you’ve got (an) industrial area, you’ve got a new highway ... and we would be able to put solar there and make it a good story.”

• Jenny Whidden,, is a climate change and environment writer working with the Daily Herald through a partnership with Report For America supported by The Nature Conservancy. To help support her work with a tax-deductible donation, see

A solar array sits atop the electric golf cart charging shed at The Preserve at Oak Meadows in Addison. Courtesy of Forest Preserve District of DuPage County
Drilling underway to allow for a geothermal heating and cooling system at the new animal rehabilitation clinic and visitor building at Willowbrook Wildlife Center. The facility will become the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County’s first “net-zero designed facility.” Courtesy of Forest Preserve District of DuPage County
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