Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum opens Sustainability Center that was seven years in the making

A 7-foot-tall floating digital globe lit up on the second floor of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum Thursday, marking the grand opening of the Sustainability Center.

The hybrid exhibit, meant to serve as an educational tool as well as a gathering space, opened after seven years of planning and development. Along with the globe, the center features an expansive preserved moss wall, a selection of books curated by the Chicago Public Library, and interactive learning stations on food, water, economy and energy.

Chief curator Alvaro Ramos said the exhibit's centerpiece, the giant floating globe, is one of two in the country. The display highlights a piece of museum history: In the 1920s, the Chicago Academy of Sciences had an exhibit called the atwoodsphere.

The atwoodsphere, which ultimately migrated to the Adler Planetarium, was the first planetarium in the U.S. The academy went on to create the nature museum in 1999.

"At that time, the Academy of Sciences covered not only natural history, but also astronomy," Ramos said. "We have (the globe) again. But this time, instead of looking outwards, we're looking inwards."

The idea of communicating sustainable philosophy isn't new for the museum, Ramos added. The new center builds on a previous climate exhibit called "Extreme Greenhouse," based more toward early childhood.

For this exhibit, Ramos took inspiration from the Chicago Center for Green Technology, which closed in 2014. The center had been a collaborative space that was a resource center and business hub for green organizations.

"We wanted to recapture that," Ramos said. "The first part of the exhibit really teaches people about the topic of sustainability ... and the second part of the exhibit is the center. We have a lot of resource materials. We're hoping it's a fun hangout place for workshops and lectures. We really want to build a community."

The museum already is home to one green initiative: the Chicago Conservation Corps, or C3, which recruits, trains and supports a network of environmental volunteers who work on service projects throughout the city.

"The Sustainability Center will help introduce more people to the benefits of C3 and sustainability, and it will provide a great space to showcase the impact of the program," Caroline Williams, a C3 community leader and co-founder of Chicago Muslims Green Team, said at Thursday's grand opening. "I highly recommend the C3 program to anyone I meet, and I look forward to seeing its continued success in years to come in each of Chicago's neighborhoods."

Visitors, C3 members and museum officials also celebrated Thursday as "Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum Sustainability Center Day," officially recognized by the state and the city of Chicago.

"The nature museum has a rich 166-year history of leading conservation and ecological restoration in the Chicagoland area," museum President and CEO Erin Amico said. "The Sustainability Center will offer resources that provide visitors of all ages and abilities with practical ways to make an impact in their homes and communities, and spotlight successful C3 projects to inspire others to take meaningful action."

Amico added the museum and the C3 program set a goal to reduce 4,000 metric tons of carbon emissions and reclaim 3,000 square feet of land through community-based projects led by C3 leaders in the next five years.

"The nature museum has always been a place where visitors can come wonder and explore," Amico said. "We invite our guests to now imagine the future that they can create together."

• 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

The centerpiece of the newly opened Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum's Sustainability Center in Chicago is a floating 7-foot-tall, illuminated globe that displays 360-degree graphics and videos. COURTESY OF THE PEGGY NOTEBAERT NATURE MUSEUM
The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum's Sustainability Center in Chicago is a hybrid space - both an exhibit and a resource center - where visitors can learn about environmental issues and how they can incorporate sustainability into their own lives. COURTESY OF THE PEGGY NOTEBAERT NATURE MUSEUM
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