As we celebrate Openlands’ 60th anniversary, we want to empower individuals to become advocates for nature and take meaningful action for the environment. In this article, we have compiled a comprehensive list of 60 impactful ways you can make a difference. Dive into ways you can grow the tree canopy, protect land, water, and wildlife, advocate for policy solutions, empower people and communities, take individual actions, combat climate change, and explore the diverse avenues through which you can protect and nurture our planet. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a concerned citizen, or simply someone who wants to leave a positive footprint, this blog is your field guide to becoming an environmental champion.
Growing the Tree Canopy
- Become an arborist apprentice! The 3-year registered apprenticeship program gives paid, on-the-job training experience on how to maintain and manage a healthy urban forest. Trees are vital to thriving communities and combatting climate change, and the industry needs interested and passionate individuals who want to pursue this career path!
- Read a book about trees. We always recommend Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard as a good place to start.
- Attend a tree walk to learn about tree identification.
- Become a TreeKeeper and learn how to take care of trees in our region.
- Inform your Alderperson about the importance of trees by becoming a Ward Advocate! By promoting the need to plant new trees, maintain young trees, and protect healthy mature trees, Ward Advocates play an important role in protecting the urban forest by serving as a liaison with their Ward office, neighbors, and Openlands.
- Be a good steward to the plant life on your property. Learn how to take care of your plants and know where to go if they’re not doing well.
- #volcaNOPE, don’t volcano mulch your trees!
- Walk around your neighborhood and remove old strings around trees, any cellophane holding up expired signs, and any black tubes around the bottom of trees that have outgrown the tree girth.
- Lead a tree planting in your neighborhood with a TreePlanters Grant.
- Follow and support the efforts of the Urban Forestry Advisory Board.
Protecting Land, Water, and Wildlife
- Learn about our local water systems, how BIPOC communities regard water, and how it connects to heritage and lived experiences in their home countries.
- Explore the African American Heritage Water Trail.
- Explore new water trails using Paddle Northeastern Illinois Water Trails.
- Tell State lawmakers to protect your waterway rights.
- Put a conservation easement on your property.
- Remove invasives from your property or a park or local nature preserve.
- Volunteer for a beach, river, or park cleanup.
- Volunteer with Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and Friends of Hackmatack.
- Volunteer to be a citizen scientist.
- Support Openlands programs with a donation.
Advocating for Policy Solutions
- Look up your legislators and get to know your elected officials.
- Look up your local alderman and attend a ward night.
- Attend an advocacy day.
- Sign up for action alerts and contact your officials when an urgent issue arises using our campaigns.
- Advocate for climate action using our campaign portal.
- Protect Lake County’s Green Corridor.
- Submit an Op-Ed to a local or national publication.
- Attend the Wild Things Conference to learn about local and national policy issues and meet others working in this field.
- Vote in all local and national elections.
- Advocate for green solutions in your workplace or create a sustainability board or club.
Empowering People and Communities
- Become a volunteer with Birds in My Neighborhood
- Attend a Garden and Nature-Based Education workshop
- Apply for a School Garden Grant.
- Attend a Bird Walk.
- Learn about environmental justice and the issues affecting Chicago.
- Support environmental justice organizations working to create healthy, equitable communities
- Play on a Space to Grow playground, and share with friends and family about the importance of nature play.
- Get involved with a community garden and/or urban farm in your neighborhood.
- Explore the sharing economy:
- Compost at home or join a compost pick-up service.
Combating Climate Change
- Purchase native plants for your property through the Openlands Native Tree and Plant Sale.
- Read the City of Chicago’s Climate Action Plan.
- Learn about the 30 x 30 land conservation commitment.
- Schedule an appointment with a Lands in Harmony consultant for Lake County, IL Residents or Conservation at Home for residents of other counties.
- Plant a rain garden to absorb water and prevent flooding.
- Look up bike transportation – we keep you rollin, big marsh.
- Apply for a ComEd Green Region Grant.
- Use your own creativity to educate your network about the realities of the climate crisis through art, social media, or whatever your talent is!
- Order a rain barrel from MWRD
- Learn how to get a tree planted on your property, either through Openlands or the city of Chicago
Making Individual Commitments
- Follow Openlands’ social media networks and endorse and forward posts showcasing the impactful work of Openlands to your own social media connections.
- Explore the Get Outside Map to learn more Openlands’ projects and engaging places of nature to explore and support in the Chicago region.
- Volunteer! Volunteering is the easiest and most fun way to plug into the conservation community. You’ll meet incredible, caring people, and you’ll learn so much about the environment and how to care for it along the way. Just about every forest preserve district and conservation organization has a volunteering page. Here are a few to get started:
- If you have a yard or have influence over the management of the property where you live, learn about stormwater management at home.
- If you speak a language at home that is not English, assess how comfortable you are speaking about climate change and the environment in your home language with your family members. Seek out resources like Climate Cardinals to learn these terms if you don’t know them already and engage your family in discussions around the environment.
- Explore careers in environmental and climate organizations.
- Attend a Wilderness Café with Chicago Wilderness.
- Participate in a tree inventory near your home.
- Join the board of a local environmental organization.
- Support local food systems – shop at a local farmer’s market, co-op, and/or join a local CSA.