ICA USA Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network celebrates 5th anniversary

Within hours of breaking down and packing up the party lights, leftover food and drink, Polaroid pictures, flyers and banners, the praise began on social media. One member wrote on Facebook that the Fifth Anniversary Celebration of the Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network (CSLN) was “the best time I have had all year.” Another posted a photo captioned “What a terrific evening!! Loved the vibe, food, drinks and especially the people.” Additional praise came through word of mouth, with a newcomer remarking that the event “made my life” and a long-time member calling it “a dream come true.”

From 2011 through 2013, ICA-USA organized a project called accelerate77, which sought to identify, connect, and foster collaboration among community-based sustainability initiatives across all of Chicago’s 77 distinct community areas. The project took a comprehensive view of sustainability and identified over 900 different ways in which residents were working to nourish their communities. In 2012, a Sharing Approaches that Work conference brought together representatives of over 60 of those community areas, as well as resource providers and government officials. accelerate77 revealed the need for a network that could continue to connect and support such grassroots projects, which prompted ICA-USA to launch Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network in October of 2013.

Five years later, on November 30th, 2018, over 70 people gathered at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum to celebrate the success of this network. Seven large glass windows along the wall were filled with hanging displays of milestones from those five years—reports, photos, flyers, and more from key projects, partnerships, and events. See the timeline in digital form. The celebration sought not only to recall the history and accomplishments of CSLN, but to facilitate connections between past, present, and potential future members, partners, friends, and beyond. Some in attendance had worked with the accelerate77 project and helped forge the network in 2013, while others were interacting with CSLN for the very first time. All were equally welcome, and the unique contributions of the individuals in the room quickly melded into new creative endeavors. A handful of new projects and collaborations were conceived before the night was through.

Words cannot express the full power and importance of the evening. Here are some images:

  • As each person introduced themselves by name, affiliation, the community they represent, others began exclaiming “West Side!”, “South Side!”, and “North Side!” with pride.
  • A cardboard photo frame—accented with craft glitter, bold stick-on C-S-L-N letters, and an accelerate77 logo updated with party hats—was passed around to nearly half the participants in the room.
  • Members hung Polaroid portraits on the spot on the timeline where they first engaged with CSLN.
  • Four businesses sponsored the event with beverage donations. Lagunitas, which donated to a previous CSLN event at the Nature Museum, donated the beer. A network member whose family owns Wide River Winery generously shared their wine. Another member connected with Chicago-based Apologue and brought their responsibly-sourced celery root liqueur. Finally, newcomer The Tandem Way Cafe supplied homemade cold brew.
  • It took three sheets to tabloid-size paper to print out the banner of logos from all of CSLN’s partners over the past five years.

See more photos at ICA USA on Flickr.

This post was written for ICAI’s monthly bulletin the Global Buzz, January 2019.