Building a NEST

September 2023 View more

By Kelli Ra Anderson

This city task force focuses on clean energy and sustainability

From left, students Vani Ramesh, Monish Murali, Riley Leu, and Alicia Mathews
From left, students Vani Ramesh, Monish Murali, Riley Leu, and Alicia Mathews presented NEST’s sustainable schools survey results at a recent IPSD 204 school board meeting.

No, it’s not an organization about birds. It has a much bigger scope. NEST, which stands for the Naperville Environment and Sustainability Task Force, is a group of residents working for clean energy. This all-volunteer task force of the City of Naperville has a scope that is twofold: education and political advocacy. “Our main role is advising the city government on sustainable initiatives,” says co-chair Cathy Clarkin. The group has put together a report on sustainability through 2036 that summarizes those initiatives around energy, waste, transportation, natural resources, and development.

Cathy Clarkin

NEST’s priorities include reducing Naperville’s carbon pollution; transitioning to clean energy; improving energy efficiency, electric-vehicle infrastructure, and biking and walkability; reducing waste; promoting composting and recycling; and adding native plantings. (Of course, saving money while also saving the environment is a happy byproduct as NEST works with the Naperville City Council and the community.)

One particular focus for NEST is the move away from the city’s dependence on coal-fired electricity, which generates 2 billion pounds of carbon-emitting CO2 greenhouse gases every year, according to the Clean Energy Alliance of Naperville. “Our biggest concern with contributions to climate change is that over 70 percent of Naperville’s electricity comes from coal, so we have very polluting energy here,” says Clarkin, adding that Naperville is one of the largest users of coal-based electricity in the state. “We would like people to know more and learn how they can get involved in the clean-energy transition.”

In fact, this topic will be the focus of NEST’s September 18 meeting at the Naperville Municipal Center. Clarkin is hopeful for a large turnout of in-person and Zoom attendees: “We need to demonstrate to our elected officials that there is community support for reducing carbon pollution.” Scott Allen from the Citizens Utility Board will be the guest speaker, followed by a strategy discussion with other NEST energy and city engagement leaders.

Grace Niketas, Emma Orend, and Keegan Flaherty
Grace Niketas, Emma Orend, and Keegan Flaherty presented NEST’s sustainable schools survey results at a recent D203 school board meeting.

Reaching the next generation is crucial to NEST’s goals of education, awareness, and action. Riley Leu, a recent Metea Valley High School grad, is the co-chair of NEST’s Youth Team, which was created in 2021. In April, Leu and three other students presented the results of a sustainable schools survey to the IPSD 204 school board. The 10-question poll asked 1,100 residents from districts 203 and 204 (including students, parents, teachers, and administrators) to weigh in on issues like recycling, composting, electric buses, solar energy, and native plantings. “We found widespread support for these initiatives,” Leu says. “Approximately 83 percent of respondents thought that even if these measures cost the district a little bit of money, it would be worth it to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in school district buildings.”

Three other NEST Youth Team members made a similar presentation to D203’s school board in May. “Everything we asked about had broad support for the initiative,” adds Clarkin about the survey. “We saw a lot of support and willingness to budget extra money to make schools more sustainable which, over the whole life cycle, will save money.”

For more information, visit

September 18 calendar icon

6:30 p.m.
Naperville Municipal Center
400 S. Eagle St.
To register to attend via Zoom, go to


Photos: Cathy Clarkin; Riley Leu