Going in several directions

Both speakers and exhibitors at the ninth Annual Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair Aug. 7-8 at Ogle County Fairgrounds felt the visitors were among the most interested, interesting and well-informed they had met. Photo by Frank Schier

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

While we were racing to meet the deadline for this column, we received a phone call requesting that we meet Sheila Simon, Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor in Illinois, show her the Kickapoo Center, discuss green building and natural areas preservation, and follow with a quick trip to the Black Hawk Statue, the icon of the Rock River Valley.

Simon is a pleasant person who supports education (she is a Southern Illinois University professor), enjoys natural areas and loves kayaking. She has a standing invitation to return here, and expects to.

Back to the column.

In planning this year’s Ninth Annual Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair (Aug. 7-8 at Ogle County Fairgrounds near Oregon, Ill.) we wondered, given current dismal economic conditions, if participation in the event would continue its upward growth of the past eight years.

While tabling or making presentations during the past fall, spring and summer, we noted that attendance at those events was far lower than in previous years.

Many installers we know have reported less work this year, especially in the case of residential projects.

Both vendors and speakers were slow to commit to participation in this year’s fair. Reliable presenters from previous years cited less funding or had a difficult time justifying their participation economically.

Despite our anxiety about drawing a crowd, we maintained a broadly based publicity campaign to keep the need for energy reform in the public’s mind.

We even had keynote speakers address topics under attack by contrarian perspectives, including climate change and peak oil. We feel both topics hold economic and environmental implications too important to be pushed off the agenda by publicity campaigns designed to weaken public support for efficiency and renewable energy.

We like to feel that each energy fair is bigger and better than the one before. But although this one wasn’t as big, it was better.

During this year’s energy fair, we witnessed and heard of rich interactions between speakers and audiences and exhibitors and visitors.

The usual excellent speakers presented information and ideas to eager audiences. Several sessions were led by teams that provided variety and encouraged personal involvement allowing people to clarify their ideas and positions.

Major speakers drew intense opinions and pointed questions that were responded to with clarity. Audience interaction was significant.

A team of speakers demonstrating “how-tos” started by asking the audience: Do you have questions,

or should we just go through everything from start to finish? One person requested the pre-planned approach. After only a few minutes, another asked for an explanation; still another added background information and personal experiences.

One of the presenters began by asking the audience what their specific interests were in the topic. Allowing questions to drive the discussion provided a much richer diversity of ideas than if only one person had presented and then asked for questions at the end. The speaker admitted to learning as much as anyone in the audience.

Exhibitors enjoyed prolonged interactions with visitors. Several commented that although they spoke with fewer people, those who chatted were truly interested, providing rich interchanges. Several felt they had gained new customers who would return to do more business with them.

Visitors felt the fair was an excellent environment for their children, that exhibitors and presenters were personable and that they could actually converse with them. A family from a northwest suburb felt this was the best fair they had ever attended.

Both speakers and exhibitors felt the visitors were among the most interested, interesting and well-informed they had met.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. The Vogls and the IREA are members of the Environmental Hall of Fame. Dr. Robert Vogl is vice president of Freedom Field, and Dr. Sonia Vogl is a member of Freedom Field’s Executive Committee. The Vogls consult on energy efficiency, renewable energy and green building. They have 3.2 kW of PV and a 1 kW wind generator at their home. Forty acres of their 180-acre home farm are in ecological restorations. They are active in preserving natural areas and are retired professors from Northern Illinois University. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the Aug. 18-24, 2010 issue

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