RIVER FALLS -- River Falls is a community that comes together, works together and builds a brighter, more sustainable future together.

This was the focus of discussion among area community members, leaders and stakeholders during the first Public Conversation Nov. 14 where partnering for a sustainable community was encouraged.

Nearly 200 people crowded into the River Falls High School library media center at 7 p.m. for the event.

Hope for Creation, a local group of faith communities striving for collaborative environmental care, helped in part to organize the evening.

Rebecca Ferguson from Hope for Creation said the turnout was beyond what was expected.

“With 50 attendees it would be good, 100 would be great. I’m pleased that there’s young people here, too,” she said.

One of Hope for Creation’s leaders, Dave Ostendorf, moderated a panel comprising city and school leaders.

During the first hour, the large group heard about what local institutions' past efforts for environmental care have looked like and where they see their institutions going.

Present on the discussion panel:

  • Mike Noreen, River Falls Conservation & Efficiency coordinator. Noreen highlighted the city’s recent decision to commit to 100% renewable energy run in all city buildings by January 2020. Noreen also stated River Falls energy customers rank as first in the state for purchasing renewable energy.

  • Jamie Benson, River Falls School District superintendent. The district had officially partnered with the city in 2012 to proclaim the city as an aspiring sustainable community. Since then, the district has committed to small and big changes to reduce the schools’ carbon footprint such as using LED motion sensor lighting, investing in a pool cover and revising the HVAC system. Benson emphasized the legacy left behind is of most importance, and more work is to be done.

  • Chuck Eaton, Rocky Branch Elementary principal. Eaton gave a snapshot of the educational opportunities for kids to learn about caring for the environment. The facility also has changed habits within the HVAC system and extracted some vending machines to save money.

  • Dr. Dean Van Galen, University of Wisconsin-River Falls chancellor, and Mark Klapatch, UWRF Sustainability and Custodial supervisor. UWRF is dedicated to fostering globally informed citizens and committing to hundreds of little actions which eventually add up. UWRF continues to make changes that certify the institution as exceptional in sustainability efforts.

  • Adam Wehling, Chippewa Valley Technical College dean of Agriculture, Energy and Transportation. The college has upped its ante in environmental education classes covering everything from bee keeping to electric vehicles to precision mapping in agriculture to optimize inputs. 40 renewable energy students call CVTC their school. Getting a high-paying job can also help individuals invest in more environmentally sound decisions.

Attendees were invited to join multiple roundtable discussions in small groups. Participants were asked to answer questions about what groups and individuals can change about their habits or care for the environment, such as recycling plastic bags, using reusable dishware and changing to LED lightbulbs.

Suggestions for change were collected by event organizers for review.

A follow-up event will take place 9:30-11:30 a.m. Jan. 25 at the River Falls High School library media center. This event titled “Moving Into Action: What’s Next?” is meant to get the ball rolling on tangible steps toward more sustainable change.