Climate and Sustainability

Sustainability at The Morton Arboretum

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As one of the world’s leading tree conservation and research organizations, The Morton Arboretum is committed to incorporating sustainability into everything we do, from daily operations to long-term planning. We strive to be a role model among public gardens in areas such as energy conservation, waste reduction, renewable energy, and water quality protection. Sustainability initiatives at the Arboretum include:

  • Construction of a 2-megawatt on-site solar array
  • Improved energy performance in all of our buildings
  • Electric vehicle charging stations and a growing fleet of electric landscape equipment
  • A commitment to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with food service
  • A commitment to sustainable purchasing, including items made of recycled materials and energy efficient appliances
  • Avoidance of disposable products when possible
  • Conservation of potable water on Arboretum grounds and in all buildings

For more information about ongoing and upcoming sustainability initiatives at The Morton Arboretum, see the menu on the left and the photo gallery below.

Renewable Energy

In 2024, the Arboretum will complete construction of a 2-megawatt on-site solar array. The array is expected to provide all of the Arboretum’s electricity needs for decades to come. The array will be located on 3.5 acres of Arboretum land not suitable for growing trees. It will include over 5,000 individual solar panels and produce approximately 3 million kilowatt hours annually, the amount of electricity used by about 300 homes in a year.

Solar energy is an important component of Illinois’ approach to addressing climate change. The state’s landmark 2021 Climate and Equitable Jobs Act sets a goal of 100% clean electricity for the state by 2050, and the Arboretum will be contributing to this goal.

Energy Conservation

The Morton Arboretum has almost a dozen buildings, ranging in age from 1909 to the Firefly Pavilion that opened in 2023. We have made significant strides in recent years to improve energy performance in all of our buildings.

The Curatorial and Operations Center, opened in 2017, was the Arboretum’s first LEED- certified building. The Firefly Pavilion is expected to receive LEED certification in the near future.

Motion sensor–controlled LED lighting is used throughout buildings, parking lots, and grounds. Ventilation equipment and controls were updated in several buildings, and improvements continue each year, taking advantage of new energy-saving technologies to reduce energy use while maintaining comfort for members, guests, and staff.

Electric Vehicles

Electric vehicle charging stations are available free of charge for use by Arboretum guests in the main parking lot (Parking Lot 1) outside the Visitor Center and in the Thornhill lot (Parking Lot 21) on the West Side. Additional charging stations are available for staff use.

The Arboretum uses an array of electric golf carts, vehicles, mowers, snow throwers, leaf blowers, and hedge trimmers, with plans to expand our electric fleet each year. The use of electric landscape equipment provides a quieter environment and cleaner air for Arboretum guests.

Food and Dining

Sustainability is a high priority in the Arboretum’s restaurant and catering operations. We strive to reduce the environmental impact of the menu while providing the highest quality service. The Arboretum’s food service partnership with Aramark includes participation in Aramark’s Cool Food program. Aramark was the first contract catering company in the United States to sign the World Resources Institute’s (WRI) Cool Food Pledge. The pledge is a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the food it serves in the United States by 25 percent by 2030.

In recognition of the Arboretum’s commitment to sustainable dining, the Ginkgo Restaurant was awarded two stars by the Green Restaurant Association and is currently working to achieve a third star.

A majority of restaurant entrees are vegetarian, with vegan options. The menu is customized multiple times per year to reflect the season and to maximize the use of locally grown produce.

The restaurant serves orders on reusable dishes. The Café provides compostable cups and containers and offers a discount for guests who bring their own travel cups. All pre-consumer food waste is weighed, and both pre- and post-consumer food waste is composted.


The Arboretum places a high priority on sustainable purchasing. The T-shirts and sweatshirts distributed for race events are made of recycled materials. We also use a variety of other items made from recycled content, including paper, trash bags, and office products.

We purchase Energy Star appliances whenever possible and energy efficient computer equipment. The Arboretum Store also offers many items for sale that are made of recycled materials or crafted from salvaged wood.

Waste Reduction

The Arboretum strives to reduce waste by avoiding the use of disposable products when possible. Many  promotional materials have gone digital, as have our membership cards. The Ginkgo Restaurant uses reusable and recyclable dishware, and we strive to obtain reusable wine glasses and other items for special events. The Arboretum also recycles steel fencing, e-waste, light bulbs, batteries, and shredded paper.

While visiting the Arboretum, please place paper, cardboard, plastic bottles, glass, and cans in recycling containers.

Food waste collected at the Ginkgo Restaurant and from compost containers across the Arboretum is sent to a commercial composting facility. In addition, all plant trimmings are composted on-site and reused throughout the Arboretum to enrich the soil.

Water Conservation and Protection

Water is a precious resource and it is treated as such at the Arboretum. Most of the grounds are irrigated by lake or well water, rather than potable water. Potable water is conserved in all buildings through the use of low-flow fixtures and water-efficient equipment.

Arboretum landscapes have many features that help manage stormwater to prevent flooding and protect aquatic habitats. Rainwater collects in five lakes and wetland areas that are maintained with native plants. Lake water quality is tested regularly to ensure that each area continues to provide a healthy habitat for wildlife.

Parking Lot 1, near the Visitor Center, features a permeable concrete paver system, the largest of its kind in the Midwest when it was installed. The pavers allow rainwater to pass through and collect underground through a subsurface gravel bed, channel water through bioswales, and direct overflow to a final cleansing via the wetland area surrounding Meadow Lake. The cleansed water from Meadow Lake eventually enters the East Branch of the DuPage River. The permeable parking lot was partially supported by a US-EPA grant and the site is certified by the Sustainable SITES Initiative.