Edward L. Ryerson Education Center

22196 North Riverwoods Road
Riverwoods,IL 60015

Edward L. Ryerson Education Center

Due to its nature preserve designation, snowmobiles, dogs, horses and other pets are not allowed at this preserve. Bicycles are only allowed on roads, not on preserve trails.
Qualified service animals are allowed throughout the preserve and in all preserve facilities.

Net-Zero Energy Building

The Education Center is a net-zero energy building located within Ryerson Conservation Area in Riverwoods, which means the building aims to produce as much energy as it consumes each year. The first step in achieving net-zero energy is to design a building that doesn’t require a lot of energy to run. The second step involves generating that energy on or around the building itself.

"Building a highly energy-efficient, net-zero building to serve as our new Education Center was important to the Forest Preserves, but so was protecting the natural resources and wildlife surrounding it," Director of Education Alyssa Firkus said. "The Ryerson Education Center is the first Phius-certified passive house building in the U.S. with integrated bird-friendly glass."

Passive House Institute US (Phius) Certified

There are many ways to achieve net-zero energy. We chose to use the Phius passive building certification program. Each project must reach specific standards to be Phius certified. Our project included an 80% reduction in energy use compared to a conventional building. The building features exterior walls that are 16-inches thick and, along with various other components, is engineered to be airtight. This super-insulated building envelope will help give us the most energy savings over the lifespan of the Education Center. It is the first new construction net-zero energy public building in Lake County to receive Phius certification.

Learn More

Featured building components and materials that help us meet net-zero energy include: 

  • Rooftop solar panels.
  • HVAC system and mechanical equipment with the highest efficiency ratings. 
  • Increased insulation values in the walls and roof. 
  • Strategic placement of high-performing triple-pane windows to help regulate temperature.
  • Energy-saving LED lighting throughout the building. 
  • Occupancy sensors in rooms and daylight sensors in perimeter spaces. 
  • EPA Indoor Air Plus requirements for paint and materials.

"We want to raise the bar and set the example when it comes to green buildings and environmental sustainability. Our goal is that this new building will become a viable model of long-lasting energy-efficient design.”

 Alex Ty Kovach, executive director of the Lake County Forest Preserves

Solar Panels

  • A 23.8kW system of rooftop solar panels has been installed on this building, which is a similar size to home or small business construction.

Bird-Friendly Glass

  • The building's windows feature triple-paned glass for superior insulation and an ultraviolet pattern that is highly visible to birds, significantly reducing bird strikes. Ryerson is an important bird habitat in a major migratory flyway.

Education about Sustainability

A variety of programs focused on the sustainability features of this building are available. All programs use the Education Center as the learning resource for public tours and school programs for all ages.

We offer a Sustainable Solutions: Green Infrastructure school program for grades 9–12. During this program, students will explore the similarities and differences between the sustainable strategies implemented in the LEED Platinum certified Welcome Center (completed 2006) and the Phius-certified net-zero energy Education Center (completed 2023). Based on these real-world examples, students will learn there’s more than one path to sustainability.

Additional programming highlighting sustainability is also offered to the general public.

School Programs Public Programs


  • Real-time energy dashboard, which shows how this building is generating and using energy in real-time.
  • Exterior signage explains how many of the net-zero strategies are inspired by nature. For example, a bird's feathers contain warm pockets of air, similar to the air between the windowpanes.
  • Mock-ups of structural components (ex. wall and window cross sections). 
  • Recommendations for actions individuals and homeowners can take to reduce their energy consumption.

How Do We Track Our Progress?

An electrical box tracks the usage of each breaker and records it into metrics visible on the energy dashboard and website. Tracking our usage will allow us to use the data to analyze how we are doing.

Reduce Your Energy Use and Your Energy Bill

There are many ways you can reduce your reliance on energy. Below are a few options. Remember, even small actions can make a big difference!

Personal Actions To Take

Personal Action: Consider a home energy assessment that will give you a personalized list of actions tailored to your home.
Result: Saves money and reduces overall energy use.

Personal Action: Consider adding solar panels to your home. There are many federal and state tax incentives to help with financing.
Result: Reduces energy use.

Personal Action: Reduce your thermostat setting to the lowest comfortable level, especially when you go to bed or when you plan to be away from home.
Result: Saves money and reduces overall energy use.

Personal Action: Use LED lighting or CFL bulbs.
Result: Reduces electricity consumption.

Personal Action: Turn off lights and unplug electronics when not in use.
Result: Reduces electricity consumption.

Personal Action: Mow less frequently or replace portions of your lawn with a native plant garden.
Result: Reduces energy and water use.

Personal Action: Limit outdoor lighting and consider timers.
Result: Reduces energy use and supports insect and nocturnal populations.

Personal Action: When purchasing a car, consider a hybrid or electric vehicle.
Result: Cuts down carbon emissions and reliance on fossil fuels.

Personal Action: Hang dry your clothes instead of using your dryer.
Result: Reduces energy consumption.

Personal Action: Use energy saving appliances such as dishwashers and water-saving showerheads.
Result: Reduces water consumption and energy use.

Personal Action: Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
Result: Reduces electricity consumption and is heart healthy.

Personal Action: Bike, walk or take public transportation instead of driving.
Result: Reduces energy consumption and CO2 emissions.

Personal Action: Bring reusable bags whenever shopping.
Result: Reduces plastic and paper.

Personal Action: Buy and eat local when possible.
Result: Reduces long-distance transportation energy expenditure.

Personal Action: Use refillable drink containers.
Result: Reduces plastic consumption and waste.

Personal Action: Go paperless where possible.
Result: Saves trees and reduces energy used in transportation.

Personal Action: Compost food waste.
Result: Reduces waste and supports healthier soil.

Personal Action: Use rechargeable batteries.
Result: Reduces stress on rare earth minerals.

The Education Center was made possible by a grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, support from North Shore Gas, Medline Industries, Kevin and Jean Froeter, private donations and the support of the residents of Lake County.




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More About This Facility

Educational Opportunities

A variety of public programs and events, as well as field trips for school and scout groups are offered throughout the year.  


Ryerson Conservation Area has been a center of the Forest Preserves environmental education and programming since it was acquired in 1972. Programs offered here are based on nature and the environment and designed for all ages. The new 2,900-square-foot Education Center includes two classrooms, a virtual teaching space, exhibits and a 900-square-foot screened-in North Shore Gas Outdoor Classroom. This project involved realigning the entry road and installing accessible walkways and an accessible 0.2-mile paved education loop trail.


The Education Center is located within Ryerson Conservation Area. The entrance is on Riverwoods Road between Half Day Road (Route 22) and Deerfield Road, just west of the Interstate 94 Tollway. Follow signs to the Education Center.