Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Kathy Schubert – HI-Chicago volunteer and Green activist

By Margaret Sheridan

On Saturday evening, March 26, Kathy Schubert left the hostel guests at HI-Chicago in the dark. By design.

Kathy, a 12-year HI-Chicago volunteer, brought her special passion to everything - from bike safety in the city to her promotion of all-green living and energy conservation – to HI-Chicago.

For sixty minutes she turned off all unessential lights and other electrical appliances to celebrate Earth Hour, a global event started in 2007 in Australia, to raise awareness and take action on climate change. (see website
It was a first-time event for the hostel, but the third year Kathy hosted such a happening. Usually, she does it at her home.

MS. Why did you introduce it in the hostel?
KS: I wanted to share with the guests, and then learn from their input how people conserve energy in their countries. One guy who worked on a submarine was forced to conserve water by showering only for a minute or two.

MS: What else?
KS: We had two young ladies from Japan who told us they have seven different kinds of recycling and try to separate items properly – batteries, glass, and paper. We had Geri Naynick from Madison, WI who does recycling and gave away her old lawnmower by putting it out on the front lawn with a sign FREE. This is how they do it in Madison. We agreed that people would probably recycle more if they were fined for not doing it right. Where people pay for garbage pickup and recycling pickup, they're more likely to participate. Most of the people who participated bicycle at least in the warmer months. The Japanese student from Columbus, OH lamented her college roommate's preference to turn the furnace up and the air conditioning down instead of adjusting clothing. We advised her to keep the temperature steady to keep the bills down and prevent damage to the system. I said that I hang my laundry indoors and have stopped using my electric dryer. I use my plastic bags for dog poop twice (I have a small dog). I use handkerchiefs instead of tissues for my nose and avoid using paper towels whenever possible.

MS: You’re well-known around Chicago for cycling with your dog.
KS: I’ve rode for 15 years with my dog Joey, a Miniature Schnauzer. She rode in a basket and wore a helmet. It was my way of educating other cyclists to wear a helmet. Joey died at age 15. My new dog is Suzy, 4 ½ years old. I got her from a shelter. I travel around the country, and world, with my dogs.

MS: Long bike rides with your dogs?
KS. Yes. I’ve done 12 RAGBRAIs (a five-day organized ride across IOWA), and I’ve cycled 12 days in Capitol to Capitol, a 669-mile ride from Ottawa, Canada to Washington DC with Joey. I’ve been cycling since I was a kid. I grew up in Albany Park.

MS: Any advice for would-be urban cyclists who are nervous to ride in Chicago?
KS: Open your eyes, unplug your ears and watch for pedestrians.

MS: What’s your professional background?
KS:. I graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in psychology. Worked in advertising and film editing for years, even had my own company for 20 years. I’ve lived in New York City and London. I volunteer at the hostel at the information desk. I enjoy leading tours to places like Maxwell Street or the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie. It’s fun to show guests how easy it is to use transit system. I also volunteer for the Red Cross in recruitment and on projects such as blood drives.

MS: How do you travel?
KS: I enjoy doing homestays in Europe and Australia. I like meeting people and understanding their culture and how they live. I belong to Servas. It connects travelers with home stay opportunities. (

MS: How do you live “green”?
KS: I do composting. I bike instead of drive. Use paper on both sides. Keep a garden. I try to teach my tenants to recycle, but it’s hard. They need to be reminded, and especially to keep the thermostat down in their apartments. Mine is kept at 58 degrees in the evening and 66 degrees during the day. I try to recycle stuff. My favorite site is You can give away what you don’t need and get free things that other people don’t need.

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