We Caught You Doing Something Cool: Mark Stenftenagel

“My marine biologist daughter gave me a book about eight years ago that made me look at things differently,” says Mark Stenftenagel, a 35-year Elmhurst resident.

That book, “Ishmael,” started Mark on a quest to reduce his environmental impact. As CEO and principal of Oak Brook-based Whitney, an architecture and design firm, Mark began to look at how his industry plays a significant role in carbon emissions.

“About 40 percent of all carbon emissions come from construction and building use. I have a responsibility to improve that number,” he said. “Sustainability is a part of our business.”

Whitney has 10 employees who are LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) accredited designers and architects.

“We constantly look for environmentally conscious architectural solutions for our clients. We have a responsibility and opportunity to inspire change and inform our clients of new sustainable strategies and products.”

To truly practice what he preaches, Mark stepped back to look at what he could change in his own home. For anyone who is interested in reducing their utility bills or their carbon footprint but is unable to make a larger initial investment, Mark suggests starting with insulation. Six years ago, he insulated his roof and attic space to drop the heating and cooling load.

“With the large inventory of older homes in Elmhurst, residents should take advantage of the insulation and energy audits that ComEd offers,” he says. “In addition to tax credits available, insulation can reduce your bill by up to 30 percent.”

In 2007, Mark called on his brother Charles for advice. Charles has a place in the Bahamas, where electricity is very poor and often interrupted. In a place where sunshine is in abundance, solar is a natural choice.

“Charles put me in touch with his contact in Michigan, who installs solar panels throughout the country.”

What resulted is a solar energy system comprised of 23 190-watt panels installed on Mark’s 1940s home.

“My bills have been reduced nearly by half. Plus, when the sun is very bright, our meter runs backwards, so when we are not using electricity, we are actually saving money.”

For a system that cost $19,000 to install (after $7,000 of government rebates), the panels will pay for themselves in about 10 years.

“Not only will we save money, we’re helping the environment, investing in our home’s equity, and supporting a clean energy economy.”

According to the National Appraisal Institute, for every $1 reduction in annual utility bills, a homeowner increases his/her home’s value by $20. Additionally, the installation of solar panels will not increase property taxes; houses with solar electricity sell faster, and a homeowner does not need to be in the house long-term to reap the benefits.

What’s next for the Stenftenagel home?

“Now there are more interesting wind opportunities out there, with systems that are much more compact and efficient,” Mark says. Beyond his own home, Mark encourages the city of Elmhurst to take on a bigger role in reducing carbon emissions.

“There is a huge opportunity for the city to inspire residents to increase their energy efficiency and cut their environmental impact,” says Mark. “I’d encourage the city to hire a resource—a sustainability coordinator—to advise residents of the many opportunities out there.”

Writer Barbara Lonergan contributes a regular feature for the Elmhurst Cool Cities Coalition titled, We Caught You Doing Something Cool. This story appeared in the Elmhurst Patch and TribLocal. If you spot someone around town doing something cool to impact the environment, contact Elmhurst Cool Cities at ecoolcities@gmail.com. Elmhurst Cool Cities Coalition is a volunteer coalition of local institutions, organizations, business leaders and citizens working to achieve the goals of the Sierra Club Cool Cities campaign and the U.S. Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement.