Hedge Fund: Rebates for Your Sustainable Back Yard

By Linda Seggelke

In 2010 the City of Chicago established an educational and incentive program that highlights the many ways that Chicagoans can create more environmentally friendly landscapes. The program, titled Chicago’s Sustainable Backyards Program, is now being managed by the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT). As more and more individuals become concerned about the negative impact we have on the city, the country and even the planet, the sustainable backyards program allows property owners to garner rebates while improving the look and efficiency of their yard.

This program was created to reduce basement and neighborhood flooding and to reduce storm runoff into Lake Michigan and our other waterways through green infrastructure—the use of natural processes to filtrate, evaporate and reuse storm water. The city is offering rebates for planting specific trees and native plants and for using compost bins and rain barrels.

The Sustainable Backyards Program encourages property owners to conserve water, manage storm water, combat climate change, bring nature to Chicago and most importantly, save money. Residents can conserve water by using a rain barrel to collect storm water from the roof. Using this non-potable water to irrigate gardens and lawns will reduce the amount of metered water consumed. Rain barrels should be connected to a downspout to receive water, as barrels left out in the open do not collect enough water to be very useful.

Chicagoans can now help manage storm water runoff by trapping that runoff in rain barrels, which the city is offering a rebate on, and by planting flowers, shrubs and trees that are native to this area. These deep rooted plants are capable of helping direct rainwater to the soil and need little to no maintenance, as they have evolved to thrive in this region. The more plants in the yard, the more land to absorb excess water. Indigenous trees are capable of existing in the extreme weather of the Midwest and can intercept and absorb rain, slowing the amount of water headed into the sewer system.

Trees help combat climate change by converting carbon dioxide into oxygen and improve the quality of the air. They also serve to absorb pollutants and reduce smog. Carefully thought out plantings can also reduce the cost of heating and air conditioning by shading windows on the sunny side of a property in the warmer months and by acting as a wind barrier in the colder months.

The city is offering a rebate of up to $50 when purchasing a compost bin from a list of local retailers. Setting up a compost bin in your backyard will cut back the amount of organic materials that would normally end up in a landfill. Once the compost bin has been in use for a while and has been turned with regularity, the end product can then be used on your garden and eliminate undesirable chemicals and the expense of fertilizer.

The rebate for the purchase of a rain barrel from the list of local retailers is up to $40. A recent change in the backyards program now allows church, school and community gardens to benefit as well.

The whole city can profit from bringing nature to Chicago. Native plants and trees, in addition to utilizing storm water runoff, provide food and shelter to local and migratory birds and animals. The City of Chicago is offering a rebate of up to $60 for native plants and up to $100 for trees.
Funding for the rebates for the Sustainable Backyards Program comes from the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Pollution Preventions Program and a USDA Forest Service and Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Grant.

Consult the table for a partial list of flowers, plants and trees with available rebates. Additional information, including the lists of local retailers selling compost bins and rain barrels, a complete list of eligible plantings and those trees considered to be Chicago invasive species that are not available for rebates, is available at the city’s website.

Image courtesy Maureen Didde

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