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By Matt Baker
In 2009, according the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 120 million Americans commuted to work. Despite the rising cost of fuel, the vast majority of them—76%—drove alone. Only 5% took some sort of public transit and less than 1% traveled by bicycle.
By Matt Baker
Changes in how we interact with our environment come about in different ways. For example, the president can make a call to action on renewable energy, like Barack Obama did in this year’s state of the union address. Legislation, such as the revised energy conservation code, mandate behavior modification. But for the residents of north side Andersonville, change can also percolate from the bottom up.
By Linda Seggelke
Food deserts—areas where access to groceries and fresh food has been replaced by convenience stores and fast food restaurants—have plagued Chicago for years, particularly in the west and south neighborhoods. A recent report has shown that these areas are shrinking, with the number of Chicagoans living in a food desert reduced by 40% over the last five years.
By Clarence P. Denning
Pay any attention to green building trends and you’ll hear an oft-cited number: 40%. That’s the share of U.S. energy consumption taken by buildings. The picture is bigger than that, however, and little of it is rosy.
In 1980, buildings accounted for not quite 33%, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Back then, the energy-intensive industry sector accounted for more at over 41%. By 2010, those figures had nearly swapped; industry had shrunk to under 31% while buildings now consumed over 41%.
Residential buildings have always accounted for a larger portion than commercial buildings, but the latter have grown much faster over that time period. Residential structures grew from 20.1% of the total U.S. energy portfolio in 1980 to 22.5%. Over those thirty years, commercial buildings grew from 13.5% to 18.6%. The DOE predicts that to jump to 20% by 2035. In a dense, urban area like Chicago, structures account for about 70% of greenhouse gas emissions, with nearly 40% coming from commercial buildings.
Clearly, steps need to be taken to abate this growth. In 2009, the City of Chicago created a program to address commercial energy use, in coordination with Local Governments for Sustainability (known as ICLEI after their former title, International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives).
The Green Office Challenge is a friendly competition among office tenants to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The Challenge not only offers an opportunity for Chicago businesses and property managers to gain recognition for their green achievements, they can save energy, save money and gain a competitive advantage in green innovations.
More than 100 property owners and office tenants participated in the first year, including Jones Lang LaSalle, the Merchandise Mart, Transwestern Corporation, Office Depot and Microsoft. Office tenants are evaluated through a “green office scorecard” based on 50 green strategies that are related to five key office-related sectors: waste, energy, transportation, outreach and tenant engagement. Property managers can implement behavioral changes and capital improvements to reach those goals, and all are encouraged to use Energy Star’s Portfolio Manager to track the data.
Nearly 150 property managers and tenant companies located in Chicago’s downtown business district took part in the Green Office Challenge last year. Combined, they saved $17.5 million in energy costs and reduced energy use by 124 million kWh, the equivalent to the energy used by 45,000 homes. These efforts averted the emission of more than 85,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide.
“Chicago’s efforts in sustainability have created economic opportunity throughout our neighborhoods and dramatically improved the overall quality of life for residents,” said Mayor Emanuel. “The Green Office Challenge is a great example of the private sector working with government to reduce costs and create jobs while protecting the environment.”
Participants worked to set and achieve specific green goals, supported primarily through monthly training events, use of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager and other tools. It is because of these efforts, for example, that participants were able to divert 43% of their waste from landfills.
Round three, which launched in February, is a collaboration between the city and various partners, including non-profit Delta Institute, technology start-up GreenPoint Partners and sponsor Office Depot. This round will run through 2013 and suggests activities that employees and building managers can undertake to green their business practices. The competition has previously been focused on office buildings and tenants in the Loop, but this round will expand to those not just in the central business district but across the city and even the suburbs.
Mayor Emanuel’s environmental action agenda, Sustainable Chicago 2015, sets a target of doubling participation and impact in round three, as part of a larger goal to accelerate the economy through sustainability.
Aside from opening up the program to the full extent of the Chicago area, the key to the future success of this version is competition. “In Chicago, we like to compete and we like to win. And we love to win on sustainability,” said Karen Weigert, the city’s Chief Sustainability Officer, at the February launch party. “We want Chicago to be the most sustainable, competitive, livable city in the world.”
Last summer, ICLEI released the Green Business Challenge App, a customizable web application that now allows any municipality to launch a friendly competition among its business community to save money, energy, water and waste. Based on the success of Chicago’s Green Business Challenge, nearly a dozen cities and counties have also launched similar programs, including Houston, Charleston and Arlington County.
Houston Green Office Challenge participants reduced energy use by 28 million kilowatt hours, water use by 74 million gallons, and diverted 40% of their waste from landfills, in addition to many other achievements like adding bicycle parking, implementing flex time and telecommuting policies. The secret to the Green Business Challenge program’s success is twofold: fun and friendly competition, and media recognition for the businesses’ green achievements.
The web app allows any local government to launch a Green Business Challenge program in weeks, not months, and to administer it with fewer staff and less money. Participants access the app through the local government’s website, and use it to register, take a baseline survey, browse a library of tips and resources, update their achievements, view a scorecard that tracks their progress toward goals, read customized suggestions for ways to increase their score and operate a carbon calculator. Program administrators can use the tool to customize the pr-ogram, view reports on participants’ progress and maintain engagement with mass emails.
The city of Chicago announced today the expansion of the blue cart recycling program to the 49th and 50th Wards. However, city officials also vowed to expand recycling pickup to the entirety of Chicago by the end of the year.
By Matt Baker
While it was popularized—and now thrives—in Germany and Scandinavia, the passive house concept actually started in the 1970’s, at the University of Illinois. The technology stagnated in the US after the energy crisis receded, though it took off in Europe.
But, as more developers and consumers in this country accept sustainable architecture, the search is always on for the next superlative in green building. Currently, a passive house truly is the greenest option for new construction. It will likely be some time before another technology dethrones it.
So when the Lema Family decided that they wanted to build a durable, super-efficient home, it wasn’t long before they decided to build a passive house in suburban River Forest, the first certified passive house in the Chicago area.
By Matt Baker
Cannon Design’s Chicago office once occupied three stories and about 80,000 square feet at 111 W. Washington. This year, they moved into one floor spanning between the buildings at 205 and 225 N. Michigan. But don’t call the 60,000 square feet of space in Michigan Plaza a step down; Cannon Design has proved that less really can be more.
By Matt Baker
Deconstruction—the art of carefully dismantling a building rather than demolishing it—has been expanding over the past few years. Also expanding is the local hub for this practice, the Rebuilding Exchange. What once was merely an exchange for repurposed building materials is now also an exchange for deconstruction ideas.
Since first opening back in February of 2009, it has been the mission of the Rebuilding Exchange to create a market for reclaimed building materials. Initially, this was manifest simply in a Brighton Park warehouse where contractors and the DIY community could donate or purchase salvaged building supplies. A recent move to the northwest side has given the nonprofit venture more room for stock. But perhaps just as exciting are the expanded endeavors such as educational seminars and even a furniture line.