By Alejandra Natera and Hector Felix
In April of 2021, The City of Chicago released the Green Recovery Agenda, a continuation of ongoing municipal projects that attempt to reduce fossil fuel emissions and transition to clean energy.
As part of the Green Recovery Agenda, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has released four sustainable strategies to help promote the city’s sustainable initiatives.
In the most recent 2021 “State of the Air” report of the American Lung Association, Chicago ranked 18th among the most ozone-polluted cities in the United States. The report suggested that in Cook County, which includes the Chicago metropolitan area, 5.1 residents are exposed to potential health risks related to high ozone pollution levels.
Mac Dressman, an associate for the “Electric Bus Campaign” for the Illinois Public Interest Groups, said there’s a need for a shift away from diesel-powered transportation — particularly though the implementation of electric busses.
“We basically have a lot of information that shows that diesel fumes are really bad or and they you know they cause asthma, they cause cancer, there’s also the data showing all the sort of bad chemicals and things that are in diesel fumes,” he said.
“And think about it like kids who ride on school buses every day to go to school or exposed not just like one time to these fuse but you know for hours potentially every week to these toxic fumes”
Green Recovery Agenda
The agenda is broken into four key areas:
- Comprehensive Climate Action Plan
- Chicago Zero Net Carbon Buildings Strategy
- Electricity Franchise Agreement
- Clean Energy Transition Planning
The CTA is currently helping in lowering emission levels by introducing six electric busses, if successful produce 17 more electric busses. This will allow CTA to have the most electric buses in the nation. One step closer being the greenest cities in the world.
Dressman said that Chicago residents of Chicago and in general how society can contribute when it comes to improving air quality for everyone.
“We just need to shift away from using vehicles as much or dedicating so much of our system to car traffic,” he said. “We need more public transit service and availability, and need to be safer for people. We need our urban design to be less concerned about parking and highways and stop expanding highways and more focus on creating livable walkable communities for people.”
Plant Chicago is a nonprofit organization, does community outreach with a mission to cultivate and teach local businesses of circular economies practice through community-driven hands-on programs. In order for Chicago to fully adapt to a greener way of living, residents must practice this on a local economic level as well.
Finley Barnes, Plant Chicago’s communication specialist, defines circular economies practice as “waste of one process becomes an input for another.”
One of the public’s biggest concerns for sustainable initiatives can be cost but some programs Finley highlights are their ‘Farmers Market’ and ‘Local Food Box’ and how they come into play of being affordable or cost effective.
“We don’t just accept link payments but we actually double the value,” Barnes said.”Anybody who is paying for food at our farmers market or one of those food boxes, they can use their link card and that amount of money is then given back to them in these fund money coupons.”
When applying these sustainable practices it shows not only are residents able to receive fresh and healthier food options but as well, they are able to save money.
Both Barnes and Dressman said that a sustainable future begins with us as a society as a whole changing our way of thinking and acting.
“We need a big cultural shift in order to influence policy,” Barnes said.
Dressman added, “There just needs to be a shift in the terms in the thinking of our public officials and also a cultural shift among the public” he said.
“There’s a lot of other benefits to living in more walkable communities where people actually really like or haven’t experienced because we’ve grown up taking the highway everywhere.”
Sustainable Building Designs
The Leadership in Environmental Design is a green building rating system that provides protocol and certification for sustainable building design, construction, and performance. LEED provides a framework for sustainable spaces that includes energy efficiency, waste reduction, water conservation, etc.
LEED accredited architect and Senior Vice President at Primera Engineers Lourdes Gonzalez has collaborated on local and international projects that have implemented innovative green building solutions.
Recently, Gonzalez and her team obtained platinum certification for the new ComED Chicago North Headquarters in Chicago’s Avondale neighborhood. The North Headquarters is the third ComED facility to receive a LEED-certification.
“We are 100% ready for solar panels to be installed for the building to be net zero”, she said. “So, we have all the necessary switchgear and backup and all of that ready to go structure is already ready on the roof.”
In 2012 U.S. The Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative awarded the City of Chicago and ComED a grant to promote solar PV installations. The City of Chicago is working to power all City buildings with renewable energy by 2035.
Currently, Chicago buildings account for 70% of the city’s greenhouse emissions. On June 2, 2021 Lightfoot announced the installment of the city’s first “Building Decarbonization Working Group.” The group will lead projects in four sustainable sectors: building electrification, energy efficiency, new constructions, and renewable energy.
Gonzalez speaks on the importance of introducing sustainable building initiatives in the field.
“I think it’s important because you really have to look at the long term impacts,” she said. “Obviously whether it is global warming or climate change, whatever you want to call it. There is change. There is something that is different than it was 19 years ago, 15 years ago, and certainly much different than it was 40 years. And so we need to make sure we are the best stewards of the environment than we can be.”