Sustainability Initiatives that Will Help Build a New Chicago

April 9, 2012

It’s always good to hear about communities that embrace sustainability as the key to enhanced quality of life, economic opportunity, and strengthened infrastructure. And as I’ve learned recently, Chicago -- a finalist for the 2012 Siemens Sustainability Community Awards -- is one such community.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel identified sustainability as a priority, stating, “Promoting sustainability throughout the city is a key focus of my administration and is integral to the quality of life we are working to develop for all Chicagoans.” Partnering with businesses, advocacy groups, charitable foundations, utilities, and state and federal government, Mayor Emanuel and the City of Chicago see sustainability and economics as inherently connected. Just a matter of days ago, Mayor Emanuel announced “Building a New Chicago,” a $7-billion, three-year plan to transform and upgrade city infrastructure while creating more than 30,000 jobs over the next three years.

As part of “Building a New Chicago,” Mayor Emanuel has created the Chicago Infrastructure Trust, a public-private partnership formed to invest in transformative infrastructure projects. The Trust will launch “Retrofit Chicago,” a series of projects focused on increasing energy efficiency in city assets. Other examples of private-sector involvement include the local utility’s $1.1 billion investment in smart grid technology and the 147 electric vehicle charging stations installed in partnership with local retailers.

Beyond partnering with the private sector, in 2009, 15 city departments and agencies collaborated to create individualized sustainability work plans containing more than 400 initiatives. As Chicago continues to drive this work, Mayor Emanuel is advancing initiatives that aim to enhance Chicago’s communities, commerce and economic development, local sustainability leadership, and, global climate leadership. 

Chicago’s existing features are impressive. For example, Chicago maintains:

  • over 5 million square feet of green roof space;
  • more than 250 Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified buildings, twice as many LEED certifications as any other U.S. city;
  • 26 miles of open and free public lakefront access;
  • the nation’s second largest public transportation system, serving 1.6 million rides on an average weekday;
  • more than 8,100 acres of Chicago Park District green space, making Chicago home to the largest municipal park in the nation;
  • the nation’s largest urban solar plant, Exelon’s 10 megawatt solar field; and,
  • 28 miles of Chicago River within city limits.

The city continues to move its sustainability agenda forward through:

  • eliminating food desertsthrough a city ordinance increasing community garden plot sizes and removing permit barriers;
  • improving water efficiencyby replacing over 1,500 miles of pipes and sewer lines;
  • improving air quality and energy sources through reduced coal-powered energy, closing the Fisk and Crawford coal plants within city limits.
  • advancing clean energyby creating an electric vehicle infrastructure of over 280 charging stations in Chicagoland;
  • creating a world-class bicycling networkthrough installing 25 miles of protected lanes in 2012 and launch a bike sharing system of over 3,000 bicycles;
  • increasing access to public space and encouraging outdoor recreationthrough the Bloomingdale Trail’s 2.5 miles of multi-use trail and more park space;
  • developing bus rapid transitby enhancing bus service and corridors;  
  • improving transit systemsthrough a $1 billion investment to eliminate slow zones and make other improvements; and
  • reducing wastewith the implementation of citywide curbside recycling in 2013, as a result of competitive bidding.

It’s our pleasure to showcase Chicago, which recognizes sustainability as a competitive advantage, as a finalist for this year’s Siemens Sustainable Community Awards. Chicago has a great story to tell about how communities can benefit from embracing sustainability as a catalyst for economic growth, community wellbeing, enhanced infrastructure, quality of life, and more. 

Want to be present when we announce the winners? Register for BCLC’s 2012 National Conference - Forecast: Corporate Citizenship and America’s Future.