Grant money could help Chicago go greener


Samantha Conrad

Grant money could help Chicago go greener

By Blaise Mesa

With Chicago on the cutting edge of eco-friendly policies, a new grant could help spur even more green initiatives.

The U.S. Green Buildings Council has partnered with the Bank of America Charitable Foundation to announce new grant funding to recognize cities and communities worldwide pursuing the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Cities certification. 

Chicago—along with Denver, Phoenix, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and San Jose, California—has been awarded the grant, for which municipalities apply, according to a Feb. 28 USGBC press release.

Vatsal Bhatt, director for Cities and Communities at U.S. Green Building Council, was unable to disclose the amount of money awarded by the grant. 

“This starts benchmarking [performance]; cities can see what works in other cities and customize it to their own conditions,” Bhatt said. “Something may work perfectly in Chicago, and any city may want to work with those experiences.” 

The grant will look at cities performance in 14 key areas which include energy, water, waste, transportation, education, health, safety and equity, according to the release. The USGBC also wants the grant to inspire other cities to pursue green energy policies, Bhatt said. 

Chicago was a strong candidate because the city has been working to improve sustainability and quality of life, Bhatt added. 

Some of Chicago’s recent eco-friendly work includes hosting the North America Climate Summit with mayors across the continent to discuss and develop plans to reduce their carbon footprint, as reported Dec. 11, 2017, by The Chronicle. Chicago has yet to publicly announce its plans for the funding.

Along with the funding, the grant could also provide educational materials and city-specific technical assistance, such as measuring public transportation performances or how much energy buildings use, Bhatt said. 

“There’s got to be someone who goes first,” said Ellen Bell, senior manager of the Midwest Clean Energy Program at the Environmental Defense Fund. “For any city to go first, there has to be an incentive. Programs like this are incredibly important to demonstrate success and create usable lessons down the road [for] other cities.” 

This grant can help government departments collaborate because it provides a “framework” for them to work with, said Marissa Ramirez, project manager for the Healthy People and Thriving Communities program at the National Resources Defense Council. 

“At a federal level, we are not necessarily talking about climate [change],” Ramirez said. “Cities, communities and business people have to take that [responsibility] on. So this is another tool in the tool box to get some high [eco-friendly] standards.” 

Currently, three cities are LEED certified—Washington, D.C., Phoenix and Arlington, Virginia—and other cities such as Chicago are working toward achieving future certification, according to Bhatt. 

“Cities are learning as they go,” Bell said. “Every time a city like Chicago attempts something new, it should be lauded. There’s always room to do more, but we are on a pretty good track right now.”