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Chicago, My Kind of Sustainable Business Town

Words by Leon Kaye

Cities are scratching and clawing to prove they are “green” or welcoming to “sustainable business,” and Chicago is no exception. But America’s third largest city boasts plenty of factors positioning it as a hub for forward-thinking business: vibrant neighborhoods that attract the best and the brightest entrepreneurs who crave an urban lifestyle; top universities; and some of the most influential corporations in the country that can nudge other businesses to incorporate sustainability within their overall strategies. For those reasons among others, Chicago is a city that would make any list of top sustainable cities in which to live and run a business.

Like any list (such as one I wrote over a year ago on top emerging sustainable cities), a ranking or mention of a company, or city, on a “green” or “sustainable” is highly subjective; and a position on such a list means far less than having a local government and business community that together can get things done. And therefore Chicago stands out with its green building initiatives, thriving sustainable restaurant culture and transportation hub.

Some highlights from Building A Sustainable Region, released last week, showcase various reasons why Chicago stands tall as a sustainable business hub:

LEED and green building

The birthplace of American architecture now witnesses a new wave of building focused on more sustainable construction practices. The alluring Aqua Tower near Millennium Park boasts curving balconies shielded from sunlight, an 80,000 square foot roof garden and high performance solar glazing offer decreased energy costs and comfort for its residents; iconic buildings such as the Merchandise Mart and the Willis Tower have undergone green retrofits; and many local architecture and design firms such as SOM and Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill lead groundbreaking projects across the U.S. and world.

Electric vehicles

Chicago has become a locus of innovation for the nascent electric vehicle sector. In December 2012 alone, Smith Electric announced it would open a manufacturing plant in the city; local leaders announced an incentive program for the adoption of EVs in private and public fleets; Chicago’s government announced it would encourage contractors to buy EVs while working to make the city’s fleet more energy efficient; and Argonne National Laboratory scored a $120 million grant to ramp up battery research and development.

Local corporations are stepping it up

Much of the report reads like a dog-and-pony show highlighting what locally based corporations are accomplishing on the green front. Standouts include MillerCoors, a Chicago newbie as of 2009 and a leader in water efficiency and waste diversion (eight breweries are now zero-waste); Northern Trust has improved its socially responsible investing for institutional investors; and United Airlines and Boeing currently partner on the Midwest Aviation Sustainable Biofuels Initiative (MASBI) to push biofuel development for commercial flights.

Read the Chicago Region Corporate Sustainable Working Group’s full report here.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is the editor of GreenGoPost.com and frequently writes about business sustainability strategy. Leon also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable BrandsInhabitat and Earth911. He will speak at San Francisco State University on climate change, the media and business on Wednesday, April 3. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).

[Image credits: Leon Kaye]

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's worked an lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.

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