Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and protecting Chicago’s infrastructure from hotter summers, more precipitation, and other climate shifts are part and parcel of the sustainability plan under Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Judging from the response so far from local environmentalists, he’s doing a great job.
One of the Mayor’s first moves was to eliminate the city department responsible for aspects of the Chicago Climate Action Plan. Instead, the Mayor made agencies responsible for certain components that fell under their scope. The effort is being coordinated by Karen Weigert, who bears the title of the city’s chief sustainability officer. Weigert applauds the changes, indicating that they have allowed the administration to act more quickly, thereby building a green resume.
Among the accomplishments since the Mayor was sworn in May 2011 are accelerating plans to close two coal-fired power plants. The plants were blamed for polluting two working-class, minority neighborhoods for more than 80 years.
The city has also pledged to expand curbside recycling to all 50 wards by the end of 2013, repair some 900 miles of water pipes, and it has encouraged the owners and managers of the city’s largest commercial buildings to slash emissions by 20 percent over the next five years. The administration also pledged that all newly-built public buildings would need to be certified under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. By 2015, the city will also add 180 acres of parkland, 18.5 miles of lakeshore trails, and 100 miles of protected bikeways.
The Mayor is getting good marks for his ability to get things done that were only on the wish list of the previous administration. His ultimate goal is to reduce the city’s emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels by mid-century. Indeed, a lack of clearly-defined goals was where the previous administration fell short.
Cutting energy consumption of privately-owned office buildings is getting an especially big push. The rate of retrofits for older, less-efficient buildings, through programs like the voluntary Chicago Commercial Building Initiative, has increased by a third.
The Mayor may not be a tree hugger, per se, but he’s definitely committed to going green and earning the city a reputation that can help stimulate economic development and external investment in Chicago.
What are your thoughts about the job that the Mayor’s administration is doing to help the city go green? How is your building helping to fulfill his sustainability mission?