Chicago City Hall's State of the Art Green Roof

Green Scene: Celebrating an anniversary, and looking ahead

Thu, 08-18-2011

  This month marks the one-year anniversary of the Green Scene column’s debut, so I thought I’d take a moment for a quick look back and an eager eye ahead.


The local green economy cuts such a wide swath across so many sectors of business, government, non-profits, and various combinations of the above, that there has been no shortage of sustainable business stories to write about. Some companies were newbie start-ups finding their niche -- like Power2Switch, which offers consumers price comparisons on energy providers, and Carbon Day Automotive, which is installing electric car charging stations throughout the city.

Other standouts in the local green business sector covered in the column included Andre DeRosa’s wind turbine manufacturing company Balanced Wind; Bruce and Erica Horigan’s Skokie-based company, Horigan Urban Forest Products, which recycles city trees into home and office furniture, and a group of angel investors that formed SLoFIG to finance start-ups in the local food distribution sector. I loved writing about eco-chic couple Bianca and Michael Alexander’s Conscious Planet Media company, and sustainable caterer City Provisions, run by Cleetus Friedman, opening a storefront deli in Ravenswood.

Some features focused on more established business owners re-tooling their operations to get a piece of the action in the sustainability sector. They included Ron Cowgill, who added a new company to his suburban remodeling business to focus on installing wind turbines and solar panels.

There were local green government stories, too. The city of Chicago’s Green Office Challenge was an effort to motivate commercial building owners and their corporate tenants to green-up their office space. We also reported on the City Council’s passage of the new Green Business Certification program, which was widely criticized in the green business community as a watered-down initiative that doesn’t push companies to be truly sustainable.

Sustainability thought leaders were invited to share their opinions and knowledge on specific urban and corporate green topics. They included Amy Francetic (Clean Energy Trust), Peter Nicholson (Foresight Sustainable Business Alliance), Anne Evens (CNT Energy), and Harry Rhodes (Growing Home Inc.).

Beyond the narrow focus of what local businesses and government are pursuing in the green space, I tried to add flavor of other happenings in the city that were tinted green and tied in to business interests, too. Some standout events over the past year included the outdoor screening of the documentary “Carbon Nation” at Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion, the mayoral candidates’ debate last fall on environmental issues, The Field Museum’s Sustainability Design Exhibit, the FamilyFarmed Expo last spring about local food for businesses and consumers, and the greening of Lollapalooza earlier this month.

While former Mayor Richard Daley set one of his goals for Chicago to be considered one of the greenest cities in the U.S., new Mayor Rahm Emanuel so far seems more than willing to run with the torch that’s been passed to him. Even before he was sworn into office, I listened to the mayor-elect’s brief comments at a gathering of clean-tech entrepreneurs and financiers last spring tell the audience he would do all in his power to clear the path for new green business development to move forward with less bureaucratic obstacles. Now let’s see him deliver on that promise in the months and years ahead.

As part of his promise to make sustainability and economic opportunity a priority, Mayor Emanuel created the new position of Chief Sustainability Officer within his cabinet. He named Karen Weigert to that post, who brings business and government experience to the role. Ms. Weigert is spearheading the mayor’s agenda to integrate green efforts throughout city government and boost the local economy and job creation through green initiatives. I hope to share with readers those new programs and partnerships as they develop, or even ahead of time so local players can get a heads up and try to get some of the action.

In the months to come, there will be lots of new green-minded local start-ups to write about, as well as more established businesses re-inventing themselves to succeed in the green sector. I’ll shed more light on financing opportunities for entrepreneurs seeking funding in the green sector, and cover city-wide happenings that appeal to the eco-minded and are good for the economy too. Conversations with movers and shakers in the sustainability realm will continue as well.

It’s been a great year writing this column, but I want to make sure I’m covering green business topics, events and newsmakers that are most important and useful to you. So I will end with a request to my readers: I’m inviting anyone who cares enough to drop me a line here at Crain’s, or through my website, with suggestions of what kinds of stories you want to read about in the local green business world in the year ahead.

My column will resume after Labor Day. I should be done reading all your emails by then.