Photography by Andreas Larsson
Despite this city’s industrial heritage, its dirt and grit and grime, despite the staunch car owners who won’t relinquish their keys, Chicago has sprouted green. Mayor Daley and city bureaucrats deserve credit for pushing for new environmentally sensitive building standards, a remarkable endeavor for a major U.S. metropolis. Altruistic CEOs, park planners, the design community, and nonprofits have also made a considerable mark.
But environmentalism’s unsung heroes are the ordinary citizens who are taking novel ideas and putting them in motion. For the first of what we envision as an annual tribute, we recognize eight Chicagoans who are pioneering ways to ease human impact on the earth-and helping make Chicago the birthplace of a cleaner, smarter kind of progress.
Abby Mandel, Green City Market
A carrot certified as organic may be free of chemical pesticides; but a carrot that has been sustainably grown is part of an agricultural process that respects the environment-from protecting the topsoil and groundwater to saving on fuel because the veggie came from a farm nearby. This distinction, says Abby Mandel, the founder of Chicago’s Green City Market, is what makes her market so very different from the myriad others in town and, for that matter, from Whole Foods.
Now in its ninth year, Green City operates Wednesdays and Saturdays from May to October at the southern end of Lincoln Park, then moves north to the Notebaert Nature Museum through December. Tireless and exuberantly twinkly-eyed, Mandel, who is 74, has smartly enlisted famous local chefs such as Paul Kahan, Rick Bayless, Bruce Sherman, and Sarah Stegner to conduct live cooking demonstrations amidst the tents, putting a chic, gourmet gloss on a rather hippie-ish idea. She seems most proud that her market-which includes just 40 rigorously screened farmers a year-has also become a resource for information on sustainable farming, and she has targeted the I-57 corridor, which runs from Chicago through Champaign to the southern tip of the state, as a food-producing region ripe for development. “Timing is with us,” says Mandel, who hopes to ride today’s green Zeitgeist to the next thing, whatever it may be. “People are waking up.”
Bill Sturm and Marty Serena, Architects
The Early Adopters
Twenty years ago, architects Marty Serena (left) and Bill Sturm didn’t make a fuss over the fact that they were building “green.” The energy-saving features they built into early projects, such as an addition to the Solo Cup Company facility in Highland Park, translated better to the client as cost savers. Two decades and dozens of residential and commercial commissions later, the two Notre Dame architecture grads have witnessed a change. “There’s been a paradigm shift; now the clients come and say, ‘How much farther can you take this building?'” says Serena, whose business partnership with Sturm dates from 1983.
In Villa Park, they have topped the police station with a green roof of native Illinois plants, while in Burr Ridge, the architects sank a new headquarters for the Tuthill Corporation slightly into the ground, added such features as computer-controlled window shades, and restored surrounding prairie. The Tuthill building signals a new, cleaner generation of manufacturing and employs just 60 percent of the energy used by a conventional structure of the same size. Serena says the time has finally come when “we don’t have to cloak what we do in other terms. We can call it environmental, because mainstream thinking is there now.” But neither he nor his partner considers what they’re doing to be anything radical. Says Sturm: “It’s really just how buildings ought to have been done all along.”
Josh Deth, Bike advocate
The Young Activist
In 1997, Josh Deth joined a small crowd of bicyclists and anarchists who wanted to organize a regular Critical Mass-a parade to promote bicycling as a pleasant and pollution-free form of transportation. Almost a decade later, Deth, now 32, can usually be found leading the monthly event-even in subzero temperatures. An undeclared leader in Chicago’s growing cycling community, he co-owns The Handlebar, a Wicker Park bar and grill where bicyclists congregate. This group of die-hards has helped rally for bike lanes and create a tight-knit social network that eschews any reliance on cars. As a result, Chicago is the largest city-by far-to be designated “bicycle friendly” by the League of American Bicyclists. “Biking is an easy step you can take to change your life,” Deth says.
Noticing the three miles of unused railway that run east along Bloomingdale Avenue from Logan Square to Wicker Park, Deth is now working to convert the stretch into an elevated bike path and garden. More than 30 local organizations and civic officials have signed on, signaling Deth has come a long way from the early days with anarchists and other activists. “You jump to the end result,” he says. “Everyone agrees on the goal-which is to get people out of their cars and to ride all year long.”
Rev. Clare Butterfield and Shireen Pishdadi, Faith in Place
At first glance, the two women could not be more different: the Reverend Clare Butterfield (right), a Unitarian Universalist minister, small and fair, and Shireen Pishdadi, a young Muslim woman, tall and dark, her head wrapped in a black hijab. Yet by building on those seeming differences, Butterfield, 46, and Pishdadi, 35, and their colleagues at the interdenominational organization Faith in Place have persuaded 200 Illinois congregations representing people of all colors and faiths-Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Unitarian, and Zoroastrian-to pledge stewardship of the earth.
This past fall, Resurrection Lutheran Church in Lake View installed solar panels that will heat water. The Unitarian Church of Evanston is raising funds for a geothermal heating-and-cooling system, while its neighbor, the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, is building the nation’s first certified green synagogue-despite the additional cost of $650,000. To support sustainable agriculture, Faith in Place has started a Taqwa Eco-Food cooperative-in Arabic, “taqwa” means “God consciousness”-to produce organic meats that also satisfy Islamic dietary requirements. Nurtured by the efforts of Pishdadi, the organization has opened up further relationships with the Muslim community.
“To get the scale of change that we need, we have to be motivated not just by economics, but by morality,” says Butterfield, the West Side group’s cofounder and director. “And I don’t know where that comes from if it doesn’t come from the religious community.”
Ori Sivan and Joe Silver, Greenmaker Supply Company
The Budding Entrepreneurs
Joe Silver remembers his reaction when Ori Sivan, his best friend from Niles North High, pitched him on the idea of a one-stop green building supply shop. “Green building supplies? I’d never heard of them,” says Silver (right), whose family runs Remodeler’s Supply Company, a local behemoth with five area locations. Sivan, an environmental engineer, believed a series of green building initiatives put forth by Mayor Daley would create demand for items made from nontoxic and renewable resources. But he needed a partner like Silver, who understood the construction industry.
By 2005, the two had opened Greenmaker Supply at the Remodeler’s Supply complex at 2500 North Pulaski Road. Last year, revenue from sales of items such as solvent-free American Pride paint, recycled glass tiles, and flooring from renewable bamboo totaled $1 million. With plans in the works to expand, the two 30-year-olds have decided they don’t just want to peddle “green” products; they want to engineer them, too-hence their new line of cabinets made from recycled wood dust and nontoxic glue. “Until we change the way we do business, it’s not going to have an impact,” says Sivan, whose biggest coup has been the conversion of his business partner. “Now that I have a baby,” Silver says, “there are no conventional supplies I would put in my house.”