CCAC would like to thank Richard Wilson, Director of City Planning and Urban Design at Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill Architecture for hosting CCAC’s monthly luncheon at their downtown office building on June 14, 2015. CCAC members heard from a panel of presenters on efforts to move Chicago to a zero-‐carbon city.
Wilson opened the lunch by explaining that architecture needs to be different in order to be sustainable, and that by investing in a city’s core area – a major focus of the CCAC – a city can reduce its carbon footprint. After a research study of the City of Chicago performed by Wilson’s firm, it was determined that, “70% of carbon emissions originate from buildings compared to 40% for typical US Cities due to the age of [Chicago’s] buildings.”
Dr. Chris Drew, Director of Sustainability for Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill Architecture, started the discussion by pointing out that the idea of carbon emissions has changed over time, and that a holistic approach to a building’s carbon footprint needs to be examined. For example, while skyscrapers occupy very little land, they use a lot of energy for normal operations. To illustrate his point, he told that audience that 10% of a building’s energy consumption is just pumping water through the building. Buildings also create a lot of carbon emissions to construct, and Drew pointed out that the process of creating, “one metric ton of concrete emits 300 – 400 kilos (600 – 700 pounds) of carbon dioxide.”
Drew presented the Chicago Decarbonization Plan, which is a plan to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by the year 2050 with the year of 1990 as the base year. The plan includes eight areas of study and focus: buildings, infrastructure, urban matrix, water, mobility, waste, community, and energy. Unfortunately, Chicago has a lot of room for improvement towards following the plan. After an initial dip in carbon emissions, they have started to climb back up.
There were many options for carbon reduction that Drew presented, including encouraging transportation planners to incorporate better transportation planning; as well as encouraging city planners to combine residential and commercial zoning in the same space, as this diversification avoids entire areas of the city being vacant and unused at different times of day; creating programs where buildings can share and trade unused resources; continue efforts to separate Chicago’s wastewater from its storm water runoff, and using technology to better collect waste and refuse instead of sending garbage trucks down every street every day.
Drew closed his remarks by indicating that the energy company’s current infrastructure has mostly reached capacity for Chicago’s core area, so if the city’s core is going to continue to grow, then the city must find ways to reduce the carbon emissions of new buildings, as well as retrofit the current buildings in order to meet future demand.
CCAC Chairman Greg Hummel then reminded the audience that the two previous months’ speakers – an executive from ComEd and technology start up host 1871 – both made similar points and it is the responsibility of CCAC to push for smarter and more creative ways of thinking such as ComEd’s smart-‐grid project and 1871’s approach to collaboration among tech start-‐ups.
Caralynn Nowinsky, Executive Director of UI Labs, a Chicago-‐based applied research and commercialization collaborative, was next to speak about bringing talent to technology by encouraging universities and companies to work together. She remarked, “There are some problems too big for any one institution to solve, but together they can share assets and they can share the risk, and they can develop solutions to those problems.”
The UI Labs is currently at the end of their start-‐up mode, using initial funding from the U.S. Department of Defense to create the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII) to bring together manufacturing and technology companies to collaborate with university, government, and community partners with a goal of transforming the manufacturing industry.
UI Labs next major initiative is CityWorks, which is a laboratory to, “facilitate the collaboration between various companies, universities, start ups, and other innovators to be able to carry out live research on development projects.”
Nowinsky re-‐enforced an earlier point made by the previous month’s speaker Howard Tullman on the importance of state and local governments making data assets available for research and study. By making the data that the city generates available to the public, researchers – like those at UI Labs – can use that data to develop innovative solutions.
Nowinsky was excited to talk about the Infrastructure Trust’s next big project, which is to focus on storm water management, and how green infrastructure can reduce storm water runoff.
The last speaker on the panel was Claire Tramm, Energy Director for the Chicago Infrastructure Trust, which exists to bring the private and public sectors together to improve services to the City of Chicago and its residents through alternative financing. Tramm’s discussion started with some of the Trust’s successes, including retrofitting 60 city building to make them more energy efficient with money raised through private capital, which is paid back to the Trust using the savings from the buildings being more energy efficient.
A future project includes doing something similar to make Chicago’s street lights more energy efficient, perhaps funded by allowing the same lighting infrastructure to be used by smart devices in some innovative manner, who then pay the city for that benefit.
Tramm shared her enthusiasm that the Trust provides non-‐traditional solutions to the city’s problems, and partners with a variety of institutions throughout the city to save, and perhaps even share, energy.