Counties and cities are constantly searching for ways to attract and retain businesses. Local government should be in the practice of doing what it can to help ignite the regional economy.
I know from running the Merchandise Mart, the largest “green,” LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building in the world, that sustainability can drive the bottom line. It attracts customers, cuts costs and, most importantly, creates a new culture for employees by bringing creative new solutions to challenging old problems.
Imagine seeing that multiplied countywide. That kind of culture change would radically boost our business climate.
A little over a year ago, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle created the Sustainability Advisory Council. She asked ComEd President and CEO Anne Pramaggiore and me to co-chair the group of business, government and nonprofit leaders. Preckwinkle wanted us to challenge Cook County to become more sustainable environmentally, economically and socially.
We recently released our report and set an ambitious yet achievable goal. We recommended that Cook County reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. Preckwinkle has accepted that challenge.
Countywide, buildings account for 67 percent of all emissions. The council found that Cook County’s jail and hospital campuses — both large, 24-hour facilities — are its biggest energy users.
The county has already started implementing changes. It’s actually ahead of its target with ambitious energy efficiency investments and common-sense operating changes, such as shifting hours of operation to require less lighting, which is underway at the jail and hospital complexes. The work has saved taxpayers $3 million so far.