On Tuesday, May 2nd, the City of Chicago announced the finalists for the Spring 2023 round of Economic Development Grants and a stunning $54 million was pledged to 133 projects across the city! Plant Chicago was selected as an finalist for the first ever Climate Infrastructure Fund awards!
I had the immense honor of being selected as one of two chosen speakers out of over 130 nonprofit organizations and small businesses in attendance at the Cultural Center. Below are my remarks to the assembled audience:
For a nonprofit leader, an event like this feels as close as we can get to winning an Oscar. Except in this situation, we are all winners!
Plant Chicago’s mission is to cultivate local circular economies. We envision a paradigm shift in production, consumption, and waste driven at the local level, generating equity and economic opportunity for all residents. In short, our global economy operates off of some dangerous assumptions: that there are infinite resources to consume and that that materials, and often people, are “disposable.”
Local circular economies create jobs. Composting organic materials creates more jobs than hauling materials to landfills (and is a paradigm of local economic activity, as finished compost that is sold stays within the local area and can help to replenish soils.) By repairing equipment instead of landfilling, we can support local jobs in neighborhoods like Back of the Yards . And by sourcing locally and sustainably grown food, we can support local farmers.
We operate out of a former firehouse on the Southwest Side of Chicago, which I find ironic as we now find ourselves responding in a quite different way to a different emergency: the climate crisis and over consumption.
Our mission and vision is what drives us to:
Install the first publicly available electric vehicle charging station on the Southwest Side.
Provide free food scrap drop off for our neighbors so that those materials get composted, not landfilled. (Last year, with our partners, over 7 tons of material were diverted from landfills.)
Offer Link matching and sliding scale options for the purchase of locally and sustainably produced food. (Last year we provided over $21,000 of healthy food incentives.)
Host hands-on STEM education programs for school groups across the city, regardless of their ability to pay.
Consult with and support small businesses that are working to transition to circular practices; businesses across various industries sourcing local and diverting materials from the landfill.
Host regular markets, generating tens of thousands of dollars in revenue for small farmers and other small businesses.
Create an Indoor Victory Garden, a shared use indoor farm; entrepreneurs and Chicago residents now have a low-risk option to experiment with growing their own food, year-round.
This investment from the Climate Infrastructure Fund will allow Plant Chicago to meet our ambitious goal to decarbonize our building by replacing gas fired space heaters with all electric air source heat pumps and energy recovery vents. When complete, our building will be all electric, and producing renewable energy.
When the Mayor released the Climate Action Plan a year ago, and later the Building Decarbonization Plan, I mentioned that Chicago is no stranger to plans; I relayed one of my hopes that these plans would not sit on a shelf to collect dust but instead collect only coffee stains, pen marks, and continued updates.
Today, with the announcement of investments in CIF, I think we can say that the plans are indeed getting quite a few coffee stains on them. Investments like these demonstrate tangible action to ensure that the city is working to an equitable transition to the decarbonization of buildings.
My hope now is that today is not the only day that this happens. That the city will continue to make bold investments in our future. Thanks to the Mayor, the Department of Planning and Development, and the Office of Climate and Environmental Equity for prioritizing development that centers sustainability, social services, and equity.