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Making Green Routine at the Chicago Public Library

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Making Green Routine at the Chicago Public Library

Chicago Public Library

Wellness, Safety and Sustainability | 2012

Innovation Summary

Continuing its history of providing the public with an example of the intelligent use of shared resources, the Chicago Public Library led the City for the past decade in sustainable building and facilities operation and permanently changed Chicago’s expectations regarding standard municipal construction and maintenance.

Problem Statement

Given the major capital program underway at the Chicago Public Library in the past decade with the prospect of an average of 2 new branches to be built per year, there was an opportunity to make sustainable practices a normal and expected aspect of construction, outfitting and ongoing operations at the Library. The Chicago Public Library desired designs for new branch construction which would result in reduced operating costs, healthier indoor environments and sustainable operations. Such designs could be reused for multiple projects resulting in an economical approach in construction as well as in supplying facilities with future ongoing needs such as light bulbs and filters. Other departments of the City of Chicago, the Public Building Commission of Chicago and the Department of General Services would need to work as partners with the Library in planning, constructing and maintaining the facilities of the Library as well as in educating the public, and taxpayers, as to the long-term value of environmentally sound building and operating practices. Due to the varying property values in different neighborhoods in the city the designs to be used for these branches needed to offer a one story or two story option as well as a smaller version depending upon the land available. Whenever possible, given the footprint of available property, a Reading Garden was also desired. When chosen sites required soil remediation instead of selecting a different site why not eliminate a community hazard? Efforts to extend the principles of sustainability in to existing Library buildings through renovation, retrofitting and everyday operations would need to incorporate changes to procurement contracts for all paper goods as well as examining the fuel used by the Library by the vehicles in its fleet. If done properly, the Library could become a reference point for the City on sustainability.


The Chicago Public Library developed flexible prototype designs for the green construction of new branches. As a result, 14 new branches with LEED certification opened in the past decade with 5 more expected within the next 2 years. Kiosks in these branches educate the public about the sustainable strategies employed and their positive impact on the environment. Overall operations evolved to more environmentally-friendly practices as older branches participated in energy efficiency upgrades. Conventional vehicles in the fleet pool as decommissioned were replaced with hybrids. Distribution of plastic book bags was discontinued in favor of reusable cloth bags sold at cost. Supply contracts were updated to require 30% post-consumer recycled content for paper items. Requests for a hard copy of the monthly calendar of events now receive a document printed with vegetable-based inks on recycled paper with 30% post-consumer waste. Resource-saving features at the central library include: • replacement of metal halide and older fluorescent light fixtures with energy-saving compact fluorescents • restroom upgrades to water-saving sensor and auto-flushing fixtures • Average yearly recycling totals of 1,057,339 gallons of water and 307,565 pounds of paper Even renovation projects incapable of achieving LEED certification have been transformed by the practice of “making green routine.” Recycled rubber flooring was chosen for the YOUmedia space within the central library and is slated to replace carpeting in other high traffic areas. At Humboldt Park Branch, the existing library will receive a new approximately 3,000-5,000 SF addition, a reading garden and nine new parking spaces on adjacent city-owned land. This addition, designed in the spirit of LEED with sustainable features, includes a 50% green roof.


After nearly 10 years of "making green routine" at the Chicago Public Library a ¼ of our fleet vehicles are now hybrids. The West Town Branch, which opened in 2010, shares space in a renovated department store with a city-run Senior Center. Even though it was an existing building instead of new construction the entire facility is certified as LEED gold due to the now standard library procedures of planning and designing for sustainability. The soil at the chosen site for the new Whitney Young branch is currently undergoing remediation in order to remove the harmful chemical residue left from years of drycleaning waste from the site's prior use. The progress of the process is regularly reported to an interested public. At community meetings in the neighborhoods before the construction of a new branch an expected and standard question is now "Will our new library be green?" For a decade now the majority of the City of Chicago's LEED certified facilities have been library branches. On June 14, 2011, Mayor Rahm Emanuel pledged to double the number of municipally-owned LEED certified buildings within four years. The standard adopted by the Library with the opening of the Budlong Woods Branch in early 2003 has led the way for LEED certified sustainable facilities throughout the city- police stations, fire stations, and schools.