Shopping at a farmers’ market — a staple of village life throughout history — is healthier for you while also being a socially and environmentally responsible act for your community. Buying locally grown food direct from the producer ensures that the produce you purchase is fresher — therefore, more nutritious, with superior taste and texture — than anything you’d be able to buy from a supermarket. Keeping food dollars circulating locally directly benefits your local economy. And, by not shipping produce over long distances, you reduce both fuel and excess packaging, which benefits the environment.
Ride your bicycle to the market and bring a reusable bag, and you’re living green! You’re also in for one heck of a good time. Today’s farmers’ markets have expanded to include all kinds of products, services, and entertainment. Many also provide a platform for local politicians, not-for-profits, and advocacy groups to interact with the public. Farmers’ markets are celebrating the fall harvest season all over the USA and Canada right now, each with its own distinct character and setting.
After visiting at least a dozen Chicago area farmers’ markets over the past few months, Blue Planet Green Living‘s Chicago-based crew has selected two of our favorites for an in-depth look. Among the longest-running and best-attended markets in the metro area, they offer not only a superior selection of quality goods, but also a number of educational and special programs that benefit their communities.
More than a Market in Evanston
The Evanston Farmers’ Market meets every Saturday from mid-May through the first week of November. For more than 30 years, city and suburban residents have relied on the Evanston market as a premier source of fresh produce, meat, bakery, cheeses, and fresh flowers. The market also features entertainment and numerous information booths from area schools, political and advocacy groups, and charitable organizations.
Throughout the season, visitors and shoppers are treated to special events, including family recreational programs, educational seminars on local ecology from the local Parks and Forestry department, Public Works presentations, and cooking demonstrations.
A unique aspect of the Evanston market is its affiliation with Home Grown Artists, a program that showcases the work of hometown artists and artisans. Evanston boasts ten times the national average of artists residing and working in studios and galleries throughout the city. Special events programming at the market also includes ceramics and wood-carving classes and demonstrations.
The market also has a strategic partnership with Now We’re Cookin’, an Evanston facility that offers cooking classes and provides rentable commercial kitchen space and state-of-the-art demonstration and event space for corporate clients and local culinary businesses.
This past week, Now We’re Cookin presented their 2nd Annual Harvest Celebration, a fundraiser that benefits both the Evanston Market and the Land Connection, an Evanston-based not-for-profit which teaches sustainable farming practices and trains new farmers. Evening events spotlighted the market’s food products by incorporating them into dishes prepared by Evanston’s top chefs. If you’re in the Chicago area, it’s an event you won’t want to miss next year; watch for it on the Now We’re Cookin’ website.
Year-Round Produce in Lincoln Park
Chicago Green City Market (CGCM), the area’s only year-round, twice-weekly market, meets on Wednesdays and Saturdays. It’s held outdoors from May through October in the historic south end of Lincoln Park, moving inside to the south gallery of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum from November through April.
Earlier this year, Chicago Green City Market received a grant from the Farmers Market Promotion Program, which is part of the USDA’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative. CGCM was the sole Illinois recipient from among the 260 known markets operating in the state.
“This is a giant step forward for us and will help expand the mission and vision of Chicago Green City Market,” said Lyle Allen, Executive Director of Chicago Green City Market. “Our mission is to provide a marketplace for purchasing sustainably grown food and to educate, promote and connect farmers and local producers directly to chefs, restaurateurs, and the greater Chicago community through the market itself, educational programming and special events.”
The grant dollars will fund GCM Farmer Scholarships that encourage participating farmers to attend workshops, conferences, and classes to ensure they will receive 3rd-Party Organic and/or Sustainable Certification by 2012 — as required by Green City Market. Funding will also be directed to the improvement of the Edible Gardens program, with the development of marketing and promotional materials and staffing.
A joint project of Green City Market and Cook County Master Gardeners at the University of Illinois Extension, Edible Gardens engages children in growing, weeding, composting and harvesting, while introducing them to the concept of “farm-to-table.” Located at Lincoln Park’s Farm in the Zoo, programs are available for school and summer-camp field trips.
Chicago Green City Market is creating a national marketplace model to distribute and promote local, sustainably grown food and educate the public as to the many benefits of consuming locally grown foods. The market features a variety of educational programs, one of the most popular being the weekly cooking demonstrations. Chefs from the area’s finest restaurants prepare dishes using locally produced, seasonal ingredients from the market’s farmers and producers. Local chefs are among the market’s highest-volume customers.
The market also sponsors the Locavore Challenge. Participants commit to eating locally grown and produced foods for two weeks. The Green City Information tent provides a list of local stores that sell locally produced food; names of locavores who have completed their pledge are listed on the market’s website.
Find a Farmers’ Market
As the buy-local movement has firmly taken root, and public support of small, sustainable, organic farming operations has grown, the number of farmers’ markets nationwide has skyrocketed. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics, 1,755 known farmers’ markets were in operation in 1994, with the total climbing to 5,274 — an increase of more than 200 percent — in 2009.
Visit any of the following sites to find a farmers’ market near you — or search the Internet for other locations:
- USDA Agricultural Marketing Service: National Directory of Farmers’ Markets
- Farmers’ Markets in the US and Canada: Buy Local Think Global
- US Farmers’ Market: LocalHarvest
- Irish Farmers’ Markets
- Farmers’ Markets Italy: Verde Terre d’Acqua
Tour a Farm
There’s a wealth of information available online for people interested in touring farms and meeting the farmers who sell their produce at farmers’ markets.
State tourism sites such as Illinois Ag Fun Texas Farm Visit, Visit Iowa Farms, Visit New Jersey Farms, Hawaii Farms and Farm Tours, are excellent resources. Enter “visit farms” and your location in your favorite search engine to find farms you’d like to visit.
On the national scale, the USDA takes an active role in promoting the movement toward sustainable farming and working to improve direct market access for operators of small and medium-size farms.
But the US is hardly the only location for farm visits. For example, the Farms for Schools website provides a list of farm tours for school children in England. Leeton Farm Visits offer tours of various types of farms in New South Wales, Australia.
Before arranging a visit, check to be sure that the farms meet your own criteria, such as raising organic produce, vegetables, fruit, or livestock.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Chicago-area environmentalists gathered in Lincoln Park on September 15 to celebrate Carbon Day, which the Illinois state legislature designated as an official state holiday earlier this year, as reported on Blue Planet Green Living. The festival was ideally sited amid a beautiful stand of shade trees and conifers adjacent to Lincoln Park’s Farm in the Zoo. The event featured demonstrations, educational booths, speeches, and activist organizations. In addition, visitors learned about sponsoring companies and area businesses committed to the goal of reducing the national carbon footprint and making a positive impact on the environment.
Live music of different genres ranging from reggae to indie entertained the crowd, which enjoyed vegan and organic dining options al fresco while listening to the music and trolling the display booths. The event was located right along a major bus route served Chicago’s low-emission, hybrid buses. Bikers and pedestrians arrived via appropriately carbon-free modes of transportation. Chicago’s electric elevated rail system, which invites riders to bring bikes on board the trains in off-peak hours, also delivered attendees to the event.
Demonstrations featured speakers on tree planting, recycling, and composting, a presentation on biodiesel, and a speech from Illinois State Representative Karen May, a proponent of tax credits for green businesses who sponsored the resolution to recognize Carbon Day as an official state holiday. Vendors displayed green wares ranging from no-carbon vehicles to organic t-shirts. Visitors had the opportunity to send postcards to Illinois senators urging them to support the environment. They also were invited to add their comments and drawings to a mural depicting ways we can lower carbon emissions and combat global warming.
Chicago’s first Carbon Day Festival was an enjoyable and upbeat way of bringing environmentalists together to learn how to further their common goals.Watch for details about Carbon Day 2010 in Chicago or a city near you.
We thought so.
The concept of car sharing originated in Switzerland in the late 1980s and migrated to North America by way of Quebec City in 1994, according to Kevin McLaughlin, publisher of Toronto-based CarSharing.net, an industry resource website. “Car-sharing offers city dwellers who don’t require a vehicle to get to work an alternative to owning a private car,” he explains.
“About 80 percent of the expense of owning a car is fixed cost that you’ll pay whether you drive or not. If there’s a car sitting out front, you’ll find yourself using it more to justify the expense — even if it’s just to go a few blocks. Car-sharing makes it possible to kick the car habit.
“If you drive less than 5,000 miles a year, this is going to save you money. Also, if you no longer own a car, you’re going to walk or ride your bike those few blocks. So you end up living a healthier lifestyle.”
The benefits to the environment are obvious. “For each car put into service, anywhere from 5–20 cars are taken off the road,” McLaughlin told BPGL. “It’s difficult to quantify; different studies report different results. But there’s no question that car sharing reduces car ownership and use.”
Car sharing is best suited to transit-oriented big cities where the car-share companies can link to public transportation. The Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) — a Chicago-based not-for-profit devoted to making urban communities more livable and environmentally sustainable — introduced car-sharing in its hometown. With support from the city and from its tree-planting, bike-riding mayor, Richard M. Daley, CNT won funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation for an initial two-year pilot project in 2002. They launched I-Go Car Sharing in 2004, with 250 members; five years later, there are 14,000 members. With service in dozens of Chicago neighborhoods and two suburbs, and a fleet of more than 200 low-emission and hybrid vehicles, I-Go Car Sharing is gaining ground as an alternative to car ownership and a supplement to public transportation, while helping to position Chicago at the forefront of the environmentally responsible transit movement.
Committed to providing convenient, reliable, and affordable service throughout the Chicago area, I-Go promotes the idea that everyone in the region should have good transportation options without having to own a car. “We’d like to see Chicago’s public transportation become the premier system in the world,” explains I-Go CEO Sharon Feigon.
“An integrated system that provided seamless transfers between all the transit entities, car sharing, and auto rental could allow us to reduce car ownership and get vehicles off the road. In addition to the environmental benefits — which are significant — we could lower transportation costs for families, freeing up resources that could be used to increase home ownership and business development in the region.”
Things are moving in the right direction. In January 2009, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and I-GO Car Sharing launched their joint smart card program: a single card that can be used to gain access to I-GO vehicles and ride the CTA. Individuals who meet each program’s eligibility requirements receive a card that can be used both to ride the CTA and to unlock their reserved I-GO vehicle. Currently, there are I-GO cars at nine “L” stations (Chicago parlance for the elevated rail system), with plans to expand to more this year. Nearly every car in I-GO’s fleet is within walking distance of a CTA rail or bus stop.
Transportation Cost Savings
How successful has this model proven thus far? According to Feigon, I-Go research has shown that one of their cars can take 17 cars off the road, while at the same time increasing the use of public transportation by up to 3 times per week. The study indicates that nearly half of I-Go members who owned cars when they joined sold their cars after six months of participation, and more than half reported they either postponed buying a car or sold a car prior to joining.
The cost of car ownership in the Chicago area is considerable — “about $7000,” Feigon says. “We’ve already demonstrated that we can cut these costs in half.”
How It Works
Prospective members with qualifying driving records get the green light to join and select from different plans that best suit their driving needs. According to online member reviews, pricing is most advantageous for people who have need of a car for a few hours a day a few times a month. Members typically log into the web-based reservation system, which transmits the reservation data to the vehicle.
Using their I-Go Smart Card, the member unlocks the car, which is parked at a permanent, dedicated location, and retrieves the ignition key from a keypad console device in the glove compartment. The typical trip lasts about 3–4 hours, charged at hourly rates. Day rates are available for trips of longer duration. The cost of the trip is charged to the credit card on file. I-Go pays for the gas and insurance. When the gas gauge dips below ¼ tank, the member is required to fuel up, and the cost of gas is credited to their I-Go account. I-Go cleans and services the vehicles.
As one might expect when unsupervised humans interact with technology and each other, there can be system glitches, but member feedback is generally quite favorable.
The Road to the Future – PHEV and All-Electric Car Sharing
Car-sharing is seen as an ideal application for Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV) and all-electric vehicles, because the system is decentralized, and shared cars typically cover short-duration, short-distance trips. I-Go currently has two plug-ins and is working with the City of Chicago to gain access to recently installed solar-powered charging stations, which power the city’s fleet of electric vehicles. The use of solar canopy technology to deliver electricity to the power grid, which is then used to charge shared PHEVs and electric cars, is a combination one-two punch with enormous potential to reduce carbon emissions and improve urban environments.
Car Shares from Coast to Coast
Car-sharing companies in cities across North America are in the process of building a network to offer members from other car-shares access with no annual membership fees. Among other companies that I-Go works closely with are CityCarShare San Francisco, Philly Car Share, hOur Car Minneapolis/St. Paul, and AutoShare in Toronto.
As of July 2009, according to Susan Shaheen of the Transportation Sustainability Center at University of California at Berkley, more than 377,000 members of 42 programs in the U.S. and Canada share more than 9,800 vehicles. As awareness and availability of these programs accelerate, these numbers have nowhere to go but up.
Caryn Green lives in Chicago, Illinois, where she has spent her career in media on both the business and editorial sides of the aisle. An ardent environmentalist and animal rights supporter, she is an outdoor enthusiast and adventure traveler, who loves to go places you can’t find on a map.
Green writes for Chicago-based magazines and newspapers and her column, “Exploring Chicago,” is posted at Examiner.com.
May 11, 2009 by Julia Wasson
Filed under 2009, Blog, Economy, Ecopreneurs, Environment, Family Friendly, Front Page, Green Building, Green Living, Illinois, Iowa, Kids, Sustainability, Sustainable Living, Youth Programs
If you’ll be in Illinois this weekend, head on over to Navy Pier to attend Chicago’s third annual Green Festival, May 16 and 17. Billed as the “original green consumer living event,” the weekend will provide “a vision of a cleaner, more efficient future for American businesses, homes, and lifestyles.”
The event is jointly sponsored by Global Exchange and Green America (formerly Co-op America), both of which are “dedicated to environmental and social justice.” The Green Festival provides a forum to learn about “sustainable solutions for successful communities and a healthier environment.” Regional groups contributing to the program include BIG: Blacks in Green™, University of Illinois Extension, The Field Museum and Local First Chicago.
Two more Green Festivals will take place later this year in Washington, D.C., (October 10 and 11) and in San Francisco (November 13-15). Earlier Green Festivals were held recently in Seattle (March 28 and 29) and Denver (May 2 and 3). In 2008, more than 125,000 people attended the festivals in total.
Kevin Danaher, Co-Founder of Global Exchange and Executive Co-Producer of Green Festival, describes the Green Festival’s purpose as “to share with local communities the importance of living socially responsible and environmentally conscious lives.” He adds that the Chicago festival focuses on “the realities of going green and how to incorporate it into a daily routine to see results in health, finances, and local environment.”
According to a press release from the Green Festival, the Chicago festival will include “eco-insight into the transitioning economy, growing consumer consciousness and evolving environmental policy with over 125 visionary speakers, 350 local and national green businesses, and dozens of community and nonprofit groups. All exhibitors must meet strict standards set by Green America, guaranteeing the highest level of social and environmental responsibility in all participating organizations. Every element of each business is thoroughly vetted to ensure authentic sustainability.”
If you’ve ever wondered whether going green is attainable and affordable, you’ll find the answers here. The show will include the most innovative ideas and products you can find on the eco-friendly scene, as well as speakers who will talk about environmental and social justice issues. Watch for presentations like these:
- “25 Years Later, Justice for Bhopal,” survivors speak out
- “Environmental Justice,” with youth community organizer Marisol Bacerra
- “Greening the Disability Community,” with Ayo Maat
- “An Edible Education Round Table,” with famed chef Alice Waters
- “Building Community solutions for Native Nations,” by Laura Bartels
- “Green Fixes for the Economic Mess,” featuring Alisa Gravitz, Executive Director of Green America
Attractions for All
On the show floor, you’ll find a sustainable marketplace featuring top-notch fair trade and eco-friendly wares from local and national vendors. At the Green Home Pavilion, you’ll be able to participate in a variety of workshops in which you can learn diverse skills and techniques, such as how to do an energy audit in your home or how to set up a compost for your apartment.
The festival isn’t just for the older generation. It’s got features designed specifically by and for youth. Young adults will find entertaining and informative exhibits, games, and workshops presented by their peers. Your little ones won’t be left out, either, as the Organic Valley Green Kids’ Zone provides fun activities for the younger set.
Small Carbon Footprint
Having participated in a number of trade shows in my career, I can testify to the huge environmental footprint and waste that occurs with every show. Not so with the Green Festival, as it’s organizers have been walking the talk by modeling environmental and social leadership since its inception in 2002.
Historically, the festival has reused, recycled, or composted 97 percent — or more — of the waste generated by the show. Responding to the Festival’s commitment to a small carbon footprint, USA Today called the Green Festival a model of “how it should be done.”
If you arrive on your bike, you’ll get a discount on admission as well as free valet parking for your carbon-free transportation vehicle. In addition, the Festival team is providing carbon offsets for the entire event, including for the staff and organizers.
Go Green and Save
As we endeavor to illustrate by example in Blue Planet Green Living, going green is “Earth Wise. Money Smart.” And that’s exactly the message that the Green Festival is working to convey. As Gravitz says, “In addition to providing the Chicago community with exciting and relevant programming, we will also provide perspective on one of the most pressing issues of our time: economic stability. Through the many talks and exhibits at the Green Festival, participants will be able to learn how to go green in their careers, investments, and lifestyle. Going green is a commitment that will add up to big savings for your wallet and the planet.”
You won’t want to miss the opportunity to hear from this year’s list of outstanding speakers:
- Amy Goodman, award-winning journalist, host of Democracy Now! and co author of The Exception to the Rulers and Static
- Alice Waters, renowned chef of Chez Panisse in Berkeley
- Paul Stamets: Mycologist and mushroom cultivator from Fungi Perfecti, a family-owned, environmentally friendly company specializing in the use of gourmet and medicinal mushrooms to improve health
- John Perkins: Founder and board member of Dream Change and the Pachamama Alliance, and author of best-selling Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
- Alisa Gravitz: Executive Director of Green America and Executive Co-Producer of Green Festival
- Kevin Danaher: Co-Founder of Global Exchange, Executive Co-Producer of Green Festival, and Executive Director of Global Citizen Center
- Damali Ayo: Activist and author of How to Rent a Negro
- And more!
The event will provide a wealth of entertainment and information, including:
- Organic Valley Green Kids’ Zone
- Youth Unity
- Community Action Center
- Green Home Pavilion
- Fair Trade Pavilion
- Music Stage Featuring Local Acts
- Socially Responsible Investing
- Natural Food, Beer & Wine
- Eco Fashion
- Eco Tourism
- Green Careers
- E-waste recycling
Navy Pier, 600 E Grand Avenue, Chicago
Saturday, May 16: 10:00AM – 7:00PM
Sunday, May 17: 11:00AM – 6:00PM
$15 for two days/$10 for seniors, students, and all who arrive by bicycle or public transit
Free Admission: Children 18 and younger, Green America or Global Exchange members and volunteers, those who bring three or more books to donate to BetterWorldBooks
Friends of the Green Festival
With a donation of $75 you’ll receive:
- Full Green Festival admission
- A coupon for two free drinks at the Organic Beer & Wine Garden
- 20% off at the Green Festival Store and the BetterWorldBooks Book Store
- An exclusive tour of the Greening Operation at Green Festival – witness how we achieve 95% resource recovery
- A visit with Alisa Gravitz of Green America and Kevin Danaher of Global Exchange, and receive an autographed copy of their books: The Green Festival Reader and Building the Green Economy
- Regular Executive Producer Updates about the Green Festivals from Global Exchange and Green America
For more information on Chicago or any other Green Festival event, visit: www.greenfestivals.org.
About Green America (formerly Co-op America)
Green America is a national nonprofit organization founded in 1982, providing the economic strategies, organizing power and practicing tools for businesses and individuals to address today’s social and environmental problems. Its Green Business Network is the largest national network of businesses screened for their social and environmental responsibility.
About Global Exchange
Global Exchange is a membership-based international human rights organization dedicated to promoting social, economic and environmental justice around the world. Since its founding in 1988, Global Exchange has successfully increased public awareness of root causes of injustice while building international partnerships and mobilizing for change.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
February 19, 2009 by Julia Wasson
Filed under 2009, Banks, Blog, Economy, Ecopreneurs, FDIC, Financing, Front Page, Grants, HHS, Illinois, LEED, Loans, Real Estate, Regulations, Retrofitting, Sustainability
Going green as a business makes economic and environmental sense, even in tough economic times. It also provides opportunities to make a positive difference in a community. Like any business venture, a green business requires investment capital and banking services. GreenChoice Bank, led by co-founders, Steve Sherman and Jon Levey, is targeted specifically to address the unique financial needs of green businesses in the Chicago area. Both Levey and Sherman are LEED Accredited Professionals (APs).
Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) interviewed ecopreneurs Levey and Sherman from their Chicago offices to find out more about the GreenChoice Bank, the advantages the bank will provide to its customers, and the Green Exchange building that the bank will be housed in.
BPGL: The concept of a green bank is new. How do you define your “greenness”?
SHERMAN: The greatest element is the holistic approach we take to sustainability. It’s not just, “Go green: We have online banking.” Sustainability is informing every aspect of how we organize the bank; from our location in the Green Exchange to our future locations, we will be environmentally responsible. Our back office will use the latest technology in image-based check processing and electronic document distribution. We’ll offer advantageous terms on loans and deposits for customers who embrace a sustainable lifestyle.
LEVEY: This extends to our employees, as well, such as taking public transportation, hiring from within our community, and supporting local businesses. We’re also designing a zero percent auto loan — for employees only — to purchase hybrids or cars that get at least 35 miles per gallon. We want to exhibit a genuine approach to sustainability.
SHERMAN: We’re looking to create an opportunity for people to make values-based choices about where they bank and to work together about environmental choices. We’re on a shared journey toward doing the right thing.
LEVEY: We don’t sit in judgment on our clients or prospective clients. We assist them to make greener choices in their lives.
BPGL: If a building owner decided to retrofit with energy-saving improvements, would you give that owner better loan terms?
LEVEY: In base terms, if someone is remodeling an income-producing property and doing so responsibly, there’s likely some additional cost to that up front. Most financial institutions aren’t necessarily weighing those costs, because they look at traditional underwriting models based on traditional improvement costs and returns. But, if you are remodeling responsibly, using sustainable principles, you’re reducing your operating costs by increasing operating efficiency of that building. If it’s an income-producing property, and you create operating efficiencies, you are reducing your expenses and increasing your net operating income, and thereby have increased the value of the property. We might lend a little more aggressively on that.
We’ll also offer advantage loan and deposit products for those leading a more responsible life. For example, a real estate developer who is building a LEED-certified condominium development might see advantaged loan terms in loan-to-value, rate, and structure.
BPGL: So green clients might earn more for being green?
SHERMAN: Preferential rates are not determined by how “green” customers are, it’s determined by how they use their account, such as customers who opt out of the paper statement or opt out of check writing in exchange for online banking or those who use electronic bill pay.
LEVEY: We’ll have a signature transaction account that will pay higher-than-market interest rates to those customers.
SHERMAN: It’s one of the many pieces we’re putting together so we can be the bank that lets you make a values-based choice and feel good about who you’re partnering with for financial services. You know we’re putting your money to work better than the bank down the street.
BPGL: When you talk about a “values-based choice,” what does that mean to you?
LEVEY: You make a values-based choice when you choose to drive by the traditional supermarket on your way to Whole Foods. You feel better about making that values-based choice to buy some of the things at Whole Foods even though some items in your shopping cart could have been bought at the traditional supermarket. You shop at Whole Foods (or whatever your local equivalent might be), because you feel that Whole Foods is supporting locally grown, organic and sustainable producers in your area. Similarly, you know when you put your money on deposit with us, it’s being leveraged responsibly, locally, and sustainably by the bank in your community.
BPGL: When you open your doors and have this marketing plan that involves bringing in sustainable clients to a sustainable bank, what will be the element that will keep them there?
SHERMAN: This is a community bank at its foundation. What keeps us excited — and our clients attached — is that we live and work in a society in which banking has become a commodity. A lot of consumers and businesses are feeling the credit crunch now. A symptom of this is that a lot of people have chosen commoditized banking. They’ve forgone the relationship.
At our core, we’re a bank where the customer will be known by, and known to, executive management. You want to bank someplace — to quote Cheers — “where everybody knows your name.” You want to bank where that relationship is. Those who didn’t forget the relationship focus — for the most part, that would be community banks and their clients — are not feeling the credit crunch to the same degree as everybody else. GreenChoice Bank will be high touch, high service, with a twist – a green and sustainable twist.
BPGL: Are you going to commoditize this to spread over a large area?
SHERMAN: Yes and no. We’re seeking a federal charter. This gives us the ability to open branches around the country. We don’t want to commoditize it. We will prove this model in Chicago, and replicate it in other markets with a similar approach once proven here. When we do so, we’ll raise capital locally, gain strong local supporters, and maintain that community touch. We will have a strong local bank.
LEVEY: That’s one of the main reasons why we’ve gone with a federal charter as opposed to a state charter. But in every case, we will remain true to our community banking roots.
BPGL: If someone in another state wanted to manufacture a green product and needed capital, could they come to you?
LEVEY: Yes. Having our federal charter allows us the ability to lend across the nation with greater ease, but we still need to fully understand each business, its management, and what makes it tick.
SHERMAN: Certainly from a deposit standpoint, they can deposit with us.
BPGL: When you offer electronic banking, what protections will you provide your customers?
SHERMAN: There is a secure paper trail. After all, a check starts as paper. It’s a valid question, but in order for these systems to work online, there are a lot of checks and balances.
We’re outsourcing our back-office systems. We have to go through exceptionally rigorous regulatory hurdles. There’s a lot of regulatory security so nothing falls through the cracks. We feel confident there is no risk to the company or our customers.
LEVEY: As much as we may desire, we can’t be entirely paperless, though.
SHERMAN: We’ll be paperless to the extent it’s permitted by the regulatory agencies. Banks are far more efficient these days. Now, you turn in a check to the bank, they scan it, and that goes through the system much more quickly. It used to sit in the back office waiting for someone to key it in. Then it was shipped to the Federal Reserve Bank, where it would get checked and coded. It used to take several days to clear a check. Now you can get money in your account in a day or two. It not only takes the waste out of the process, but it is also more efficient in a customer-friendly way.
We’re working on incorporating leading-edge technologies — like mobile banking — that makes it easier to bank with us than with traditional banks.
BPGL: Describe what you mean by mobile banking.
LEVEY: Using your cell phone as the point of service for your banking needs and transactions.
SHERMAN: We’re still working on how that gets implemented. Whether a customer can use mobile banking is determined by their phone’s processor capability. If you have mobile banking capability, you can text message to get your balance. Even more functionality will be added to a web-enabled phone.
BPGL: What other leading-edge technology will you implement?
LEVEY: We’ll use remote capture, for example. If you walk into store that is using our remote capture and you pay with a check, they scan the check right at the point of sale, and the paper copy does not need to be forwarded to the bank
BPGL: What motivated you to set up a green bank in Chicago?
LEVEY: Chicago happens to be a particularly ripe arena for this idea. We live in one of the greenest cities in the country. We’re one of very few major cities to have a CEO, meaning a Chief Environmental Officer. One of Mayor Daley’s legacies will be the greening of the city of Chicago.
We both have prior banking experience. I also have real estate development experience. In my real estate business, I noticed that, if you weren’t building green, you were building obsolete. Nobody wants to do anything obsolete. When Steve came to me with this idea, I saw that he was on target and at the right time.
Both of us started our careers in banking at LaSalle Bank, which was the leading commercial bank in Chicago until it was acquired by Bank of America not long ago.
SHERMAN: LaSalle is one of the legendary organizations in terms of relationship banking. We’re taking that orientation toward relationship banking and combining it with values-based banking opportunities; it has a lot of potential and can serve the community very well.
BPGL: When will you open?
LEVEY: That’s not up to us, but we’re in the midst of the regulatory process. We filed our application with the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) in June of 2008 and will obtain our deposit insurance through the FDIC. We’re working through the regulatory process as “a bank in organization” and expect to obtain the charter and open in mid 2009.
BPGL: What do you see as your distinguishing characteristics as a bank?
SHERMAN: Today, everybody is making some sort of statement about being green. For most banks, the only statement they can really make is, “We offer online bill pay,” or “Our next branch is going to be LEED certified.” Bank of America is building an incredibly large LEED-certified skyscraper in New York, for example.
What separates us from the rest is our holistic approach. This is by design. The holistic approach to sustainability we’re taking is different from other banks. Huge banks have to leverage their capital, sometimes in areas we might not choose to participate. There’s all sorts of legacy involved.
We want to serve our clients and our community, but if we feel a banking relationship flies in the face of our mission in a very serious way, it might not be the right fit for us.
LEVEY: Not all our clients will be green poster children; however, all our clients will benefit by having access to our greener choices. If we can help someone realize that making green choices won’t impair their life or their business, that serves our mission and our community.
BPGL: The building that will house GreenChoice Bank is going to be a unique facility. Describe the space and your interest in locating there.
LEVEY: The Green Exchange has a good story to tell. It’s a building on the north side of Chicago that was originally an underwear factory and most recently a lamp factory. It’s been vacant several years, and is being renovated to support the green economy. We chose to locate in this building for a certain reason. It’s powerful to take a 270,000-sq. ft. building and fill it with green businesses. And, as far as we know, it’s the nation’s largest self-contained building for green and sustainable businesses. We’re the official bank of the Green Exchange.
BPGL: Will the Green Exchange qualify for LEED certification?
LEVEY: Yes. In fact, the Green Exchange building will be LEED-Certified Platinum. We’re also seeking Platinum certification for our interior space.
When our clients walk through our bank, they’ll see visual cues for greener choices they can take back with them. They’ll see imagery in our space depicting the components that went into making the bank green. They’ll see plaques or notices that describe things we’ve done that they can do at home — things that have low impact to their personal lives and that aren’t hard to do, but that make a difference and have high impact to the environment and our community.
BPGL: Will you have a large space?
LEVEY: It’s not a behemoth space. We have very efficient use of space and consider that to be integral to our mission.
One thing attractive about locating in the Green Exchange is that the building offers some shared conference abilities and private dining spaces, so we don’t have to incorporate that space into our bank and pay for a large boardroom that we may only need one time per month. Rather, we can use the shared space within the building and keep our interior space efficiently operating for core business needs.
BPGL: Are there any financial or tax incentives for businesses to locate in the Green Exchange?
LEVEY: The building is located within an economic empowerment zone, and the city and First Ward Alderman, Manny Flores, are definitely behind the green collar job creation that it will foster. Additionally, the Green Exchange and LEED Council (Local Economic & Employment Development Council) have received a half million dollar ($500,000) federal Community Economic Development (CED) grant from the Office of Community Services (OCS) in the Administration for Children & Families (ACF) of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). This grant is for a small business loan fund for tenants of the Green Exchange that agree to hire federally designated low-income individuals. That fits our sustainability mission.
They’ve put together a loan committee to dole out that money, for which I have been asked to sit and lend some expertise. The funds will be loaned at prime minus 3%, tied to how many people the business applicant, who must be a tenant within the Green Exchange, hires. For two qualifying hires, the business will qualify for just north of $17,000 in loan proceeds. It’s a unique program to further sustainability and job creation in this area, and we are very pleased to be supporters of the program. When the lamp factory shut down, a lot of people lost their jobs. It’s nice to see this building redeveloped for the sustainable business community and to see it creating local job opportunities.
BPGL: Your name is GreenChoice Bank. If you google the word “green,” you’ll find almost a billion green things; the word “green” is ubiquitous. We read an editorial in a small newspaper near Lake Michigan that declared they won’t type the term “green” again in the paper because of a backlash against it. Are you at all concerned that “green” as a term may become boring and overused?
SHERMAN: That’s potentially going to happen with any sort of phenomenon that gets popular quickly and covered a lot. It’s not surprising to have a so-called backlash, because not everyone is going about it in the right way. There’s greenwashing, for example.
What Jon and I agree on is that the concern over the future of our planet and the health and well being of future generations won’t go out of style. How you communicate it may change over time, but the underlying intent will stay. We talked about it as we named the bank. “Will the word ‘green‘ be obsolete?” We are taking a calculated risk. “Green” encompasses so many things about what we are and helping our clients make greener choices. But we’re confident that what our mission stands for won’t ever go out of style.
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