Emphasizing climate-friendly buildings, City Council accepts CARP update

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Daily file photo by Kalen Luciano

Chief Sustainability and Resiliency Officer Kumar Jensen. Jensen shared CARP sustainability progress with Council.

Yonjoo Seo, Reporter

Climate-friendly buildings and workforce development were on the table Monday in an update on the Climate Action and Resilience Plan’s implementation that City Council voted to accept and file.

Council unanimously passed CARP in 2018, committing to achieving 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050. Advancements since the plan’s passage have included adopting the Environmental Justice Resolution, which recognizes the disproportionate impact environmental disasters have on people of color, and launching the Partners for Places grant, which focuses on transitioning affordable housing units into buildings that are climate resilient with net-zero carbon emissions.

Kumar Jensen, chief sustainability and resilience officer, said the city aims in 2021 to bring forward a comprehensive implementation that is strategic and efficient but also focused on racial equity and supporting low-income residents and vulnerable populations.

“As the climate crisis accelerates, our response needs to accelerate as well,” Jensen said. “And hopefully we can respond quicker than the crisis accelerates, because we know that if we continue to operate under a business’s usual mindset, that’s going to lead to costs and heightened vulnerability among the community.”

The key to making significant progress toward the 2050 goal of carbon neutrality is focusing on buildings, Jensen said, because buildings and housing are responsible for 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Evanston. The other twenty percent comprises waste and transit systems.

Solar panels could effectively retrofit buildings, Jensen said, because they reduce carbon pollution and people’s utility bills. Renovating the infrastructure of buildings to meet net-zero standards also creates jobs and supports existing ones.

The city could train people to become solar installers and require solar programs to hire graduates of the city’s workforce development trainings, according to Jensen’s memorandum. This would in turn make the installations more accessible and affordable for residents. Jensen added the city particularly needs to support low-income residents and people who live in affordable housing, where installations happen less frequently.

Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) said the prospect of economic development from reducing carbon emissions puts the city in a unique position to generate funding needed to support the program.

“If we identify new construction and attract new office buildings in healthy, safe, and climate-friendly office buildings, we will draw from downtown Chicago and help provide some of the revenue that we want to pay for (the program) … but also support our downtown and our local businesses,” Fiske said.

In addition, Jensen said prioritizing buildings is more realistic than addressing other areas of concern because the city has considerable authority over the construction and operations of its buildings.

“It’s an area where we could actually make some significant improvement, whereas impacting regional transportation, for example, is a lot harder and something that we have a lot less control over,” Jensen said.

The plan also included cutting greenhouse gas emissions from large buildings and requiring them to meet standards for emissions reductions over time. Currently around 20 industrial buildings generate the same amount of electric emissions as the 34,000 residential places combined, according to Jensen’s memorandum

Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) said collecting and benchmarking data from these large buildings would be useful to address the issues that they have, and offer ways building owners could improve performance. 

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