City opens applications for Sustain Evanston Incentive Program, invests in business sustainability projects


Illustration by Lily Ogburn

The program will provide grants of up to $25,000 to select businesses that pitch an idea for a sustainable project they would like to pursue.

Shannon Tyler, City Editor

When the city announced the relaunching of its Sustain Evanston Incentive Program in April, leadership at Dream to Product knew the initiative was a “dream” opportunity.

Along with product redesign, the Evanston-based company saves materials from the landfill and repurposes them into consumer products, according to Sales and Marketing Director Deborah Overbey. Evanston’s new initiative could help Dream to Product continue its efforts toward sustainability, she said.

The incentive program will provide grants of up to $25,000 to select businesses that submit an idea for a sustainable project they would like to pursue. The city is accepting proposals on a rolling basis, and the application process is open through Aug. 31.

Overbey said Dream to Product, which submitted an application to the program “right away,” proposed repurposing hard-to-recycle plastics into more durable goods like composting bins.

If the company won the grant, she said it would use the grant money to buy machines that crush single-use plastics and turn them into pellets for 3D printing.

“The entire city of Evanston can know what to do (with single-use plastics),” Overbey said. “But right now they’re still going to use them, and we have to have a better way to work with those.”

The Sustain Evanston Incentive Program reimagines an initiative that started several years ago, said Cara Pratt, the city’s sustainability and resilience manager. Pratt and Solid Waste Coordinator Brian Zimmerman were responsible for incorporating the grant into the program.

The Sustain Evanston program was first implemented in 2019 to recognize and award businesses taking steps to be sustainable, Pratt said. Dream to Product has been one of those businesses since 2019.

But, Pratt said she and Zimmerman wanted the program to have a greater impact on both the environment and local businesses. The pair was able to secure $250,000 for Sustain Evanston in the city’s 2023 fiscal year budget to revamp the initiative and fund the grants.

“We imagined Sustain Evanston to be a grant program for businesses to do essentially any project that aligns with our Climate Action and Resilience Plan,” Pratt said.

CARP was approved by City Council in 2018 and aims to decrease carbon emissions in Evanston by 50% by 2025 and 100% by 2050. Five years after the legislation passed, the city is still exploring ways to meet the goals outlined in CARP.

However, without support from the local government, many sustainability improvements would be too costly for some businesses, said Aina Gutierrez, executive director of Rebuilding Exchange, an Evanston-based nonprofit social enterprise that sells reused construction materials.

Gutierrez said Rebuilding Exchange, which has been recognized as a sustainable business by Sustain Evanston since 2019, found the initiative’s sustainability goals to be easily attainable since they aligned with the company’s business goals. She added the new grants will allow more businesses the opportunity to be more sustainable.

“A lot of people are willing to, they’re interested and eager to do this, they just don’t have the budget for it,” Gutierrez said. “I think there could be a lot of impact in helping grow sustainability in the community.”

For its grant proposal, Gutierrez said her company would be interested in investing in electric vehicle infrastructure like a charging station at its store. Rebuilding Exchange plans to submit its application to the Sustain Evanston Incentive Program soon, Guiterrez said.

Pratt added the city’s website also features ideas businesses can pursue in their grant proposals, but applicants from any industry are also free to pursue their own ideas as long as they align with the city’s CARP goals.

“I think it’s our responsibility as a city to help our business community access both financial resources and educational materials to understand how to align with (our) climate action resilience plans,” she said.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @shannonmtyler

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