Going Green Means Saving the Green

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Ron Fleckman, president of Citizens’ Greener Evanston (CGE), sees environmental issues through an economic lens. In his other executive role as president of Cyrus Homes, Inc., he has earned a reputation for leading the industry in green building practice. He speaks of reducing the carbon footprint as though it is obvious, not novel. It’s as simple as turning off lights when you aren’t using them.

Residents began CGE in 2006, and the organization has grown to nearly 1,400 members. They want to bring the city closer to the standards dictated by the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement that set target levels for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Fleckman says he believes that by educating people on the monetary benefits of green solutions, the group can help engender sustainable living on a local, and eventually much a larger, scale.

Ron Fleckman, President of Citizens' Greener Evanston (Sarah Moore/MEDILL)Ron Fleckman, President of Citizens' Greener Evanston (Sarah Moore/MEDILL)What is the driving philosophy at CGE?
That environmental issues and economic issues are one and the same. We are looking to solutions to environmental issues from an economic perspective. If something makes sense, people will do it.

We’re approaching some stuff that is absolutely outrageous, and it involves some very high-tech software developer types who’ve made fortunes and are interested in using Evanston as a pilot for collaborative consumption. Why does everyone on the block need to have a power drill? Ninety-nine percent of the time the power drill sits in a box and nobody uses it, and then for an hour a year maybe somebody needs it. If you need a power drill, maybe you could go to Joey’s and borrow it from him. These guys are trying to create a model using the Internet and the idea of borrowing and trading services.

You create this sort of community-level economy. It’s very, very cool and very forward thinking. Let’s see how we can make the world more sustainable, more practical and better.

One of your greatest accomplishments to date is promoting the adoption of a green building ordinance. Why is this significant?
Evanston is one of less than a dozen cities in the entire country that established a green building ordinance: any building in excess of 20,000 square feet would have to obtain a LEED silver rating or greater. LEED is a national rating agency that rates the energy efficiency of buildings. Standards are heavily guided by environmental efficiency, whether it’s furnaces, insulation, different types of windows, etc.

It’s a pretty big deal, and we are one of a handful of municipalities around the country who have done that. It was finally put into effect last year (in 2010) and we’re very proud of that. We think it’s the beginning of the city taking a look at the idea of branding itself as a green city and using that in the form of an economic development engine to attract businesses.

Do you have any big projects on the horizon?
Members of CGE’s board have for the last three years been encouraging the city to look at the creation of a wind farm in the lake, which is a long-term process that addresses legislative issues, civic issues and economic issues. Can they actually create a wind farm in Lake Michigan that could, in our case, produce enough electricity to power the city of Evanston? And can it be done in a way that is economically feasible? Does it make sense? So one of our tasks is to look at how to do it.

How much of what you do is actually policy and how much is education?
Everything we do is education, and that slides over into the policy side. We support legislation that is geared towards having a positive impact on greenhouse gases [and] carbon footprint issues, but we also support the idea of economic development. It’s interesting to us. Creating green jobs is interesting to us. We’ll work with the city on trying to create policy and processes that address those environmental issues. On the education side, we meet with people all the time – kids, groups.

What can people do at an individual level?
They can change out their light bulbs from incandescent lights to [compact] fluorescent lights. They can recycle, turn down their thermostats, seal their windows. There are little things you put on your faucet that restrict water flow. At the end of the day, if you use a laptop, turn off your laptop. The stuff that everyone has heard over and over again comes back and saves people exponentially, and they’re simple things to do. Little brainless things have an impact.

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