ev charger installation energy efficient Warehouse

Verde Energy Efficiency Experts 10 Most Sustainable Companies in Chicago

Verde Energy Efficiency Experts 10 Most Sustainable Companies in Chicago
May 02 2019

In our energy efficiency consulting firm, we constantly look for inspiration from local companies that lead and innovate in clean energy and sustainability.  Not all companies have billion dollar budgets, but that doesn’t mean that small companies can’t steal their innovative ideas around energy efficiency, supply chain consideration, transportation, and even renewable power. 

There are lots of great sustainability and environmental companies in Chicago.  While we are not as well known for this industry as the California and the East Coast – we bring a unique blend and spin.  I always say, because Chicago has cheap energy rates and very inexpensive landfill costs – if you can do it in Illinois, the model will work anywhere in the United States.  So that makes us a tougher location to be green, but a more sustained place to search and find a business model for our work.  Our unique blend of climate, utility rebates, and supporting state regulations makes us an ideal candidate to be one of the leading metro cities for environmental work.  

Large corporations have and do continue to be leaders – from United Airlines to JLL, with many in between.  But the real work happens at the midsize and local level, and we are inspired by those that break the mold and grown and create good sustainability jobs in Chicago. 

This is our list of the Verde Energy Efficiency’s Top 10 Sustainable Companies. With a combination of large and small players, we feel that companies of all sizes can find some inspiration from this group.  Please let us know if you think your company should make our list, or if you have any other feedback on our top environmental company list.  

1. Northwestern University – Most Sustainable Companies

northwestern most sustainable company

Northwestern University has a clear commitment to the environment, and it shows from its top down leadership style.  The top leadership in the University believes in the importance of this approach, and you can see it written all over their communication and actions.

In our experience, Northwestern has been a leader in their investment in solar power production on site.  Two years ago, they worked hard to put together a Strategic Sustainability Plan, and since then, have certified a LEED Platinum building, won the 2018 Energy Star Partner of the Year, added 16 electric vehicles to their fleet, and diverted 38 percent of campus waste from landfills through recycling, composting and reusing material.  That is a lot of reasons for incoming students to be inspired, giving Northwestern a unique edge in top Universities in the country.

After installing 2 huge solar PV arrays, they have the ambitious goal of net zero usage by 2050.  While I am a University of Chicago graduate myself, I find their efforts inspirational and look forward to what they do in the future.  Huge universities use an incredible amount of energy, therefore, they have a great opportunity to lead the next generation of students and partners through their work.

One other interesting note – sustainability leads at Northwestern, Loyola, University of Chicago, UIC, as well as our vast diverse array of community colleges – regularly meet and share ideas and strategy.  We think this will lead to a multiplier effect, as well as some healthy competition to out “green” each other, and look forward to this being one of the top areas of innovation among sustainability companies in Chicago.

2. Delta Institute – Most Sustainable Companies

most sustainable company non profit

If you work in the environmental world in Chicago, then you know the Delta Institute.  You may not always know what they do, because they cross such a broad spectrum of projects, but they impact you one way or another.

Delta has been around since 1998, and provided crucial leadership on all topics sustainability in Chicago.  One of my favorite initiatives of the Delta Institute is their Emerging Leaders Board, and in fact, two of Verde’s employees have been involved in this board and always come back inspired.

As a well funded non-profit, Delta often works as a consultant to fill in gaps in the current community.  From supporting sustainability at the Field Museum, to composting pilots and driving recycling, they are in our community and doing amazing things.

  • Founded: 1998
  • Areas of focus: Climate change, agriculture, water, community development
  • Impact: Supported 5 million Midwesterners, transitioned 1,000 acres to conservation practices, captured 100 million stormwater gallons

Some specific contributions of Delta Institute include:

  • Creating comprehensive implementation and funding plans for the Chicago Climate Action Plan
  • Collaborating with grassroots organizations on redevelopment efforts for closed coal power plants
  • Assisting municipalities with integrating natural climate solutions
  • Supporting farmers by providing resources and expertise for transitioning to sustainable practices
  • Organizing the BOOST competition for sustainable startups in Chicago

3. Invenergy – Most Sustainable Companies

most sustainable company

When it comes to brilliant entrepreneurs in Chicago, Michael Polsky is at the top of the list.  It helps that he has made his money in clean energy endeavors, originally with SkyGen Energy.

Today, he runs Invenergy, a profitable entity that provides power generation and storage solutions at scale around the world to create a cleaner energy future.  If there is large scale wind of PV production, Invenergy likely touches it in one way or another.  Considering the problem at hand in our environment, we need big players like Invenergy to show us how profitability and clean energy are not mutually exclusive.

Through their portfolio of clean and efficient projects, Invenergy claims to have offset 64.7 million tons of C02, equivalent to 1,505,790,651 urban trees planted.  Thats a lot of green, and shows that experienced entrepreneurs dabbling in the sustainability realm could lead to a lot of good.   

Invenergy also has a venture capital investment arm – stimulating future business growth in Chicago.  Here are some highlights about Invenergy that you may not know.  

  • Job creation: Their presence provides valuable employment opportunities for Chicago residents, contributing to the city’s economic growth.
  • Project portfolio: Invenergy develops, owns, and operates renewable energy projects across North America, Latin America, Europe, and Asia. This global reach brings expertise and innovation back to Chicago.
  • Clean energy leadership: They play a crucial role in advancing the clean energy transition, offsetting millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions through their projects.
  • Technological advancements: Invenergy invests in research and development, exploring new technologies for clean energy generation and storage, contributing to broader progress in the field.
  • Collaboration with local organizations: Invenergy partners with various Chicago-based organizations and institutions, fostering collaboration and driving sustainability initiatives forward.
  • Invenergy received positive recognition for their work, including being named one of the “World’s Most Ethical Companies” by Ethisphere Institute.


4. Center For Neighborhood Technology

Number 4 on our list of most sustainable and clean energy companies Chicago has to offer is The Center for Neighborhood Technology.  CNT is an environmental think tank that has helped shape and develop Chicago’s sustainability movement since 1978.  CNT was founded by a group of passionate visionary’s that have gone on to influence Chicago’s environmental energy, water, transportation and recycling initiatives.

CNT focuses on data usage and technology, with their H+T Index for housing and transportation,  They also provide a home for future generations of sustainability leadership, including an active internship program and new ventures.  CNT spun off Elevate Energy, as well as I-GO Car Sharing, and countless other partnerships and ventures.  Their board has included some incredible entrepreneurs and sustainability leaders, and they draw in and help train the next generation of leaders in Chicagoland.  

CNT is a thought leader in Chicago, and continues to impact the community locally and nationally on environmental policy topics.  Founded in 1978 with some of the best leaders in the environmental movement, it is no surprise that they continue to be a top environmental company today in Chicago.  

With a robust environmental intern program, they not only foster their own talent, but also talent that contributes throughout many other companies and non-profit on this list.  

Focus Areas:

  • Economic Development and Poverty Reduction: CNT works to improve job opportunities, reduce the cost of living, and support local businesses in underserved communities. They promote strategies like local hiring, equitable development, and access to financial resources.
  • Climate Resilience: CNT helps communities adapt to the impacts of climate change, such as extreme weather events and rising sea levels. They design and implement nature-based solutions like green infrastructure and urban agriculture, reducing flood risk and improving air quality.
  • Urban Analytics: CNT leverages data and technology to inform decision-making and track progress towards sustainability goals. They develop tools and resources like the H+T Index for housing and transportation affordability, empowering communities to advocate for change.

5. Big Thorn Farm

There are lots of exciting initiatives going on in the craft brewery industry in Illinois.  With the move of Lagunitas to Chicago in 2012 because of our huge fresh water resource in Lake Michigan, and the explosive growth of Half Acre, Two Brothers, and Revolution (to just name a few), these energy users seem to really understand the importance of sustainability in their craft (pun intended).  Big Thorn Farm definitely pushes the limit of green companies Chicago hosts, with an offgrid farmhouse brewery in Central Illinois.

While currently run on solar power, they are in the process of installing a wind turbine to expand their renewable production.  In addition to using farm ingredients, this small farm brewery is a great role model for the entire Illinois brewery community.

A little further south than most would consider to be Chicagoland, they are worth the trip and we are thinking – road trip (in a bus, of course).

6. LuminAID

LuminAID is an innovative startup that creates solar powered LED “pillows”.  Small solar panels charge up enough energy for LED lamps to run for areas in need. Well designed for areas without access to electricity or during natural disasters relief, these have a buy one give one concept to share with the developing world.

While these innovative approaches on a small micro scale might not seem like much, they really can be.  While not designed for places with reliable sources to energy, they are a physical tool that can use solar PV to get a small amount of light or charge a cell phone.  Who knows if the next generation isn’t keeping these pillows against their windows during the day to read books at night, understanding net zero usage and being inspired from a young age.


  • Distributed over 150,000 solar lanterns globally, impacting millions of lives in over 80 countries.
  • Partnered with various humanitarian organizations like UNICEF and the Red Cross to provide light during disasters and crises.
  • Promoted solar energy adoption, raising awareness about renewable energy and combating climate change.
  • Supported local businesses and communities by collaborating with artisans and manufacturers in developing countries.
  • LuminAID operates based on the “Buy One, Give One” model, donating a solar lantern to someone in need for every one purchased.
  • They prioritize sustainable practices throughout their business operations and product design.
  • The company has been recognized for its innovative work, receiving awards like the Fast Company Social Impact Award and the Good Design Award.

7. Abt Electronics

most sustainable retail company

Abt Electronics, number 7 on our list of most sustainable companies, is not what you would think of in an innovative sustainable company.  Abt has been a staple in the suburbs of Chicago since 1936.  However, they have been innovating quietly in this area for years, while still driving a successful business that has a strong brand around the country.

“Putting Lights On Sensors And Recycling Paper Is One Thing, But Chicago’s Abt Has Its Own Recycling Plant And Runs Its 350,000-Square-Foot Store Completely Off The Grid.”  This is a quote off their website, but hidden deep with little emphasis in their marketing.  They not only have their own recycling plant, but also are completely off the grid with biodiesel, wind and solar PV.  They also recycle styrofoam, which even the City of Chicago won’t do.

This might sound interesting in theory, but if you have ever been to Abt and see the size and scale of what they do, you would be amazed.  It is like a Walmart on steroids – run off the grid!  They continue to inspire as one of the premier green companies in Chicago.

Abt is a leader on the environmental movement, quietly while excelling as a top company in their industry.  Anyone from Chicago that owns a home knows about Abt because of their excellent reputation.  While the core of their business is not sustainable, they show that a commitment to being a top environmental company comes with an added benefit – sustained profit. 

8. Meliora Cleaning Products

green companies chicago meliora

One of the best parts about our job at Verde is getting out and seeing the amazing manufacturing that happens in our great city.  We get a bad rap for having lost manufacturing – but we are still a titan of industry with capacities unparalleled in the world.

Meliora was built by Kate Jakubus and Mike Meyer, manufacturing safe and environmentally friendly cleaning products right here in the Chi.  One of the most admirable parts of their business is that they have dedicated to being a certified B corporation, which really makes sure businesses are practicing the hippie values that they say they are.

Meliora really reminds us of Method (another innovative Chicago manufacturer), but we have exciting ambitions for what Meliora will grow to in thier young and innovative stage.

9. Uncommon Ground

most sustainable companies in chicago

Number 8 on our list of most sustainable companies in Chicago is Uncommon Ground.  Every story needs a hero.  Uncommon Ground is the small success story that shows doing the right thing the right way can eventually pay off.  Since 1991, Michael and Helen Cameron have been running Uncommon Ground in Chicago and driving the farm to table movement way before it was a trend.

With locations in Lakeview and Edgewater, Uncommon Ground is home to the 1st organic rooftop farms in the US, beehives, and the first organic brewery in Illinois.  They allow tours of their farms to the public on the first Friday of each month from 5pm to sunset, inspiring the next generation of ecopreneurs.

They also have amazing food, which is really the only reason they are still in business after 28 years.  They continue to lead and inspire others via their groundbreaking work, which continues to this day.  

10. Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

For 160 years, Chicago’s Nature Museum has been at the forefront of conservation efforts in Chicago and the region.  

Not only do they have an entire museum dedicated to nature and conservation education right on our lakefront (our most precious natural resource), but they are at the forefront of the conversation around migratory birds.  Over 5,000 birds collide with Chicago loops buildings each year, with more than half of those dying and the remainder needing care for to survive.  Organizations like the Nature Museum fill an advocate and research gap that our government does not provide.  They are a great leader to all of our most sustainable companies.

The museum is a great place to take kids and adults alike to be inspired – with deep looks into our water usage, natural habitat and marsh education, as well as a 2,700 square foot butterfly sanctuary.  I always walk away from the nature museum feeling inspired to respect our mother earth more, and it is definitely a great place to take kids.

Check out the Verde Energy Efficiency’s Top 10 Sustainable Companies for 2020 in Chicagoland, and let us know what you think!  If your business needs some inspiration on how to improve and become a future name on this list, please sign up for our energy efficiency audit for your business or government building today and let us dig into some of the fun ways you can also reduce impact and save money and energy. 


Popular Posts

Jan 08, 2018BY Verde

Do You Need a Ballast…

The water fountain spigot kind of acts like a ballast in this… [...]

Feb 06, 2018BY Verde

Are Smart Power Strips Worth…

Really there are two questions here regarding Smart Power Strips: Is it… [...]

Featured Posts

Energy Savings Formula
Mar 15 2021

Energy Savings Formula

In 2002, I became a firefighter in the north suburbs of Chicago.  I was young and idealistic - loving almost every part of the job. However, I had another secret passion - sustainability.   In addition…

Continue Reading >

Related Articles

Embracing Energy Efficiency and Sustainability in Manufacturing
Nov 23 2023

Embracing Energy Efficiency and Sustainability in Manufacturing

Why Your Manufacturing Facility Should Already Be LED In the dynamic landscape of modern manufacturing, where efficiency, sustainability, and cost-effectiveness are paramount, the adoption of LED lighting stands as a transformative step towards a brighter…

Continue Reading >
The Impact of Poor Building Energy Controls on Your Bottom Line
Nov 23 2023

The Impact of Poor Building Energy Controls on Your Bottom Line

The Impact of Poor Building Controls on Your Bottom Line In today's business world, where every dollar counts, it is more important than ever to be mindful of expenses. One often-overlooked area where businesses can…

Continue Reading >

Get An Energy Efficiency Assessment

Please fill out the form below and connect with an energy efficiency consultant.

Verde Energy Efficiency Expert 5328 N Northwest Highway
Chicago, IL 60630

T (773) 413-9587