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most sustainable companies
May 02 2019

Verde Energy Efficiency Experts 10 most sustainable companies in 2020

In our business, we constantly look for inspiration from local companies that lead and innovate in 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.  This is our list of the Verde Energy Efficiency’s Top 10 Sustainable Companies for 2020. With a combination of large and small players, we feel that companies of all sizes can find some inspiration from this group.

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 in sustainability in Chicagoland.

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.

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.   

4. Center For Neighborhood Technology

Number 4 on our list of most sustainable companies 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.

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.

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 Chicago offers in 2020.

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.

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!


2019 IL Grant Guide


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