Setting the Standard for Sustainability in Lake County, Illinois

From its location in the heart of the Midwest, Chicagoland serves as a model for forward-thinking sustainability. The region’s green reputation has been won through strategic initiatives, financial incentives and innovative green infrastructure that serves as a model for communities across the country and the globe.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Lake County, where sustainable projects and long-term commitments abound. Lake County is an active participant in the Greenest Region Compact (GRC), a document developed by the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus which outlines 49 sustainability goals based on municipal, regional, national, and global priorities. The county, along with 29 communities and the Lake County Municipal League, signed onto this compact to pledge a strong commitment to environmental stewardship. Impressively, nearly 73% of Lake County residents live in a community that is signatory to the GRC.

Moreover, Lake County has committed to attaining net zero greenhouse gas emissions for its operations. This includes reducing direct emissions, diverting waste from landfills, and utilizing 100% renewable energy by 2040.

Lake County, Illinois is a Leader in Sustainability & Wellness

Last September, the Lake County Board approved a resolution committing Lake County government operations to the goal of attaining net zero greenhouse gas emissions. The resolution commits Lake County to the following:

  • By the year 2030, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from its operations by 50%, and achieving at least a 60% diversion rate of recyclables and organics from its own waste stream;

  • By the year 2040, procuring 100% renewable energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 90% or more, and achieving at least a 90% diversion rate of recyclables and organics;

  • Ensuring that all new County facilities constructed after 2020 be evaluated for their potential for net zero certification;

  • Publicly reporting progress toward these goals on an annual basis; and,

  • Inviting and encouraging municipalities and townships throughout the county to join in the effort to reduce the environmental impact of the operations required to provide public service to the residents and businesses of Lake County

Lake County government has also demonstrated its commitment by recently launching a new sustainability webpage filled with resources to help residents incorporate best practices and learn more about topics including: the Lake County Tree Initiative, Solar Switch, the circular economy, net zero planning for 2040, single-use plastics policies, and net zero energy building.

In the case of Solar Switch, residents benefit from a group buying program that provides a discounted price on rooftop solar installation on homes and businesses. Solar panel systems have become increasingly popular as the price has gone down – 75% over the last 16 years – and a federal solar tax credit of up to 30% has been issued.

The county also offers support for its Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) finance program – an innovative tool that enables commercial property owners to obtain up to 100% long-term fixed-rate financing for projects involving energy efficiency, renewable energy, resiliency, water use and electric vehicle charging.

“Lake County takes a thoughtful, wholistic approach towards sustainability,” reports Sustainability Programs Manager Robin Grooms. “We make a concerted effort to incorporate green practices wherever possible, and we focus on initiatives that have a long-term impact and promote and preserve our community’s high quality of life.”

In addition to the county’s work on its Regional Tree Initiative, and the C-PACE and Solar Switch programs, staff is also actively taking steps to:

  1. Implement a Sustainability Model Ordinance Engagement Plan
  2. Amend the County’s procurement standards to incorporate the strategic plan’s sustainability goals
  3. Decrease single use plastic within government operations
  4. Conduct an operations-wide waste assessment for all departments
  5. Increase the amount of renewable energy generated by the county year over year
  6. Increase the number of new electric and hybrid replacement vehicles
  7. Decrease the amount of energy used at county facilities year over year
  8. Explore a variety of ordinance topics that support bird friendly design, dark sky and EV charging

When it comes to staying ahead of green building trends, Lake County shines. Lake County is the proud home of the first Net Zero verified building in Illinois, at the Adlai Stevenson High School Science Addition, reflecting a growing trend toward sustainable infrastructure in the region. This shift underscores the increasing environmental consciousness and demand among residents for eco-friendly practices.

Laying the Groundwork for Green Buildings

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, emphasizing its holistic nature. Building and community design play crucial roles in fostering wellness by prioritizing the occupants’ overall well-being. Features such as ample natural light, healthy indoor air quality, and access to outdoor spaces contribute to increased productivity and a positive work environment.

At the community level, green spaces and walkable neighborhoods with amenities and public transportation options promote inclusivity and well-being. By integrating health and sustainability, communities can enhance quality of life, cultivate a sense of belonging, and support overall health and happiness, attracting both businesses and residents alike.

“Our extensive work helping clients incorporate sustainable practices in projects across the Chicago region has demonstrated that net zero goals and wellness opportunities offers a myriad of benefits,” said Megan Zack, the Chief Sustainability Officer at Wight & Company. “Energy-efficient buildings not only reduce operational costs but also enhance marketability and asset value while minimizing environmental impact. Simultaneously, wellness features contribute to occupant health, productivity, and satisfaction, resulting in lower absenteeism and higher retention rates. This comprehensive approach not only appeals to tenants and investors seeking sustainable, healthy spaces but also positions communities as leaders in sustainability, ensuring long-term profitability and resilience in an increasingly conscious market landscape.”

Zack was part of a team from Wight & Company that recently presented an overview of sustainability and wellness best practices in planning and design to more than 50 public sector leaders at Lake County Partner’s Municipal Economic Development Advisory Group meeting series, sponsored by Libertyville Bank & Trust Company, N.A., and and Wintrust Financial Corporation

The Wight & Company team emphasized a viewpoint that sees buildings as preventative care, stressing the market demand for wellness-oriented communities. The estimated value of the global wellness community market stands at a whopping $134 billion, with an annual growth rate of 6.9%.

For those considering energy updates, Zack says now is the perfect time to act. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), coupled with the incentives from Illinois Shines and ComEd, offer substantial cost coverage for installing solar panels on homes or businesses. These financial incentives provide a 4–6-year payback followed by significant energy savings over the next two decades. Additionally, the IRA extends tax credits to single-family homes, multi-family dwellings, and commercial buildings for equipment upgrades and electrification, beyond just solar installations.

How Can You Benefit Financially While Supporting the Environment?

With more than 25 years of experience assembling resources to sustainably support growing businesses and fuel Lake County’s economy, Lake County Partners can help your company assess available incentives. Connect with us here to learn more.