Greening the Windy City A Look at Green Bean Chicago

Greening the Windy City

 Between the media coverage, consumer marketing campaigns, and governmental  programs, the concept of living “green” has become a sometimes-confusing catchphrase over the last few years. Are you “going green?” Exactly how “green” are you? Could you be greener? It's enough to turn you green.  

 Fortunately, Green Bean Chicago is here to help. The organization aims to cut  through some of the chatter and bridge the gap between professional and  residential green knowledge, all in one place.  

 Grean Bean Chicago is a website publication that delivers information to readers  regarding sustainable buildings and spaces throughout the Chicagoland area. The  publication is entirely volunteer-run, but still has a small editorial team and  a wide network of contributors spanning many professions, both inside and  outside the sustainable development field.  

 A Little Green History

 The site was founded in June 2006 by Erik Olsen, who at the time was the  administrator for the Green Permit Program for the City of Chicago. He  originally created the site as a forum for green building and development  throughout the area.  

 Wendy Berger-Shapiro, the site’s current owner and principal of WBS Equities LLC, began working alongside Olsen  in June 2008 and transformed the site from a blog forum to a wider resource  publication for all green buildings throughout the city and its suburbs—all in the last five years.  

 “I discovered Green Bean Chicago in 2007 when I was beginning my first green  project,” Shapiro says. “I was looking for a source that I could trust to help me find architects,  developers, engineers and consultants who had worked on real projects. There  were many people talking ‘green’ but few who had actually successfully completed green projects. I called the  editor of the website and asked him if I could be his partner.”  

 Kelly Dillbeck, an associate broker with WBS Equities LLC, has worked alongside  Shapiro in editing, writing and keeping the website’s content up to date. Dillbeck and Shapiro soon hired Brittany Berndston, who  served as the site’s editor until June 2009. Throughout this time period, Green Bean Chicago began  building a network of contributors with content focused on buildings of all  types.  

 “I think we write about the best of the best going up in the city,” Dillbeck says. “I believe anyone who had a desire to learn more finds our site user-friendly,  and our writers cover all bases on any given project.”  

 Chicagoans for Chicago

 When Berndston left in 2009, she appointed this reporter (a former contributing  writer) as her replacement. Since taking over as managing editor, Powers, a  senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign majoring in journalism  and digital media, has aimed her efforts in editing the site’s content as well as promoting the site with interactive social media. In the  last year, Green Bean Chicago has created a presence within its readers using  Twitter, Facebook and Google Maps.  

 Green Bean Chicago’s expansion into social media not only has acted as a way of getting its message  out, but it has also allowed a more broad interaction with its readers. As it  was, the site allowed users to submit project ideas directly to the staff if  they felt it should be pursued for a review by the Green Bean team. But social  media has allowed a greater dialogue with the audience in which the publication  serves.  

 Additionally, Shapiro and Dillbeck welcomed the addition of Kareeshma Ali in  2009, an urban and architectural designer, who serves as the site’s communication manager.  

 An Immediate Resource

 “Because of its more specific focus on the Chicagoland area, Green Bean Chicago  provides a more immediate resource for residents,” Ali says. “Home and business owners can find professionals in the building industry, within  the region, and professionals can learn more about what types of work their  peers are doing in the city. It creates greater local connectivity among Chicagoland residents, without  overwhelming people with too much information.”  

 The site continues to stand as a communication medium through which writers and  members of the Green Bean Chicago editorial team produce content that informs  Chicagoans—whether they be in the green building industry or an average resident—of what sustainable spaces loom around them.  

 Green Bean features review on various buildings and sustainable spaces within  the city limits as well as the Chicago suburbs. Buildings included usually (but  not always) come with some level of LEED certification—a rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council that ranks  buildings by a point system. The levels include platinum, gold and silver. LEED  has also separated its certification into divisions for different building  types, including commercial interiors, schools, retail, healthcare and homes.  

 Other popular rating systems throughout the area include Chicago Green Permit  Program and the Energy Star rating system. As a result of the diversity  throughout the rating systems, reviews on Green Bean Chicago have ranged from  residential to commercial and industrial spaces, including everything in  between.  

 “Being in the real estate business, you get an awareness of things like the  amount of square footage being developed at any one time,” Dillbeck says. “I’m blown away by the numbers, so it makes sense that things can be done to be  more earth-friendly.”  

 A goal of Green Bean Chicago is to make sustainability a citywide issue, and to  be a communication and information medium that connects all groups over the  common issue of sustainability. By focusing on industrial, commercial,  governmental and residential buildings and spaces, Green Bean Chicago strives  to unite residents of the city—regardless of their background—over awareness of green living.  

 “I think many of the ideas of being ‘green’ or ‘eco-friendly’ have become so convoluted that people don't feel encouraged to really  understand what sustainability means,” says Ali. “Resources such as Green Bean Chicago provide an opportunity for inquiry so we  can understand what methods are being employed and make more educated decisions  about what is sustainable and what is not.”  

 How it Runs

 Green Bean Chicago is run by a process of assigning contributing writers to  write reviews about a given building or sustainable space within Chicagoland.  The reviews usually focus on not only the technical construction-based  sustainable aspects of a property, but also its role in overall role in the  community and energy savings.  

 “By highlighting projects that have been completed, we demonstrate over and over  again that building green is possible and that the challenges of building green  are not insurmountable,” Shapiro says.  

 Green Bean Chicago ( can be found on Twitter @GBC_Chicago  or Facebook at Green Bean Chicago.  

 Rosie Powers is a freelance writer and editor living in Chicago.  

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