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Local Group Offers Chicagoans Many Ways to Save Money and the Environment

Oct 10, 2008 – The trend of "living green" is far from new. The Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) helped pioneer that philosophy three decades ago. The Garfield Park-based non-profit organization continues to set the benchmark today, having celebrated its 30 years of urban sustainability last month with a gala event at the Garfield Park Conservatory.

The offices of the Center for Neighborhood Technology

Through its initiatives in natural resources, energy, climate, transportation and community development, CNT has given Chicago-area residents the resources needed to make a change in the environment.

CNT led by example, rehabbing a former weaving factory into its offices in 1987. It became the state's first non-toxic, energy efficient building. Further renovations were made in 2000, built to meet the standard of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system. LEED awarded "Platinum" status to the building in 2005, making it one of the country's most environmentally friendly structures.

More than 70 percent of materials used in CNT's building came from recycled sources. Ceiling tiles were made from recycled paper, while wheat boards were used for desks and shelving units. Eco-friendly insulation has reduced energy costs by 52 percent.

CNT's staff paves the way today by riding bicycles to work. Nicole Gotthelf, director of development and communications, said the majority also utilize public transportation to cut down on their carbon footprint.

"When you want to be green, it's not just making the building green, you have to live it," Gotthelf said. "What we try to show is the benefits of going green, which can lower things such as utility costs."

CNT Energy, an offshoot formed in 2000, provides residents with cost-saving tools such as its real-time electricity-pricing project. The statewide program helps consumers manage their energy consumption during peak hours, when electricity is in highest demand. This not only relieves pressure on the system, but consumers can also save money.

"The benefit of real-time pricing is that it gives the straight market price right to the people," said Marjorie Isaacson, director of research and operations for CNT Energy. "It gives them a very appropriate price signal, and there's no artificial cushion in there."

Residents are able to follow prices live via a Web site or by phone. Isaacson said CNT Energy has also done air conditioner exchange programs in some neighborhoods to cut down on energy costs and consumption.

The I-GO car-sharing program is another division of CNT that keeps a conscious eye on the environment. Launched in 2002 as a pilot program, the non-profit organization offers short-term rental plans starting at $6.00 per hour. This rate includes gas, car maintenance and insurance. Almost half the fleet is hybrids, and all vehicles are low emission.

One of many vehicles in the I-GO fleet

"We're doing this to improve the quality of life in Chicago," said I-GO CEO Sharon Feigon. "We want to reach as many people as possible."

I-GO covers 32 city neighborhoods, as well as Evanston and Oak Park, with over 10,000 residents enrolled in the program. Feigon said 400 to 500 new members sign up each month.

Carl Westberg, an I-GO user for the past year, has found the convenience factor to be most beneficial. He sold his car in favor of using any of the dozen or so cars within a walking distance of his Rogers Park apartment.

"I can look out my window and see the cars," Westberg said. "There's never really been a time when I wanted to go anywhere that I didn't have a car to use."

Westberg says he uses the service eight to nine times a month, including occasions when he visits his family in the south suburbs. He also finds the service convenient when traveling from his job on North Michigan Avenue.

Like Westberg, Garfield Park resident Sunshine Best doesn't own a car and relies on I-GO. Best, the owner of a food consulting company, uses the service a few times each week. She relies on I-GO for most time-sensitive situations.

"I think I-GO makes a more consistent effort towards the environment, especially with what they have to offer," Best said. "They have cars all over the city, and they're strategically placed by CTA stops."

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