Feature Article - March 2009
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Save Some Green

Smart Cost-Cutting Strategies

By Dawn Klingensmith

Green Equals Gain

Saving money was not the main goal when the Chicago Park District began taking energy-conservation measures as part of the city's overall "greening" initiative. "Initially, the focus was on decreasing our carbon footprint," said Ellen Sargent, deputy director of natural resources.

But as it turned out, doing right by the planet paid off.

In the past year, simply by replacing electrical light fixtures with lower wattage versions in its indoor facilities, the district achieved an estimated savings of $55,700.

"People think it has to be a huge project—a huge, expensive overhaul—but you'd be surprised at how things add up if you just do what you can across as many buildings as possible," Sargent said.

The Chicago Park District also maintains a number of outdoor fields and courts with automated lighting controlled by timers or ambient light sensors. However, once winter arrives in the Windy City, a pickup game of basketball is probably the furthest thing from Joe the Plumber's mind. So there's no sense in illuminating outdoor spaces while our pal and his spouse are in full-on hibernation mode, warding off the cold with gas-log fires and mulled wine.

Realizing this, the park district made sure its outdoor lighting was "secured off" at 72 sites during the winter season. That one simple initiative, over a single year, prevented $279,936 from bleeding out of the budget.

Additionally, the district replaced outmoded boilers at 23 sites during the 2007-08 heating season for an estimated savings of $524,018, and it has begun installing solar panels at some facilities to heat swimming pools.

Aside from saving money, the park district's energy management program is furthering its mission to be a responsible steward of the environment and to educate people; where appropriate, signage is in place to point out and describe energy-saving features, which in turn serves to enhance the district's public image.