Recycling, solar panels and more: How businesses, government agencies make green by going green

CHICAGO (WLS) -- There's major savings, environmental and financial, for businesses and public buildings through going green.

Environmental practices like mega solar power, giant batteries and new ways to recycle help businesses and government agencies make money on efforts to reduce carbon emissions and slow climate change.

Now building owners hope more individual consumers can take some of the same steps and reap some of the same benefits.

Family-owned Abt Electronics in Glenview takes Styrofoam that would otherwise be sitting in a landfill and melts it down, using it to make picture frames, home construction materials and more.

"Everything we do here is profitable, and it's green," said Mike Abt, co-owner of the 85-year-old business.

After getting a degree in biology, he asked his family if he could make their business more eco-friendly and profitable at the same time. Abt Electronics recycles 95% of its own waste every year.

"We recycle the cardboard, the paper, the plastic, the refrigerators the electronics -- everything -- all the metal. And that's what this place is all about," Abt said.

When they deliver new products, they take the trash with them by recycling customers' old appliances, electronic parts, mattresses and more.

"Over here, you'll see stainless steel; we have copper and this is worth like $4.50 a pound. Separate that, these are compressors. These have a little higher value," Abt explained.

Abt recycles 20 million pounds of material a year, saving 2.2 million pounds of cardboard and paper, over 350,000 pounds of Styrofoam, over 13 million pounds of appliances and 1.4 million pounds of electronics from going to landfills.

Their fleet of delivery trucks run on biodiesel fuel, fork lifts run on new clean battery power and forced heating in the warehouse entrances help to save energy.
But the real moneymakers are above, soaking up the sun.

"We have 1,500 solar panels and then on our new roof, we're adding 6,000 panels. It'll generate enough for 80 houses in a year for us. That'll generate half our power in the summertime," Abt said.

A Tesla supercharger station stores power then can be sold back to ComEd, making money.

"We're making like $150,000 a year," Abt said.

Government buildings are doing many of the same things for the same rewards.

"We do not have an energy bill here," explained Chris Lindgren, superintendent of the Park District of Oak Park.

When the village needed to expand its recreational center, the community and board wanted it to be eco-friendly.

"We create as much energy on site as the building uses on an annual basis," Lindgren said.

That qualifies the Carroll Center for Zero Energy Verification from the New Buildings Institute. The designation comes with a grant, which allowed the suburb to install a geothermal cooling system and triple-paned insulated windows.
The 70 rooftop solar panels and the solar panel awning creates more clean energy than the rec center needs in summer.

"That clean energy is pushed back onto the grid and is used by neighboring properties," Lindgren said. "Then we reserve credit from ComEd, so that we can basically take back our credit when we need it."

In 2022, Illinois was tied with California at number one for buildings with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, meaning those buildings are LEED-certified.

Some of those buildings include The Wrigley Building and the McCormick Place Expansion. Here is a full list of more LEED buildings in our area.
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