Green Inspiration at the Top of the Sears Tower

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Since I was in Chicago this past weekend (Laura and I attended the AAAS annual meeting—we wrote about fembots, the 1000th Steve, origami, and award-winning science journalism), I took the opportunity to go up to the top of the Sears Tower. As I gazed out over the city, looking down on the roofs of buildings hundreds of feet below, all I could think about was the expanse of unused space—acres of square footage (rooftops) that could be filled with solar panels and greenery.

It turns out that I am, thankfully, not the first person to have had these thoughts about the Windy City. The Chicago Green Roof and Cool Roof Grants Program has been handing out funds for creating green roofs since 2005.

Green roofs have several benefits:

  • Clean and retain rainwater
  • Reduce ‘Urban Heat Island Effect’ (overheating of cities in summer which contributes to pollution and increased energy consumption)
  • Add beauty to our urban landscape
  • Help lower air temperatures
  • Improve air quality for everyone
  • Lower heating and cooling bills
  • Extend the life of the roof membrane (2 to 3 times!)

Chicago should be commended for their environmental efforts (the city's Department of Environment Web site has information on other projects, such as Chicago Green Homes), but I could see from the Sears Tower that they still have a long way to go.

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