Every summer, we see the lake and foliage come alive and remember why Chicago is the best place in the world, and promise to stay, despite the frost bite inducing winter. This city has not only done a great job creating landmarks and monuments, but has also protected Lake Michigan, created green spaces and developed environmentally sound policies. We talk to Frank Teng, a Stanford graduate, sustainability activist and current expert on all things green to learn more about the real meaning of being a steward of the earth, voting against green washing, and cost effective sustainability practices. Although Frank currently lives in San Francisco, he travels to Chicago frequently to enjoy the city and learn more about the cool things Chicago does to become the greenest city in the world.
Learning more about sustainability with Frank
F: When did you start thinking about living a sustainable lifestyle? What was the aha moment?
FT: I started when I first read the book 100 Ways to Save the Earth in elementary school – I remember cutting the rings in the soda six-pack plastic so that it wouldn’t trap sea animals. In college, when I dropped in on a speaker seminar about how environment and business can work together, that was the aha moment when I realized this could be a career for me.
F: Everyone can help save the world by: changing a light bulb to an energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulb. Then use the $40 you save to buy two (used) books on how to make your life more green, and read them with your efficient new light. Then use the $$ you save to donate to or volunteer for a worthy environmental cause. With the new connections you make, get involved in a political campaign to improve your community, and maybe even run for a local commission or office. And then, make a law requiring efficient light bulbs and help others go through the same process.
F: What is behind this trend to source locally grown food? There are some who confuse local with organic…what is the best way to differentiate them and what are the benefits?
FT: Local food is a good choice for a number of reasons, some of which overlap with organic food. It’s a good way to support local, usually family, farms, which in turn helps enrich the character of the community. It also invigorates the local economy, which potentially benefits your job and property values. From an environmental standpoint, local food saves on the energy and global warming impact of transporting food thousands of miles to reach your plate. And from a health standpoint, farmers don’t have to put as many waxes and preservatives to keep food fresh since it will be sold and eaten much sooner. And finally, the food is fresher and therefore often tastes better. Organic food doesn’t necessarily have to be local, so there may not be local economic or energy saving benefits. The food is grown without pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, which makes it easier on the ecosystem and land and also reduces risk to your health. It also may taste better since it is picked closer to ripeness and flavors are more concentrated.
Trash is a symptom of wasteful practices and we should all watch lightning storms over Lake Michigan
Remember recycling is: the last option after reducing and reusing.
F: Why does going sustainable have to be expensive?
FT: It doesn’t. In many ways, it can help you save money, in fact. If you have a more fuel-efficient car, you save on gasoline over the lifetime of the vehicle.
F: Chicago is in the process of transforming itself into a model sustainable city. What are the positive things that you see from this? Anything else you think the city should do to further this image?
FT: The positives from this, if done thoughtfully, can be many. It can create green jobs positioned for new industries. It can make city residents and the local environment healthier, and therefore happier. It can attract green investment and green businesses and new residents, which bolster the economy. It can reduce global warming impact and inspire others to do the same.
F: Green washing seems to be winning over the sustainable movement. Do you believe this is happening and how do we fight it?
FT: Green washing is both the fault of the producer and consumer. One of the most subtly powerful aspects of the environmental movement is that it makes people rethink everything they use and buy. It’s tempting to settle for the easiest, slickest solution but we as consumers can’t afford to be lazy anymore. We need to remember that our dollars are our votes, and we should only support products we believe in.
Seeing Frank in Chicago…
F: What do you do when you are out here?
FT: I’m really fascinated by the history of architecture from a technological standpoint, like how elevators made skyscrapers possible. So I try to take advantage of the great museums and tours. The restaurants are different and delicious.
F: Favorite places to check out in Chicago?
FT: Downtown, and the lake shore.
F: Favorite running trail?
FT: The Lakeshore trail, because you can go fast and the scenery (both people and places) is pretty sweet.
F: Favorite beach?
F: Mode of transportation around Chicago?
Walking, and of course, the El.
F: Wrigley Field vs. AT&T Park in San Francisco?
FT: Wrigley has peanuts, and AT&T has sushi. ‘Nuff said.
F: Hot dogs vs. Deep dish pizza?
FT: A false dichotomy. Go to Ian’s pizza in Wrigleyville, and find hot dogs on your pizza.
F: Biggest pet peeve about Chicago?
FT: The potholes can swallow bikers whole.