06/12/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

From Green Roofs to Clean Tech: How Chicago Is Preparing for the Sustainable Future

More than 20 years ago, Mayor Richard M. Daley had a vision of a green Chicago, from trees and roofs to green buildings and alleys. While on a visit to Germany in the late 1990s, he saw a green roof on Hamburg's City Hall and sought to replicate the idea in Chicago. He wanted the city to be a model for America around the environment. That first rooftop garden gained residents' interest, lowered fees and sparked other incentives to make the city the nation's "green roof" capital, with more than 300 buildings totaling 4 million square feet.

Today, Mayor Daley's vision has come to life. Chicago is leading by example. In 2008, the city launched its Chicago Climate Action Plan (CCAP), a comprehensive and detailed blueprint for lowering greenhouse gas emissions and addressing climate change. Through five key strategies--energy efficient buildings, clean and renewable energy sources, improved transportation options, reduced waste and industrial pollution, and adaptation--Chicago plans to decrease its carbon footprint 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, as well as encourage its residents to adapt lifestyles that preserve and protect the planet.

Already the initiative has generated positive effects, from investing in the nation's largest urban solar power plant and adding more than 600 car sharing vehicles to retrofitting 15,000 buildings and decreasing family waste by 11.5 percent.

A comprehensive "green jobs" plan is also a vital part of Chicago's environmental strategy. Over the next three years, $900 million in federal and state grant money will be invested into the Chicago region's energy efficiency efforts. In preparation, the city is training its workforce for these incoming job opportunities. To date, more than 250 green jobs have been created and over the next two years, 650 additional green jobs will be created through federal grants for residents, in areas ranging from infrastructure and technology to engineering and construction, and thousands more are expected as additional projects develop.

Environmental initiatives have also proven beneficial for business and the local economy. Some of the world's leading sustainable corporations now call Chicago home: Veolia Environment, the world's largest environmental-services company; 14 wind-power companies including Suzlon and Invenergy; and Serious Materials, the developer and manufacturer of sustainable green building products. In addition, CCAP's Green Hotels Initiative resulted in 14 hotels being certified as "green hotels" -- the most of any city in the nation.

All these factors are helping to strengthen Chicago's position as the go-to hub for businesses around sustainable innovation and environmental leadership.

Enter The CCAP Earth Day Video Competition

So what better time to showcase Chicago's efforts to live in harmony with its environment than Earth Day?

To help raise awareness and engage current residents and the future generation to carry on Mayor Daley's vision and the city's efforts, The Chicago Climate Action team - Chicago Department of Environment, Global Philanthropy Partnership and Civic Consulting Alliance - is sponsoring a video contest that allows middle, high school and college students within the city to film a 90-second video demonstrating how they are personally working to achieve a cleaner, more environmentally friendly city and combat climate change. On April 22nd--the 40th anniversary of Earth Day--Mayor Daley, with support from the Abbott Fund, will honor nine contest winners with educational scholarships.

With all the city's environmental activities, the student video contestants will undoubtedly draw on lots of inspiration. Already, last fall, students weatherized more than 7,000 homes through the Chicago Conservation Corps Clubs. But that is just the start. Every Chicago resident and business has a role to play in helping create a more sustainable city for us, our children and our grandchildren. Together--through our personal actions and changes-- we can enhance the quality of life for Chicagoans, remain prosperous, and build a more secure future.