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Going Green in Chicago

Where to Go: A Guide to Eco-Friendly Chicago Travel

by Claire Bidwell Smith

Lesser known fact about Chicago: the nickname “the windy city” actually isn’t a meteorological reference but rather an old-fashioned phrase used to describe someone who is bragging or boastful. More than ever these days Chicago has something to get windy about — the greening efforts employed throughout this modern Midwestern metropolis are evident across the grid. From some of the city’s finest hotels and restaurants all the way down to little boutique shops and delivery services, green is everywhere.


Fairmont Hotel Lobby
Fairmont Hotel Lobby

Although most hotels in the city are making concerted efforts to conserve water and energy, several hotels are taking steps above and beyond the usual. Already renowned for their eco-efforts Kimpton Hotels proudly boasts three chic stops in the city: Hotel Monaco, Hotel Burnham and Hotel Allegro. Each closely follows Kimpton’s Earthcare program which includes in-room recycling bins, non-toxic cleaning practices, organic coffee and tea offerings and utilizes a wide variety of recycled post-consumer products as well as water and energy conservation.

The InterContinental Hotel recently earned a prestigious energy star which identifies the hotel as one of the most energy efficient buildings in the country. From recycling and conservation efforts that include utilizing Green Sustainable Energy Credits to motion detectors and water minimizing toilets and sinks to non-VOC paints and linen donation eco efforts can be found in almost every aspect of the hotel. Event planners even have the option to choose green weddings or meetings here.

The luxe Fairmont Hotel stands out in particular for their creative and conscientious eco accomplishments. Not only does the hotel employ sustainable water and energy practices, a recycling program and a responsible tourism partnership with National Geographic, but it also houses one of the greenest spas in the city and a high-end restaurant whose chef takes full advantage of the nearby Green City farmer’s market. MySpa with its bamboo floors and soy-based candles strictly uses Spa Ritual products, free of cancer-linked chemicals such as formaldehyde and toluene. Executive Chef Brad Parsons of the Fairmont’s Aria restaurant offers a program called Shop with the Chef in which guests accompany him to the farmers market to shop for local and organic ingredients that he uses in a gourmet meal made just for you.


The Pivot Boutique
The Pivot Boutique

Eco shopping in Chicago runs the gamut from high end eco-boutiques like Pivot where you’ll find some of the most beautiful sustainable clothing in the country to Greenheart Shop which displays a wide range of eco and fair trade items like bracelets made from telephone wires in Africa and nonprofit-backed soaps. Green Genes Boutique boasts a selection of organic, recycled and repurposed toys and kid products as well as offerings for adults. Find even more high end, luxe clothing options like Del Forte organic cotton jeans at Earth Girls in Andersonville or at Nau, an Oregon-based sustainable clothing shop in Bucktown.

For all things edible head downtown to the Green Grocer, a boutique market packed with local and organic produce and products like Raspberry Preserves from Tomato Mountain Farms in Wisconsin and loaves of olive sourdough from Bennison’s bakery in Evanston. If it’s chocolate you’re after check out Vosges for heavenly sweets housed in a certified organic production facility or Chocolate Catering run by Jay Shindler in Old Town who uses organic ingredients in his dreamy truffles like the No. 9 with Chambord, white and dark chocolate.


Crust's Gourmet Pizza
Crust's Gourmet Pizza

Crust in Wicker Park pioneers the way for green restaurants in Chicago as the first certified organic restaurant in the Midwest. Chef Michael Altenberg also of Lincoln Square’s Bistro Campagne seeks to utilize all natural, organic and sustainable products in his delectable offerings, even down to the impressive organic beer menu. Also on the plate for green eats in the Windy City are Bleeding Heart Bakery, the first organic bakery in the country, and Uncommon Ground offering an innovative approach to dishes and cocktails and utilizing organic, seasonal and local produce in unusual ways.

Hot Chocolate in Bucktown serves hamburgers using local Plapp Farm ground beef and chicken from Gunthrop Farms in Indiana. May Street Market in the West Loop features a market-to-table menu with dishes like venison schnitzel and seared trout filet.  Even restaurants like A Mano and Tavern at the Park, while not necessarily focusing on organic food, still make concerted sustainable efforts such as in-house water filtration system and recycled glass bottles. Lincoln Square packs a double whammy with Fine Wine Brokers offering a serious selection of organic wines and Drew’s Eatery who can make sure you fulfill that good old hot dog craving with one of the organic variety.


The Shed Aquarium
The Shed Aquarium

When you’re not consuming all this green city has to offer there’s plenty to see as well. A stop at Chicago’s only sustainable market, Green City Market in Old Town is a must – and also where you can find the majority of the city’s eco-conscious chefs perusing the goods in the early morning hours. Open Wednesdays and Saturdays through the summer and fall there are regular chef demonstrations and over three dozen local and organic vendors.

The Garfield Park Conservatory is a natural green stop with beautiful botanic gardens and blooming flowers all year long. Best of all, it’s free to visitors. Also on the nature tour, check out the Notebaert Nature Museum and Green Roof in Lincoln Park. Wander across the 17,000 square foot green roof while taking in a little extra oxygen and enjoying views of the city. Lastly visitors should not miss the Shedd Aquarium which not only provides a fantastic day of exploring all things aquatic but also does its eco part, working hard to educate the public about sustainable fish options with the Right Bite program focusing on the Great Lakes region.