Back to top
June 9, 2017
High performance & sustainability

When you think about your future, what do you consider? Career aspirations, retirement and travel, your family and health? All these are important to you, and (hopefully) you’re already saving and planning for how you will live out your life. Similarly, we should be thinking this way about our communities and our cities.

Resiliency is the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems within a city to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kind of chronic stresses (violence, high unemployment, inefficient public transportation, etc.) and acute shocks (floods, disease outbreaks, terrorist attacks, etc.) they experience.

Chicago is affected by these shocks and stresses: aging infrastructure, endemic crime and violence, infrastructure failure, rainfall and flooding and social inequality. Through the Chicago Resilience Challenge we've made a commitment to focus on “identifying and integrating the needs of its vulnerable populations, building community cohesion, and reducing crime.”

As a general contractor, Pepper can help provide solutions to these main concerns that are impacting Chicago. This past month, Pepper helped sponsor the first Resiliency Symposium in Chicago where resiliency and sustainability experts from across the nation and right here in Chicago came together to collaborate and learn about ways we can all work together and help create a more resilient Chicago.

Aside from the symposium, what else can we do? To improve the resiliency of Chicago, we put together a list of resilient strategies: 

High priority sites

If you have worked on a LEED job where you have utilized an existing site or a site considered a brownfield, then you have probably heard the term high priority site before. A high priority site as defined by LEED© is either a historic site, a brownfield or is deemed as one of the following: listed on the EPA National Priorities List, located in a Federal Empowerment Zone, Federal Enterprise Community, Federal Renewal Community, Qualified Low Income Community or a Difficult Development Area.

Constructing a building in these areas can be quite difficult. At the symposium, Mark Goodson, Director of Resiliency Solutions for CB&I, presented a case study on redeveloping the industrial district and the 5 steps they use to access high priority sites in Glasgow, Scotland.

01.  Define a target area
02.  Understand the market
03.  Develop reuse strategies
04. Develop property goals and strategies

05.  Make a plan for development

Although we are not developers, we can provide valuable insight and assistance early in the design development phase to assist with steps three and four. When owners engage the contractor early-on, it can save money and avoid unnecessary surprises and headaches from goals or strategies that may not be implemented during construction.


In the 1960s, Chicago’s sewer system was overflooding 100 days a year so the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan was created. Essentially, this plan is a system of deep, large-diameter tunnels and vast reservoirs designed to reduce flooding and improve water quality.

Though this system is a better solution than the 1960s stormwater system that caused the flooding, by itself, the system has only reduced the 100 days of flooding a year to an average of 50 days of flooding per year.

When we talk resiliency, we want this number to be 0, but to do this, means attacking the problem at its source. This can consist of designing and building with specific skins that slow water as it runs down the building, mimicking the effects of leaves on a tree. This would help by reducing the quantity of water reaching the inlet at one time and prevent overloading the system. Other strategies would include installing rain gardens and bio swells that absorb that water before reaching the TARP system.

Green roofs

Green roofs typically are lauded for their insulation properties and their rain water management, but they can be used for much more than that. The Chicago Resiliency Plan specifically calls for building community cohesion, and according to Molly Meyer at Omni Ecosystems,  they can do just that if implemented correctly.

Green roofs can be designed to provide not only a space for occupants to enjoy the great outdoors, they can be used to produce crops. Urban farming is a great way to educate and unite people for a common good. Molly’s team used a green roof to produce wheat, which a local school cared for, harvested and milled to make flour for the cookies they sold for a fundraiser.

One of Pepper’s own clients, Eskenazi Health and Hospital, uses its green roof as part of the healing process, allowing patients to both cultivate and care for the plants, as well as contributing fresh and healthy options to their menu.

Eskenazi Hospital Sky Farm
Sky Farm at Eskenazi Hospital

As a general contractor, we understand that a green roof isn’t as simple as putting some dirt on a roof and planting vegetation. Involving the contractor upfront when considering a green roof is important to keep the structural integrity of the building and creating a successful environment for the vegetation to thrive.

Chicago Sustainable Development Policy

The city of Chicago has taken an active approach to resiliency of the built environment by updating their sustainable development policy to work toward their resiliency goals. Similar to LEED, the Chicago Sustainable Development Policy encompasses nine categories that pull from several rating systems. You can achieve more points by taking an active approach to reducing flooding, installing sustainable landscapes, considering public transportation locations and developing a sustainable workforce.

Renewable energy

For many people, when they hear about renewable energy, they think it will cost a fortune. However, with recent technology advances and monetary incentives, renewable energy can be quite affordable and has shown payback periods of seven years and less.

When you install renewable energy on your building or even purchase RECs (renewable energy credits), you not only decrease the amount of greenhouse gas emissions released from electricity produced with traditional sources, but you also lighten the load on the decapitated electrical grid, allowing for better reliability at peak demand times.

This is important because Chicago’s current electricity grid is over a century old and in dire need of improvements. Since we are one of the largest cities in the United States, our electricity demand is very large and anything we can contribute back helps the community at large.

How can a contractor help you with this goal? At Pepper, we can estimate the cost and payback for building specific renewable energy systems, and we can provide recommendations on possible grant incentives that are available to reduce upfront costs.

Renewable energy-solar panels
Solar panels at IKEA Columbus

Resilient achievements and goals

Despite the considerable amount of work required to make cities like ours more resilient, the city of Chicago has already made some progress in becoming more resilient. From 2010-2015 greenhouse gases have been reduced by seven percent, buildings have reduced their emissions by 10 percent and waste emissions in the city have been reduced by 30 percent.

Along with these achievements, by the year 2025, Chicago wants to be 100 percent resilient. Some the ways to accomplish this goal are:

  • Modernizing the streetlights in the city to provide a safer space, brighter and directed light and minimized light pollution.
  • Retrofitting playgrounds to capture storm water can bring more green space to the playgrounds and parks instead of impermeable concrete.
  • Upgrading the Red and Purple lines of the L train. Improvements would allow more people to use public transportation to reach “work areas” and places of mass employment.
Urban playground
Bright Horizons playground

There are organizations today that are working together on these goals. One of them, Connected Chicago,  believes strong neighborhoods, robust infrastructure and prepared communities working together will help Chicago be more sustainable and is the ideal way of improving the city.

100 Resilient Cities

Urbanization is growing on a global level, which is leading to new issues with resilience. Likewise, the importance of cities becoming more resilient is increasing because of the rise of urbanization.

Urban resilience is the ability for cities to grow, adapt, and survive amid the stressors and acute shock the city experiences. Learning how to predict and understand the trends in individual cities will improve our ability to withstand future events and bounce back. When a city gains an understanding of these different factors, it will be better able to adapt and thrive instead of being crippled by damage.

To be effective, each city must respond based on the factors that are affecting them individually. Many American cities have implemented programs to become more resilient, and each is making improvements that will help that city on an individual basis. Out of the list of 100 Resilient Cities, 23 are in the United States, including Chicago.

city of Chicago
Chicago, Illinois

It’s exciting to us that Pepper is in a position to help Chicago achieve its resiliency goals through the buildings we construct. We can make a significant and direct contribution toward our collective future.

When it comes to the environment, construction tends to be viewed as a negative contributor. We walked away from the Resiliency Symposium burdened by the responsibility we have, and yet inspired by the opportunity our careers offer to change the percentages. And challenged to find ways to contribute back. For those who want to effect real change in our world, consider the impact you can have through the built environment.

About the Author


Evan Caprile, LEED® AP BD+C, GACPProject Manager II, High Performance, Ohio

Evan joined the high performance group because he wanted to wanted to make the environment more sustainable for the people who use the buildings and the neighborhoods in which they are located. As project manager, Evan manages the LEED documentation and sustainable building strategies. He also uses his previous estimating and virtual construction experience to do energy modeling, which assesses the efficiency of a building in the design stages of the job and evaluates the life cycle costs of building systems in conjunction with our cost estimating.

Evan is a LEED AP BD+C and a Green Advantage Certified Practitioner. He is also a member of the United States Green Building Council Emerging Professionals. Evan earned his Bachelor of Arts and Sciences in History from Miami University.