The birthplace of the skyscraper has something new to be proud of: the green roof. Chicago is home to over 200 green roofs, covering 2.5 million square feet, more than any other U.S. city. They sit atop Mayor Daley’s City Hall, Target, the Apple store, and a McDonalds. But they’re not just for large institutions anymore. Thanks to the City of Chicago’s Green Roof Grant Program, they’re literally sprouting up everywhere.

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Last year, the city program awarded $5000 grants to twenty particularly promising residential and small commercial projects, including True Nature Foods, an old automotive shop turned health food store and neighborhood destination for all things eco-friendly. A food co-op, recycling center, and so much more, the corner store supports local farms, contributes to charities, and aims to “put the control of food sources in the hands of the people.”

The project, designed and proposed by a collaboration between local firms Urban Habitat Chicago and Echo Studio, includes not just a green roof, but vegetated thermal mass benches to moderate temperature, solar curtains for regulating sunlight, custom-made solar heaters for collection of radiant energy, and exterior raised planters.

The green roof atop Chicago’s Apple store
chicago mac apple store green roof

What’s truly special about True Nature Foods’ 3000 square-foot green roof, though, is its business application. Of course green roofs are excellent solutions for saving energy, regulating temperature, and bringing back some of the fauna displaced by city development. But for True Nature, the roof will serve an additional purpose: the local (what can be more local than the roof over your head?) production of vegetables and herbs. To complement the supply from their current local vendors and farms, the store’s in-house (or “on-house,” rather) production strategy turns a co-op food market into an über-locally-based, vertically-integrated business.

Here’s a case in which a green roof is not only an environmental solution, but allows a business to further its mission statement. And this is an often overlooked yet central part of sustainable development- acknowledging the environmental benefits of sustainable efforts, and applying them in ways that are genuinely valuable and relevant to one’s beliefs, business context, and yes, finances. In other words, applying green and sustainable techniques in ways that are, well, sustainable.

True Nature Foods is one of many projects that shows this type of dedication to the individualized potential of sustainable efforts. The City of Chicago’s Grant Program has selected twenty projects, others include a firehouse, bank, and numerous single-family homes, that epitomize the values of urban sustainability, and will surely serve as examples for other projects and cities. Now that’s the kind of government involvement we like to see. Here’s to the Windy City!

Chicago City Hall has one of the most photographed green roofs around.