Revitalizing the South Side of Chicago

The Auburn Gresham area of Chicago, Illinois, faces complex hurdles as it struggles to recover from redlining and disinvestment. The community has one of the highest rates of food insecurity in Chicago and risks becoming a food desert. Additionally, the area has a 13% unemployment rate, nearly double the Chicago average.

Green Era Campus aims to breathe new life into the community, and Chicago at large, through the transformation of a nine-acre vacant brownfield site into a renewable energy and urban farming campus — creating green energy and jobs, providing fresh produce, offering small business incubation and educational programming on its campus, and bringing community green space to the Auburn Gresham area.

The project uses a unique, closed-loop approach to drive economic development and sustainability initiatives, including tackling the problems of food waste. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, food waste is the largest solid waste stream reaching landfills in the US, with Chicago alone producing 55 million pounds of food waste per month. Green Era has developed an anaerobic digester that will recycle inedible food waste to produce renewable natural gas (RNG) and nutrient-rich compost. The project will provide the compost created by the digester at low cost to farmers throughout Chicago. This compost will also be used on the project’s urban farm, which is expected to grow 26,000+ pounds of produce annually.

“We want to show how closed-loop digester systems benefit the environment as well as the community,” said Jason Feldman, Co-Founder and CEO of Green Era Sustainability, a partner in Green Era Campus. “Green Era hopes to be at the forefront of what’s next for sustainable, equitable urban development.”

With our expertise in low-carbon energy, our lawyers were able to provide pro bono support to Green Era on a range of projects, most notably preparing an RNG offtake agreement that allowed the project to optimize the creation of its anaerobic digester.

Our engagement with Green Era is part of a broader effort to support individuals and organizations advancing sustainability worldwide.

We also assisted Green Era in interconnecting with a nearby natural gas pipeline where it will inject the RNG created by its anaerobic digester. With this interconnection, Green Era can sell the RNG it generates to create revenue to support its urban food waste recycling and urban farming operations. The interconnection agreement was finalized in on December 2023, and Green Era is now able to inject the RNG it produces into the fossil natural gas pipeline system. In further support of the project’s closed-loop system, our lawyers also are helping Green Era negotiate a solar power purchase agreement and associated lease.

“By starting from a community-oriented perspective, Green Era is taking a holistic approach to environmental sustainability,” said partner Josh Bledsoe, who oversees the Latham team working with the organization. “Green Era’s approach is truly unique, serving as a model not just for Chicago, but for cities across the United States.”

“Creating a community-centered climate-resilient hub is not only timely as we collectively understand the need for clean and renewable energy, but also the daily need in our neighborhoods for health-affirming food that can be grown by everyone. Most importantly, we hope that through the project our youth see the potential for their participation in green initiatives, as well as career and academic pathways,” said Erika Allen, CEO Strategic Development/Programs for Urban Growers Collective and Green Era Educational NFP.

Our engagement with Green Era is part of a broader effort to support individuals and organizations advancing sustainability worldwide. We are proud to be a founding member of Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy, an initiative established several years ago to advance sustainability goals through pro bono efforts. We continue to engage with LSE on work ranging from advising on carbon credit programs and reforestation efforts to ocean conservation and clean energy initiatives.