Request for Proposals (RFP) Released today for the Chicago Sustainable Backyard Program

The Chicago Department of Transportation is seeking a partner or partners to run the Sustainable Backyards Program (SusBy).  SusBy helps Chicago residents manage their backyards more sustainably, especially through the implementation of green infrastructure that reduces runoff and provides other environmental benefits.  SusBy accomplishes this by educating the public and distributing rebates for rain barrels, compost bins, native plants and trees.  Core functions of the SusBy program include program marketing, rebate processing, budget and grant administration, education and program evaluation.  

Please note that a mandatory respondents’ pre-submittal conference will be held at 3:00 PM on Monday, April 16, 2012 at CDOT (30 N LaSalle, 11th Floor).  If you wish to submit a proposal for the SusBy program, you or a member of your team must attend the meeting on April 16, 2012.  All those interested in attending should RSVP to Sean Wiedel at by Friday, April 13, 2012 and write “Sustainable Backyards (SusBy) Respondents Conference” in the subject line.

RFP available here:


April 9, 2012 at 9:08 pm Leave a comment

A rainwater-fed rooftop vegetable garden

Breanne's rooftop garden

Chicago resident, Breanne, has built an incredible rain harvesting system consisting of seven rain barrels, daisy-chained together, and a well pump to force the water up to a rooftop vegetable garden. She explains the materials and tools used to build this system in this HOW TO article on re-nest, a green home blog.

Breanne and her rain barrels were also featured on the What Our Water’s Worth blog this past Spring.

Go, Breanne!

An inspiring set up, indeed. If you have a great rain harvesting system you would like to share with fellow Chicago residents, please send a description and photo to

Rain barrel with pump

October 31, 2011 at 4:15 pm Leave a comment

Midwest Ecological Landscaping Association

Did you know that the Midwest region has a green industry association dedicated to adopting sustainable designs, methods and materials as standard practice? 

The Midwest Ecological Landscaping Association (MELA) has a growing membership of over 120 landscape designers, contractors, suppliers and nurseries committed to sustainability. 

Very cool.

They also keep an excellent calendar of events and workshops on the subject of sustainable landscaping; check it out:

October 18, 2011 at 5:50 pm Leave a comment

As Water Crises Intensify, Cities Turn to Rainwater Harvesting

As more and more people move to cities, the demand for resources in urban centers increases. City governments have an important role to play in encouraging, promoting, and incentivizing resource, especially water, conservation among residents. GOOD magazine gives as nice summary of water conservation and rain harvesting efforts across the world:

As Water Crises Intensify, Cities Turn to Rain Harvesting

Despite being near the world’s greatest, and seemingly “endless”, source of fresh water, the City of Chicago has been promoting rain harvesting for a very long time, as can be seen in its historic rain barrel program and now the Chicago Sustainable Backyard Program. In the face of climate change, where we are expecting rain to fall more heavily over shorter periods of time but less frequently causing more dry spells in the summer, Chicago’s efforts to conserve fresh water and manage stormwater will be increasingly important.

After a summer like Chicago has had, too bad not everyone had a rain barrel in their backyard.

August 23, 2011 at 3:02 pm 1 comment

Chicago’s Green Infrastructure Efforts Promoted Internationally

The City of Chicago’s leadership in sustainable stormwater management practices is being recognized around the world. Recently the BBC visited some City sites to get a better idea of how Chicago is using green infrastructure and rain harvesting to handle stormwater.

Watch the short news clip here:

Chicago residents can follow the City’s lead in stormwater management by participating in the Chicago Sustainable Backyard Program. Here is a recent article about the Sustainable Backyard Program in Gapers Block.
Keep up the great collective work, Chicago!

August 9, 2011 at 5:16 pm Leave a comment

Illinois Schoolyard Habitat Action Grant Program

Schoolyard Habitat Grants from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Division of Education

Photo by Center for Neighborhood Technology

The IDNR Division of Education is working in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and the Illinois Conservation Foundation to expand the Schoolyard Habitat Action Grant program.



The maximum available funds per Schoolyard Habitat Action Grant application increased to $1,000!

The Schoolyard Habitat Action Grant program provides funds to establish or enhance wildlife habitat on the school grounds or other public place and is available to teachers, youth group leaders and nature center personnel. Butterfly gardens, rain gardens, prairie plots and wetlands are just some of the projects that qualify. Visit for details.

August 3, 2011 at 2:26 pm Leave a comment

Marcus de la fleur: Sustainable Backyard Landscaper Extraordinaire

In 2002, Marcus moved into a typical suburban two-flat in Elmhurst, IL, and has spent the last nine years turning it into to an extraordinary demonstration of what can be done in the residential environment to treat rainwater as an invaluable resource.

One Drop at a Time

Check out all of the amazing things he has done in his yard, from reinvigorating the underground cistern, to installing permeable pavement, to planting a huge rain garden (please note we do not recommend prescribed burning on residential land; he is a professional, folks).

Marcus leaves us with these encouraging words:

“Don’t feel overwhelmed! Start with one or two treatments featured on this web site. The cumulative effect of everybody in the community contributing can lead to real positive change.”

A very cool demonstration indeed!

July 1, 2011 at 3:06 pm Leave a comment

Landscape for Life: Managing Water Sustainably

The Sustainable Sites Initiative is an interdisciplinary effort by the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin and the United States Botanic Garden to create voluntary national guidelines and performance benchmarks for sustainable land design, construction and maintenance practices.

The Initiative has developed a set of design principles that can be applied to our own backyards; visit Landscape for Life to learn how to manage water on-site in a sustainable way. There is all sorts of great information on irrigation, rain gardens, and green roofs.

We encourage you to check it out! How about all this rain?…

June 24, 2011 at 5:54 pm Leave a comment

Build Your Own Rain Barrel

Here is a good instructional video on how to build your own rain barrel:

The City of Chicago has slightly different instructions here:

You can often access previously-used, food grade barrels at local food processing sites, like a local brewery or candy manufacturer. Try asking nicely.

May 5, 2011 at 2:54 pm Leave a comment

2011 Chicago Sustainable Backyard Program Announced

We have officially launched the 2011 Chicago Sustainable Backyard Program!

To promote the many ways Chicago residents can create more environmentally-friendly landscapes in their yards, the City of Chicago is offering rebates to Chicago residents for up to 50% off their next local purchase of:

Tree Planting Diagram

TREES (up to $100 back)

NATIVE PLANTS (up to $60 back)

COMPOST BIN (up to $50 back)

RAIN BARREL (up to $40 back)

The City will also be hosting a series of Sustainable Backyard Workshops. To find out about the workshop series and to download rebate forms, please visit Rules and restrictions apply and can be found on the rebate forms. Funding for rebates comes from the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Pollution Prevention Program and a USDA Forest Service Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Grant.

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May 2, 2011 at 10:34 pm 1 comment

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