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Rockford Keeps On Going Green


The Rockford Region is known for heavy industry, but it was founded and built by people who lived by a simple Midwestern value: Take care of the land and it will take care of you. That ethic is alive, well and even growing today. Here are a few snapshots of Rockford's growing green economy:


In 2010, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Partnership for Sustainable Communities awarded the Rockford Metropolitan Agency for Planning (RMAP) a $600,000 grant to create a Regional Plan for Sustainable Development (RPSD) and a “data commons” that would house regional indicators and sustainability metrics. In addition, $400,000 of local match was paired with the initiative. With RMAP as the grantee, the sustainability initiative is known as the Rockford Region Vital Signs project.

Vital Signs seeks to provide community leaders with measurable data across a broad spectrum of sustainability topical areas, and then use that data to drive decision-making. The data elements provide a baseline (current conditions) that can be used to track success, return on investment, and quality of life. The metrics were used to develop a regional sustainability plan that promotes tactics and action steps to help the region achieve its sustainability goals.

Broad-based stakeholder engagement was crucial to the success of the RPSD process by empowering and engaging informal and formal community members. Project management of the RPSD was based on inclusion and broad community involvement. This involvement began with engaging and getting commitment, in the form of a consortium agreement, with a target list of 100+ community organizations. The final Consortium was comprised of 35 agencies in Boone and Winnebago Counties agreeing to support and align their strategic plans and long-range visions into a set of common goals and action steps.  More information is available at the Vital Signs website, www.ourvitalsigns.com.


A 350,000 square foot facility which used to house a bookseller has been renovated into the perfect home for two Chinese companies, GNC Inc. and JNC Inc. The site, formerly Tan Books & Publishers, was purchased by First Rockford Group for $1.5 million and received $3 million in improvements, including raising the ceilings by several feet. The two companies will recycle plastic items.

This project is just one example of Rockford's commitment to re-purposing older industrial properties for modern business. One advantage of these facilities is that their “old school” construction is usually quite robust and strong, which makes them easier to adapt to a number of diverse business uses.

Reusing and reducing

How does the Rock River Water Reclamation District (RRWRD) power its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rated headquarters? With electricity generated by burning methane gas created during the sanitation process, of course! The cutting-edge building also uses seven rain gardens to reduce and reuse storm runoff. Additionally, the RRWRD installed highly efficient heat pump heating/cooling systems and roofing membranes and panels specially-designed to reduce the “heat island” around the facility.


Freedom Field Renewable Energy is a non-profit partnership of Northwest Illinois businesses, colleges and governments established to develop and/or study new renewable energy technologies and installations. The group has been building projects using nearly every form of renewable energy, including solar, wind and biomass. Freedom Field has also been crucial to local education and outreach efforts and is part of an international energy collaboration agreement between Winnebago County and the city of Lidköping, Sweden, allowing the two communities to exchange and develop new energy production and conservation techniques.


The Chicago Rockford International Airport is already a top-flight aviation center, but soon it will be a major power source as well. Part of the facility is being transformed into the largest solar production facility at any American commercial airport. The solar panel farm will produce 20 megawatts of power and eventually be brought up to 62 megawatts. It's being built by Chicago-Rockford Solar Partners, LLC, a partnership between Wanxiang America Corporation and New Generation Power. Wanxiang will be producing the panels at its Rockford production facility and the partnership has signed a 20 year agreement with Ameren Illinois to distribute the resulting power.

Another Rockford corporate citizen finding new ways to generate power is William Charles, Ltd., a construction management and real estate firm. The company uses reclaimed oil to fire its asphalt plants and heat buildings. Much of the William Charles fleet is powered by biodiesel (using over 200,000 gallons per year) and the company has a long-term goal to convert to 100% renewable fuels.

The Winnebago Landfill, a subsidiary of Rock River Environmental Services (RRES), received local siting approval for a 222-acre landfill expansion in July 2012.  The Winnebago Landfill (WLC) has named this expansion EcoRock Environmental Technologies Campus due to its many state-of-the-art renewable resource technologies.

As Construction and Demolition (C&D) waste is a significant and growing part of the disposed waste stream in Illinois, EcoRock will construct and operate a Construction and Demolition Recycling Facility (additionally helping contractors meet LEED certification).

Other sustainable energy projects include a newly finished Recycling Transfer Facility, in addition to plans for an organic composting facility with a broader range of operations (including food waste) in addition to landscape waste.

The WLC has been converting landfill gas to energy since 2007 and will continue to do so at EcoRock.  WLC currently produces enough electricity to power 8,000 homes and at peak production will have the electrical equivalent of 25,000 homes.

In January of 2013, RRES collaborated with Kelley-Williamson Mobil and Trillium CNG to bring the first Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) station to the region.  RRES has already begun converting their hauling fleet to CNG vehicles.

EcoRock is working closely with Freedom Field and Winnebago County to find a suitable company to pipe landfill gas to, serving as a low-cost alternative to natural gas.  Similarly, EcoRock hopes to utilize the heat that is not currently being captured as the refuse breaks down within the landfill as an additional, cost-effective way to heat and cool surrounding businesses.

Solar & Wind Generation have been in EcoRock’s blueprint from the very beginning.  RRES recently received a solar grant from Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity (DCEO) for $ 173,880 to install solar panels in place of a screening berm on I-39.  Winnebago County has three wind turbines thatneed to be utilized and EcoRock seems to have the appropriate place; RRES has plans to have one of the turbines on its property.

Map of the EcoRock Campus

Rockford's international partners can be sure that no matter how much business is done in our region, taking care of the land will be part of who we are and what we do.

LEED Development

Rockford is home to an active branch of the U.S. Green Building Council. It is home to three recent LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold buildings - our new Federal Courthouse and two facilities at Rock Valley College – and two other LEED Certified buildings. The region is developing a Sustainability Plan funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that will incorporate LEED standards. The City of Rockford is considering LEED elements in its long-range plan. Rockford has several local architectural and engineering firms experienced in reaching LEED standards.

Utility Programs for Energy Efficiency

ComEd and Nicor Gas, your utility providers at the proposed Rockford site, recognize and encourage efforts for energy efficient construction and operations. Their New Construction Service provides cash incentives and technical assistance to encourage building owners, designers and architects to surpass standard practices. Services include:

  • Access to technical experts at no cost to identify ways to save energy and lower operating expenses
  • Financial incentives to offset the cost of installing energy-efficient equipment and materials
  • Design incentives for the lead design team for coordinating program participation
  • Energy modeling or whole building energy simulations to optimize the building design for energy performance
  • Life-cycle costing to identify the cost-effectiveness of the project and maximize savings
  • Assistance with exceeding energy code

More information is available at ComEd.com/NewConstruction.

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