The Road to a Great Illinois Sustainability Award Application

ground plants like grass and ivery in the shape of a winding path and an image of the gov. sustainability awards plackIf your organization has done a lot in the name of sustainability – from projects that save money and resources to initiatives that strengthen the people and communities you work for – what are you waiting for? The Illinois Sustainability Award provides a great opportunity for you to pull your sustainability work together into a single document: your award application!


Because sustainability encompasses the triple bottom line – People, Planet, Profit – it can be tough to wrap one’s brain around all that should be included in your application. Our Apply for the Award page and FAQ’s will help you in that process, but we know that’s a lot to read! Here are three tips to help you cut to the chase, and get started on your application (due May 4).


1. Start driving. Get key people on board.

Illinois Sustainability Award applications are typically a team effort, but there is often a single person or small team that drives the process forward. The application drivers can be anyone – from top management to employees who volunteer time on a Green Team. If you’re reading this, you may be the driver!


Send a note out to co-workers letting them know you’re preparing an Illinois Sustainability Award application. Here are some key people to get on board early (positions vary by organization):

  • Top Management
  • Facilities/Operations Manager
  • Plant Manager
  • Sustainability Officer/Green Team Lead
  • PR Officer

2. Read these two things. These are your “how to” guides to help you best relay your sustainability successes in your application. Remember, quantifying your actions are just as important as clearly describing them.


Narrative Guidelines – You have up to six single-spaced pages to describe your sustainability accomplishments. These guidelines tell you how.


Metrics Form Instructions – Download the Metrics Form (Microsoft Excel format) and read the Instructions tab.


3. Check out the sample applications.

The sample applications, available on our web site, display best practices from past winners’ applications. Note that a good application typically includes a variety of projects touching on multiple impacts or aspects of sustainability. The project descriptions will also include some detail on how they were conceived and who was involved. We want to hear how your organization went from idea to implementation.


4. Check out the Evaluation Criteria

Make sure you’re aware of how your application will be reviewed and include all the points/details from your efforts to address the key attributes we’re seeking. You can find the Evaluation Criteria here:


Even if you are not applying for an Award, you can still be involved at the Awards Ceremony through supporting the event or being an exhibitor. Information on sponsorship levels and benefits can be found on our “Support the Awards” page. We hope you consider supporting this 31-year legacy of environmental excellence!


Ready to apply? APPLY NOW!


If you still have questions about the process, contact Deb Jacobson or Irene Zlevor for more information via e-mail at or or by phone (630) 472-5016.

New data paper from GLRPPR: Spotlight on Illinois’ Manufacturing Sector

In 2015, the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable (GLRPPR) began a project to analyze data from U.S. EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), Greenhouse Gas Emissions database, and the Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns database to determine the impact of manufacturing on the economy and environment of the six states in U.S. EPA Region 5. GLRPPR’s most recent paper summarizes findings for Illinois’ manufacturing sector (NAICS 311-337).

The full report, The Economic and Environmental Impact of Great Lakes Manufacturing: Snapshot of Emissions, Pollution Prevention Practices, and Economic Impact Using Public Data, is available in IDEALS, the University of Illinois’ institutional repository.

Sustainable Laboratories Keep their Cool with Scientific Rigor

North American Laboratory Freezer Challenge at ISTC

ISTC labs participated in the North American Laboratory Freezer Challenge to improve their sample storage. Right, Susan Barta, analytical chemist, prepares old samples for proper disposal.


Laboratories at ISTC ‘got chill’ on March 7 as they got busy with the 2017 North American Laboratory Freezer Challenge.


The Challenge promotes sample accessibility, sample integrity, reduced costs, and energy efficiency by recognizing best practices that support science quality and resilience — in addition to minimizing total costs and environmental impacts of sample storage.


The competition was a good opportunity to clean out samples that were no longer needed and update organization and logs to improve laboratory access, according to John Scott, senior analytical chemist at the Center.


Lance Schideman, research scientist, and John Scott, senior analytical chemist, review chemical stocks

Lance Schideman (left), research scientist, and John Scott, senior analytical chemist, review chemical stocks as part of the Freezer Challenge.

According to Challenge organizers, the International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories (I2SL) and My Green Lab, the Centers for Disease Control and the University of California Davis reported that 10-30 percent of items stored in refrigeration units were no longer needed or no longer viable.


Scott said the Challenge offers an excellent incentive to review and update stocks of research materials. Especially when a researcher changes jobs, an effort should be made to examine which samples are no longer needed, he said.


Major industry sponsors of the Challenge are Stirling Ultracold, ThermoFisher Scientific, and Panasonic. Participants earn points for their activities and winners will be announced in October.


Laurel Dodgen and Viktoriya Yurkiv review lab stores

Postdoctoral research assistant Laurel Dodgen and assistant research chemist Viktoriya Yurkiv help with the Challenge.

Focus on Food Waste: Federal Bill Could Expand Food Donation

In August of 2016, the ISTC blog featured information on an Illinois law geared toward increasing the donation of unused food from schools and other public agencies. That legislation addressed widespread confusion about protection from liability under the federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act (aka the Emerson Act), which went into effect in 1996. Now federal legislation has been introduced to amend the Emerson Act in ways that will also hopefully encourage food donation.


In February US Representatives Marcia L. Fudge (D-OH), Dan Newhouse (R-WA), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), and James P. McGovern (D-MA) introduced HR 952, The Food Donation Act of 2017. The goals of this proposed legislation are to clarify and expand liability protections offered under the Emerson Act to better align with the current food recovery landscape. As outlined on Representative Fudge’s web site, HR 952 would:

  • Designate the USDA as the executive agency in charge of implementing, interpreting, and promoting awareness of the Emerson Act. Congress had never assigned the Emerson Act to a particular federal agency for enforcement.
  • Protect donations made directly from donors to needy individuals. This provision is limited to food service establishments and retail stores, and these entities must comply with food service requirements like training and inspections. This particular update of the Emerson Act is important to ensure the timely use of perishable items. Currently the Emerson Act limits protections to food provided to social service agencies (e.g. food banks or soup kitchens).
  • Amend the Emerson Act to state that donors retain liability protection if the recipient pays a Good Samaritan Reduce Price for food, or the cost of simply handling, administering, and distributing food. This provision would, for example, extend liability protections to non-profit grocery stores that sell surplus food at reduced prices (e.g. Daily Table in Dorchester, MA)
  • Amend the Emerson Act to cover foods that comply or are reconditioned to comply with safety ­related federal, state, and local labeling standards. In this way, donations of food that was mislabeled in a way unrelated to safety would be protected, to help keep such items out of the waste stream.
  • Allow for donation for safe “past-dated” food. In this way items that are beyond a listed “Sell By” date, but which are still perfectly safe to eat, could be covered under liability protections. As noted on the ISTC blog earlier this week, industry is working to change the way it labels food to minimize consumer confusion, and elimination of “sell by” dates that really don’t reflect food safety are part of the proposed changes. But until labeling changes have been widely adopted, this provision could help reduce unnecessary food waste. The text of HR 952 directs that “Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Agriculture shall, in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, issue regulations with respect to the safety and safety-related labeling standards of apparently wholesome food and an apparently fit grocery product under section 22 of the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 (42 U.S.C. 1791).”

If passed this legislation could provide another important step toward the national goal to reduce food waste by half by the year 2030, in alignment with Target 12.3 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.


For further information, see the press release on HR 952 on Representative Fudge’s web site, updates on the bill (including its text) on, and the Food Donation Act of 2017 fact sheet.


Image of the Food Donation Act of 2017 fact sheet


Illini Gadget Garage Serves as Drop-off for Single-use Batteries, CDs, and DVDs

The Illini Gadget Garage (IGG), a collaborative electronics repair center on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus, is providing some unique recycling services for the community. First of all, IGG has become a drop-off collection point for single-use batteries, having already filled one of the “iRecycle” 55 lb. capacity battery collection buckets available from Battery Solutions, a R2/RIOS certified recycler. Another collection bucket is on its way, and the IGG crew look forward to receiving a “Confirmation of Reclamation” letter from Battery Solutions, which will confirm receipt of the materials for recycling and indicate the number of pounds of different types of batteries, by chemistry, were present in the collection bucket. Illini Gadget Garage project coordinator Joy Scrogum purchased the collection buckets using funds donated to the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center’s Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI). UI Facilities and Services (F&S) had previously purchased these collection bins for ISTC and other departments on campus, but that arrangement ended when cuts were necessary due to state budget issues. Using SEI donations seemed like a great way to help continue convenient battery recycling for the campus community. (Note that the free Call2Recycle rechargeable battery recycling program is still coordinated by F&S, and the ISTC building at 1 Hazelwood Drive in Champaign is still one of four drop-off locations for rechargeable batteries on campus.)


In addition, the IGG is accepting personally-owned CDs, DVDs and their cases. Locally, the IDEA Store has accepted these for resale and reuse in art and educational projects, but knowing that they are frequently inundated with various types of materials, it was decided to try to find an outlet that would recycle these items (in fact CD and DVD cases are currently on the IDEA Store’s “we don’t need more right now” list). At present, not a lot of material in this stream has been collected, but when a fair amount is available, they will be shipped to the CD Recycling Center of America. It should be noted that CDs and DVDs used to store information for University business should NOT be dropped off at the IGG–those should be provided to departmental IT staff for proper data destruction and recycling via the University’s contracted electronics recycler. The IGG collection is for your personally owned but unwanted music, movies, old copies of outdated software, etc.


Please also note that the IGG does NOT accept electronic devices for recycling. University-owned electronics should be disposed of via the campus surplus system. UI students, staff, faculty, and other community members should consult the Champaign County Electronics Recycling Guide for a list of local businesses that will accept their personally-owned electronics for recycling.


If you’re happy to have these services available through the IGG, consider making a small donation to the SEI Various Donors Fund to support this and other outreach efforts of SEI. The UI Foundation will send you an acknowledgement of your donation for tax purposes.


UI departments or units that produce a large amount of waste single-use batteries, may wish to obtain their own battery recycling bucket through Battery Solutions or another company. Battery recycling can earn an office points in the campus Certified Green Office program.


Questions about the IGG recycling programs or suggestions for other services you would like to see offered via the IGG can be addressed to


Note that links and mentions of businesses are included for informational purposes only and should not be construed as endorsements by the IGG, associated departments, or the University of Illinois.

chasing arrows recycling symbol

Focus on Food Waste: Changes to Product Labels May Help Reduce Waste

In a previous post (Focus on Food Waste: Product Label Date Dilemma), I wrote about the lack of consistency and clarity surrounding date labels placed on food products, and how the resulting confusion among consumers contributes to foods being thrown out unnecessarily. Consumers often misinterpret labels with “Sell By,” “Best if Used By,” or “Expires on” dates. This factor in food waste generation may be greatly reduced in the near future, thanks to the efforts of two influential food industry organizations.


The Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute are advising members to stop using many of these date labels, which typically have much more to do with peak product quality than food safety. Because these organizations collectively include most major food manufacturers and retailers, the impact of this guidance could be significant. They’re asking members to stop using “Sell By” or “Expires on” labels, and use only a “Best if used by” label on most foods to indicate a date beyond which peak quality has passed but food is still safe to eat, or a “Use by” date on products that may genuinely become less safe to eat with age. The groups are encouraging members to begin phasing in this common labeling practice with “widespread adoption urged by the summer of 2018.” This action seems to have been spurred by USDA guidance at the end of 2016, which recommended a universal “Best if Used By” label on food products to minimize consumer confusion.


For more information, see the GMA press release, “Grocery Industry Launches New Initiative to Reduce Consumer Confusion on Product Date Labels.” See also “The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America,” a 2013 report from the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic which first shown a national spotlight on this issue.

Cover of NRDC "Dating Game" report

Call for Applications for 2017 Illinois Sustainability Awards Program

The Illinois Sustainability Awards program is the longest running environmental award program in both the state of Illinois and the US as a whole. Since 1987, the Award, administered by the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), has recognized private and public Illinois organizations which have implemented outstanding and innovative sustainable techniques or technologies, demonstrating a commitment to contributing to our environmental, social and economic health. Applications are currently being accepted for the 2017 awards, and may be submitted online at Email and paper submissions will not be accepted. All Illinois businesses and organizations which have implemented sustainable techniques or technologies that reduce or eliminate pollutants, toxicity and other environmental impacts, are encouraged to apply.


The deadline to submit applications is close of business (5 PM) on May 4th, 2017.


See for complete submission and eligibility requirements, as well as sample applications and judging criteria. Activities covered in your application must have been completed or have shown substantial progress by December 31, 2016 for consideration for the 2017 awards.


Applicant facilities may be visited for verification of reported activities. An organization must be in good standing with environmental laws and regulations to be eligible for an award. Applicants with current or pending violations of environmental laws and regulations from the U.S. EPA or Illinois EPA are not eligible to receive an award.


Applications are reviewed by ISTC staff and/or a panel of outside experts beginning in June. In July 2017, semi-finalists will be notified and on-site reviews will begin. Compliance checks occur in July and August, and in September, applicants that have been designated as finalists will be notified.


Mark your calendar for October 24, 2017!  Winning organizations will be honored in a ceremony at the Union League Club in Chicago, IL. The program includes a morning technical session, industry-leading keynotes, luncheon and Awards trophy ceremony. Registration for the ceremony will be open in early August.  We hope you can join us for this prestigious event.


Information on previous award winners, case studies on award-winning projects, and information on the impacts of the awards are available on the award program web pages. Questions regarding application requirements, general information about the program, or sponsorship and exhibitor opportunities for the ceremony, may be addressed to Debra Jacobson (; 630-472-5019) or Irene Zlevor (; 630-472-5016).


Logo for 2017 IL Sustainability Awards Ceremony

New Research Helps Narrow the Choice Between Affordable and Long-Lasting Roads

recycled materials used in road construction

Recycled asphalt is widely used in road construction to minimize waste and reduce costs. A new study of the chemical and physical characteristics of the material will allow stronger roads.     Courtesy IDOT Bureau of Materials and Physical Research


A two-year study of asphalt binders will improve the use of recycled material in making long-lasting roads.


Asphalt binders, a key to affordable, long-lasting roads, have surrendered some of their secrets thanks to a two-year examination of their chemistry and composition.


Research led by the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) at the University of Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute, in a partnership with the Illinois Center for Transportation (ICT) and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), advances knowledge of the role of chemistry and composition on asphalt binders’ performance and proposes new testing thresholds that can supplement existing highway quality assurance programs.


It has long been known that recycling asphalt pavement materials and roofing shingles into new pavement lowers costs, but this can also result in pavement brittleness and faster aging. Still the practice is very common in Illinois and elsewhere in the United States. According to the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA), asphalt pavement is being recycled and reused at a rate over 99 percent, and recycling efforts in 2010 alone conserved 20.5 million barrels of asphalt binder.


“Even with non-recycled road pavement materials, the optimal mix of binders and aggregates is a delicate balance. Add to that calculation more variables from utilizing various recycled binders and the confidence of producing durable and long-lasting roads becomes more difficult,” according to Brajendra K. Sharma, senior research engineer at ISTC.


The final report, “Modeling the Performance of RAS (Recycled Asphalt Shingles) and RAP (Reclaimed Asphalt Pavement) Blended Asphalt Mixes Using Chemical Compositional Information,” was published by ICT, also at the U of I.


This study takes a close look at the elemental and chemical composition of binders and how they age. Field performance of various asphalt binder materials to resist cracking and permanent deformation under the traffic loading (rheology) and environmental fluctuations was correlated to the composition and chemical characteristics of binder materials.


Recycled asphalt is widely used in road construction

Courtesy IDOT Bureau of Materials and Physical Research

A variety of different tests, parameters, and component markers have been developed worldwide over the years to ensure long-lasting roadways. This work also evaluates which diagnostic approaches work best, as well as how the use of recycled or reclaimed materials affects performance, by combining chemical and compositional characterization tests with the rheological tests.


“This research is aimed at reconciling the sometimes conflicting goals of affordably maintaining our quality transportation system and maximizing sustainable construction practices,” said Sharma, lead author of the study.


“A better understanding of asphalt binders’ chemistry and composition in combination with its fundamental rheological properties is critical to achieve good performing and long-lasting pavements. Such a holistic characterization of binder became even more important with the number of recycled constituents, additives, and modifiers that have increased dramatically over the years.” according to Hasan Ozer, research assistant professor at ICT.


Based on the combined results of rheological characteristics, chemistry, and composition, it was concluded that asphalt concrete prepared with high levels of recycled roofing shingles along with reclaimed asphalt concrete could have increased short- and long-term cracking potential. The aging progresses much faster and their lifetime starts at an already critically aged condition because of the high recycled content in the pavement.


The study also provides preliminary recommendations and an implementation plan with critical thresholds that can be obtained from series of chemical, compositional, and rheological tests. The proposed tiered approach can be used by IDOT and other highway authorities to supplement existing asphalt binder quality assurance programs and material selection.


The issue of optimal use of recycled road materials is an important one for transportation officials nationwide. This study is an outgrowth of a 2015 ICT study that last year received the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ “Sweet Sixteen High Value Research” projects award. That study, “Testing Protocols to Ensure Performance of High Asphalt Binder Replacement Mixes Using RAP and RAS,” introduced a semi-circular bending test (IL-SCB) coupled with a flexibility index (FI) for testing of fracture potential.


Co-authors of the latest study are Jing Ma, Punit Singhvi and Hasan Ozer, of the U of I department of civil and environmental engineering, and Bidhya Kunwar and Nandakishore Rajagopalan of ISTC.


Upcoming Environmental Conference

Biologists testing water of natural river

Rising concerns among environmental scientists over a multitude of contaminants found in water and aquatic life and their impact on human health have prompted ISTC to partner with the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant to host an upcoming conference titled, “Emerging Contaminants in the Aquatic Environment.” The two-day conference will be packed with many experts, including four keynote presentations by researchers from the U.S.EPA, Loyola University Chicago, USGS, and the National Sea Grant Law Center. The oral presentations will cover a variety of viewpoints, namely research, policy, and education & outreach.


Contaminants of emerging concern, as defined by the USGS, are

“…any synthetic or naturally occurring chemical or any microorganism that is not commonly monitored in the environment but has the potential to enter the environment and cause known or suspected adverse ecological and (or) human health effects.”


In some cases, a contaminant could have been entering the environment for decades or centuries but only recently has been detected or environmental impacts been attributed to that compound. Some of the contaminants that will be discussed at the conference include pharmaceuticals, over-the-counter medicines, personal care products, agrichemicals, microplastics, coal-tar sealants, flame retardants, and many more.


Government leaders, policy makers, public health professionals, researchers, environmental organizations, educators, students, and members of the public are all encouraged to attend the conference. It will provide an opportunity for discussion and collaboration with those from a wide range of fields in research, policy, and education & outreach. The conference will be held from May 31 to June 1, 2017, at the I Hotel & Conference Center in Champaign, IL.

Visit the website to find out more information, meet the keynote speakers, register for the conference, or submit a poster abstract on your work.

Challenges of Carbon Utilization Have Regional Solutions

istc director kevin o'brien speaks at technology summit in San Antonio Texas

Advances in carbon utilization technology holds diverse options for job and economic development, according to ISTC Director Kevin O’Brien.

Emerging technologies for carbon dioxide (CO2) utilization present significant opportunities for job creation and economic growth, said Kevin O’Brien, director of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in a presentation to the Eighth Carbon Dioxide Utilization Summit Feb. 22 in San Antonio, Texas.


But success in deriving those benefits from carbon utilization depends on the assets (economic and human) of each particular region, O’Brien emphasized to energy, chemical, plastics, and construction industry leaders at the conference.


Mature regional partnerships for workforce development, higher education, economic development, government support, and responsive research and development capabilities are some of the factors that contribute to development of a sustainable CO2 value chain.


O’Brien pointed to reasons why Illinois, where coal underlies nearly the entire state and remains a $2.5 billion annual industry, is seizing on every advantage it has to align with the potential of carbon utilization innovations.


  • Illinois research universities have leading programs in engineering, engineering geology, carbon capture, and other scientific innovation. One example is the use of CO2 as a fertilizer substitute at the University of Illinois. In a major agricultural state with nutrient loss problems and where the climate is expected to reduce carbon retention in soil, synergies abound.
  • College curricula, community colleges, economic development professionals, political leaders, and employers are already connected to existing supply chains.
  • The University of Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute, ISTC’s parent organization, has assembled decades-long reservoirs of valuable data on Illinois weather, regional climate, soil, groundwater, stream flow, and other factors that is relevant to an economic pivot toward carbon utilization.


On the research front, a Midwest Regional Approach to Carbon Utilization workshop is being planned for June 28 by co-organizers ISTC, the Gas Technology Institute, and the Advanced Coal and Energy Research Center of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.


Other regions will have different assets and opportunities. For instance, carbon utilization will necessitate pipelines or another cost-effective transportation method for captured CO2. Markets with a track record for facilitating transportation will be ahead of the game, O’Brien said.