What We Do

The Policy working group cultivates the “in-between space”, a mutually beneficial working relationship between grassroots community leaders and policymakers, based upon two-way communication and collaboration.

Historically, Chicago Mayors and policymakers have introduced a multitude of new ambitious plans aimed towards helping Chicago ‘go green’. They often utilize a top-down approach, paying consulting experts to analyze the problems within Chicago communities, devise a solution, and attempt to ‘sell it’ to residents, treating them as passive consumers of the solution.

At the neighborhood level, self-driven residents design their sustainability work through their passion, concern, and experience. These solutions are effective due in no small part to their sensitivity to local culture and conditions.

Both approaches have an inherent value, but are often held mutually exclusive. Policymakers may hold an image that neighborhood leaders are too fragmented and their work is difficult to bring to scale. Local leaders may hold suspicions that their involvement in policy will be truly honored or at worst exploited.

Since it’s creation, the CSLN has taken initiative to nurture the relationship between the bottom-up approach of organizing these collective voices of the community and the more traditional, top-down approach taken by public officials. Often this work relies on active listening and creating agreements that ensure mutually beneficial outcomes.
And thus, the in-between space was born.

Current Goals

  • Connecting with the new Chief Sustainability Officer
  • Planning for ward-level initiatives


It is imperative that community stakeholders are involved in a meaningful and ongoing way in all city departments. We would like to see more practices that invite and create space for residents to be involved, such as multilingual communications through different mediums and networks, citizen-based committees, participatory budgeting, and community-level avenues for participation.

We prioritize community inclusion and benefits for all and believe that fostering sustainability is key. The way in which communities are designed—through transportation infrastructure, tax incentives, zoning, and other means—can be adapted to increase participation in sustainability initiatives and availability of resources to do so. Additionally, stable communities recognize the connection between inclusion and public safety.

We believe that sustainable practices must be prioritized and formally incorporated into the functions of government offices through a general restructuring that clarifies the capacities of roles within them. Additionally, the reinstatement of a dedicated Department of Environment would demonstrate public accountability around sustainability.

We believe that public resources must remain accessible to residents across Chicago. We expect a level of transparency and community involvement in decision-making from private-public partnerships that at the very least meets the same standards required for a public project, which could be achieved through Community Benefits Agreements and third party oversight on such partnerships. These standards would create a framework for enacting further protection of public spaces and the residents who use them.

Maintaining continuity is imperative for sustainability initiatives to maintain momentum, and depends upon investment in systems, structures, and procedures.

Potential and existing policies and projects could prioritize sustainability citywide. We support specific policies and projects that are designed in conversation with community members and encourage more sustainable practices for businesses and residents. They may address, but are not limited to, improved recycling, citywide composting, plastic reduction, and clean energy.

Previous work

Memo to the Mayor

The Policy group’s purpose is to bridge grassroots organizing and citywide policymaking, influence decision-makers, engage with leadership at all levels, and stay current on policy discourse. The following memo was submitted to then newly elected Mayor Lori Lightfoot in 2019. Suggestions for Citywide Sustainability Programs, Partnerships, and Policies for Chicago EXECUTIVE SUMMARYChicago Sustainability Leaders Network (CSLN) believes Read more

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RESILIENT CHICAGO Plan Features Input from Sustainability Leaders

A resilient Chicago requires its residents to have clear lines of communication and engagement with its local government. That was the feedback shared by the Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network (CSLN) ​policy team with a team of representatives from the City of Chicago Mayor’s Office across a series of roundtable meetings in 2017 and 2018. During those roundtables, the Chief Sustainability Officer Read more

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CSLN Questions for Candidates

Questions on Willingness to Prioritize Inclusive, Equitable, People-centered, and Stable Communities What are your plans for supporting local economic stability, particularly for economically divested areas of the city? How do you plan to understand the needs of students and families in Chicago and ensure that neighborhood schools have the necessary resources? How do you intend Read more

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CSLN Recycling Meetings

At four meetings in November 2016, the Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network (CSLN) gathered with over 70 residents across Chicago to brainstorm solutions to improve recycling in Chicago. We heard from representatives from Chicago’s Streets and Sanitation Department and collectively answered the question:  “What are practical actions and strategies that can help Chicago deal with the blocks and reduce Read more

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Chicago Sustainability Plan Input

In Fall 2015, after a series of policy roundtable discussion with Chicago’s Chief Sustainability Officer Karen Weigert, members of the CSLN gathered to discuss the network’s perspective on the next City of Chicago Sustainability Plan. Network members had many practical and implementable ideas on how the city can play a larger role in promoting sustainability Read more

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Round Table with Karen Weigert

On Monday, March 23, 2015, the Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network (CSLN) participated in the network’s first round table meeting at City Hall. The purpose of the round table was to establish an ongoing forum where community leaders and municipal officials can dialogue about mutual concerns related to sustainability.  It was a first step in nurturing Read more

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