What Is Sustainability?

Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything we need for our survival and well-being depends on our natural environment.

Living sustainably means reducing waste. It means protecting local ecosystems and preserving natural resources like water, green space, and clean air. With global climate change posing a dangerous threat to our natural environment, we must adopt more sustainable practices to ensure our well-being and the well-being of future generations.

Anticipated climate change risks include:

  • migrating seasons, with more extreme heat days in the summer and warmer winters
  • increasing numbers of intense, heavy rain storms
  • periods of drought
  • coastal erosion
  • growing flood risk
  • significant harm to local ecosystems

We cannot afford to do nothing. It’s time to take action.

Frozenlake Downsized
“Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment.”
—United States Environmental Protection Agency, October 2016

What Is Climate Change?

Atmospheric gases that trap heat radiated from the Earth’s surface are called greenhouse gases. They include:


CO2 is a byproduct of burning fossil fuels. It is removed from the atmosphere when it is absorbed by plants as part of the biological carbon cycle.


Methane is released by agricultural sources, including livestock, as well as the decay of organic waste in landfills.


Nitrous oxide emissions occur during agricultural and industrial activities, as well as fossil fuel and solid waste combustion.

Increasing rates of deforestation and development, as well as agriculture, waste treatment and industrial processes, have produced growing amounts of greenhouse gases. Because of these increases in heat-trapping gases, average temperatures are projected to increase by 1 to 1.5 degrees Farenheit over the next few decades, reaching unacceptable levels in this century.

What's At Stake?

In Chicago alone, average temperatures have already risen by 2.6 degrees Fahrenheit since 1980. Fifteen of the last twenty years have seen above-average annual temperatures. Without rapid action, the city could experience more extreme heat, heavier, more damaging rainstorms, growing flood risks, and greater stress on public health, city infrastructure and city services.


By the year 2050, Chicago's climate could resemble that of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.


Migrating seasons and extreme weather can have disastrous effects on agricultural, such as:

  • Increased pests, weeds and fungi
  • Decreased crop yields and food supply
  • Lowered nutritional value
  • Job loss and weakened economy
  • Threats to food security, especially in low-income countries


Climate change affects human health and society, including:

  • Prolonged allergy seasons
  • Changes in Lyme disease and West Nile virus
  • Heat-related deaths and hospitalizations
  • Increased asthma rates
  • Increased stress on public health systems


The impact of climate change on the Great Lakes may include:

  • Changes to the distribution and range of certain fish species
  • Increase in invasive species
  • Increase in harmful blooms of algae
  • Declining beach health and infrastructure


Covering about 70% of the Earth’s surface, the world’s oceans have a two-way relationship with weather and climate. The oceans influence the weather on local to global scales, while changes in climate can fundamentally alter many properties of the oceans, such as:

  • Increasing acidity
  • Loss of ice in the Arctic Ocean
  • Rising sea levels