John Brophy is the Director of Sustainability & Energy Management at City Colleges of Chicago and heads up the Environmental Technology Program at Wright College. He holds a Masters in Environmental Management and Sustainability.

I was hired in at City Colleges of Chicago back in November of 2012, which makes this upcoming Earth Day a good moment to reflect on how we’ve been doing at City Colleges of Chicago over the last ten years.

At City Colleges, we explore sustainability in our academic programming and student services, as well as in our operations and capital planning, to do our part today, and help train the stewards of tomorrow.  For an initiative to be considered sustainable, it should address economic, environmental, and social benefits.

Transportation is a main driver of climate change and local pollution.  To that end let’s start with a program that predates me by a decade, U-Pass.  U-Pass allows for Chicago area college students to use CTA buses and trains for a set cost per academic term.  Transportation is an essential part of the City Colleges of Chicago experience, because as we know, all of us are commuters.  U-Pass consistently allows for students to get to and from campus, jobs, internships, family obligations and more, all without needing to own a car.  We expanded U-Pass to part-time students in Fall of 2018 and helped address a pain point for our majority part-time students.  In Spring of 2022 we introduced free Divvy annual passes to give even more transportation options to students to explore our City on two wheels.  These transportation programs save our students money, reduce pollution, and get students to class on time.

In terms of academic programming, City Colleges of Chicago offers a wide range of classes to engage sustainability.  For hands on programming, we offer classes in HVAC, electricity, utility infrastructure, manufacturing, automotive, plumbing, construction, solar installation, and more.  For the engineers among us, we offer calculus, physics, chemistry, and incredible tutoring support to transfer on to top engineering programs in-state and beyond.  For the naturalist path, we offer biology, geology, botany, and a host of programming aimed at growing and nurturing plant life around us.

Our three newest buildings, the new Malcolm X College of Health Sciences, the new Olive-Harvey College Transportation, Distribution, and Logistics Center, and the new Daley College Engineering and Manufacturing Center have all been certified LEED Gold.

Our waste reduction efforts have focused on optimizing single stream recycling and ensuring construction waste diversion.  Over the last ten years we’ve diverted 14,000 tons of recycling compared to 9,300 tons of landfilled waste for a recycling rate of 60%.

Our academic programming for transfer and immediate job readiness in-field make City Colleges of Chicago the front lines of climate change action and thought leadership. But sustainability isn’t just for the designers and implementers of renewable energy technologies and stewards of forests and farms.  We also need lawyers, and business and government leaders, creatives, teachers, accountants, storytellers and more to implement a sustainable vision for the future.

We are famously “a City in a Garden,” and we are stewards of the largest body of fresh water in the world.  Our focus and attention manifest the future, so take a risk and learn about the tools available to make the world a better place.

To learn more about our programs in sustainability, visit the City Colleges catalog: Home < City Colleges of Chicago (