2023 has been another packed year for us here at Delta Institute – filled with lots of significant milestones, collaborations, news, and celebrations as we mark 25 years of service as a nonprofit. The only thing that’s more exciting than this? What’s in store for 2024!
If you believe in our vision of creating a more resilient home for all Midwesterners, please join us with a donation today to help us prepare for the year ahead! We are about 30 donors away from reaching our goal for the year – so please contribute what you can: gifts of all amounts help us prepare for the year ahead!
Please enjoy our 2023 year in review below…
When 2023 comes to a close, we will be halfway through our 2022-2025 strategic plan refinement. Thus far, we’ve hit some noteworthy milestones:
5 million Midwesterners served: Goal exceeded!
- We are pleased to share that we have already exceeded this goal, serving upwards of 7.7 million Midwesterners. We’ve done so through the implementation of several projects, including some large-scale projects like our City of Chicago Waste Strategy or our sustainability planning for the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. Delta is talking with our Board about what an updated (and increased!) goal should be since we have already met this key strategic metric. Please stay tuned in 2024!
250 partner communities served: On track to meet/exceed goal
- Thus far, we have partnered with multiple communities throughout Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan to support their environmental, economic, and social goals. In the years ahead, we have plans to expand support within these states, as well as to new communities in Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
100 tools, resources, and strategies created: On track to meet/exceed goal
- Since our strategic plan refinement in 2022, we have provided communities with a roster of 30+ resources, including practical and feasible tools, municipal- and/or county-wide plans, strategy, ordinances, or policies to improve environmental and economic indicators.
We have advanced several projects that support communities’ plans to implement nature-based climate solutions to mitigate flooding and other local impacts of climate change, such as:
- Protecting Water Quality on Chicago’s Southeast Side via Stormwater Wetlands. Earlier this year, we began working on a new project with our long-term partner, the Illinois International Port District, to assess and evaluate the placement and creation of two new wetlands that will capture stormwater on the Port’s land–keeping pollutants from entering the Calumet River and traveling through dozens of downstream communities.
- Hosting a community-led BioBlitz in partnership with Blacks in Green and Emerald South. This event was a community-led canvas of existing plants, birds, bees, butterflies, and wildlife at currently vacant parcels in Chicago’s West Woodlawn neighborhood. This biodiversity assessment helps develop a baseline before we redevelop the vacant spaces into sites with Green Infrastructure.
- Completing the first phase of our Duck Creek Tributary Restoration Project. Duck Creek is a tributary in Hobart, Indiana, that flows into the Little Calumet River, and ultimately, into Lake Michigan. This past year, we restored 0.2 miles of the tributary and are now working on the next 0.2 miles in Phase 2.
- Developing a new project to pilot innovative municipal Green Infrastructure mechanisms. This is a project that will blend both project financing and service delivery to support small-to-mid-sized Great Lakes Region municipalities in implementing Green Infrastructure.
We have even more in store for 2024! Click the link below to learn more about our Nature-Based Climate Solutions program.
As part of our commitment to supporting farmers transition to resilient agriculture practices, we have been exploring how to more incentivize soil health into the farmland valuation process more effectively. We’ve done so in several ways:
- Institutionalizing soil health land valuation in Michigan. We engaged farmers in Southeastern Michigan to incentivize the use of soil health management systems to improve water quality in the Great Lakes Basin by reducing nutrient loading and runoff. We shared our findings from this work in a webinar earlier this past February, Incorporating Soil Conservation Practices into Michigan Farmland Appraisal.
- Preparing for a 10-Farm Soil Health Pilot in Illinois. This past year, our team began a new multi-year project to increase the adoption of agricultural conservation practices in Illinois and beyond through soil health land valuation. Beginning in Spring 2024, we plan to launch a pilot program with a cohort of ten farmers participating in our soil health and land valuation market research.
This past year, we have been honored to continue supporting partner community needs through our Sustainability & Support Services program, including projects like:
- Developing a Clean Energy, Resiliency, and Sustainability Plan for the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. Our partnership highlighted the many positive activities already underway within the preserves, while also finding areas where the District can further reach its goal to reduce its carbon footprint and protect the county’s lands for generations to come.
- Community-led planning to reduce shoreline flooding in the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago. Delta Institute is working with local groups and public agencies to complete a community-led resiliency plan backed by science and centered on shoreline infrastructure implementation for the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago. For years this community has been impacted by extreme weather and Lake Michigan events, and a comprehensive community planning process is essential to ensuring a resilient and healthy future for South Shore.
To continue fulfilling Delta’s ongoing commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, we implemented the following:
- We adopted a Black Labor Acknowledgement. We recognize that the United States, both as we know it today and as we all have lived within it over the course of our respective lives, was built at the fatal and extractive expense of forcefully enslaved Black/African American people. We acknowledge that while fighting for their own lives and civil liberties that Black/African American people have envisioned a world which is better for all of humanity—so all of us may live more equitably and justly. As such, Delta’s board adopted a Black Labor Acknowledgment.
- We adopted a Land Acknowledgement. We recognize that we cannot be authentic in our goal of creating a more resilient home for all Midwesterners without celebrating the incalculable contributions, lessons, and methodologies to our society that stem from Indigenous wisdom—as well as recognizing the trauma, past and present, resulting from the colonization of Indigenous people. As such, Delta’s board adopted a Land Acknowledgement.
- We integrated more accessibility features on our website. Using a third party plug-in, we relaunched our website this year to include more accessibility options for users with visual impairments, dyslexia, ADHD, and more.
- We hosted an organization-wide training session. For the first time in our organizational history, we hosted a training session for our governing board, our associate board, and staff, “Actionable Strategies to Foster a More Supportive & Inclusive Organization-Wide Culture.” We are taking the lessons and recommendations from this training session to guide us in 2024 and beyond.
Click here to learn more about Delta’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
This past year, the Biden-Harris Administration named Delta Institute as one of the 29 Environmental Finance Centers operating for the next five years. From 2023-2028, Delta—with our key partners the American Society of Adaptation Professionals, the Center for Neighborhood Technology, and Current Water—will serve the Great Lakes area, known as EPA Region 5, in supporting water infrastructure activities for more communities to have access to cleaner, healthier, and more equitable water resources.
This effort also aligns with the agency’s commitment to advancing water equity and access for all. Through this commitment, the US EPA is investing $500 million to address “pressing water challenges in 1,500 disadvantaged communities across the country.”
Want to know how this might impact your community? Need help navigating resources to learn more? We’ve got you covered! Please check out our webpage and drop us a note if you have questions or comments – we’d love to hear from you!
This year, the City of Chicago – Government and the Chicago Department of Streets & Sanitation launched its first-ever citywide composting program, a key recommendation resulting from the City’s partnership with Delta Institute in 2021. The new composting program will keep hundreds of thousands of tons of food scraps out of area landfills in the years ahead.
The program provides Chicago residents with access to 15 locations across the city to dispose food waste in green composting bins. This exciting program is part of a suite of waste management recommendations from Delta Institute’s City of Chicago Waste Strategy that was released in July 2021. Since then the City and DSS has undertaken numerous initiatives to expand the City’s waste reduction efforts, including budget allocations for consumer education, fun community “pumpkin smashes,” and investing to re-establish Chicago’s Department of the Environment.
Photo by IDEM
After years of collaboration between Delta, the Michigan City Sanitary District, and other partners, Cheney Run went from being an unofficial landfill to a new destination for outdoor recreation in the region. The site now captures and treats 190 million gallons of stormwater annually, protecting the water quality of a major tributary which feeds into Lake Michigan.
We are honored to have won the Indiana Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award in 2023 in recognition for these efforts – and we thank the many partners, donors, and volunteers who helped restore Cheney Run.
This fall, we presented a special all-star anniversary of our annual BOOST pitchfest, showcasing four former winners from the BOOST program. This year, in recognition of Delta Institute’s 25th Anniversary, we awarded a record $25,000 to four of our BOOST all-star organizations:
- Selma Sims of Gardeneers, the grand prize winner of this year’s special BOOST event;
- Hannah Bonham Blackwell of Chicago Eco House & Southside Blooms;
- Jannice Newson of Lillian Augusta Hair; and
- Sophie Lieberman of Zumwalt Acres.
We’re so thrilled to see the amazing progress that each of these groups have made since first winning their BOOST award, and we encourage you to support their work. We also would like to thank the many donors and sponsors who supported this year’s event! We would like to especially thank this year’s presenting sponsors, the American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact and United Airlines, as well as this year’s diamond sponsor, William Blair. Lastly, we want to share a special thank you to the Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship for hosting this year’s hybrid event on their campus!
This year, Charity Navigator recognized Delta Institute as a Four-Star “Give With Confidence” nonprofit. Additionally, Candid (formerly known as GuideStar) recognized Delta with a Platinum Seal of Transparency for the fourth year in a row! These certifications means that Delta ranks among the top 0.1% of all 1.5 million nonprofits nationally regarding transparency.
This commitment represents publicly and voluntarily sharing a comprehensive overview of our organization, including:
- Accountability & finance;
- Culture & community;
- Leadership & adaptability;
- Clearly defined programmatic goals and strategy;
- How we measure our results on a yearly basis;
- Disclosure of board leadership practices such as ethics and transparency; and
- Demographic information about our board and senior staff.
Click here to learn more about Delta’s commitment to transparency and accountability.
But wait! There’s more!
In addition to everything listed above, we also developed several new tools & resources for community use – as well as webinar recordings you can watch on demand on our YouTube channel. Be sure to check out the following:
“Green Soapbox” panel discussion on regional infrastructure (YouTube): This is an annual event organized by our Delta Emerging Leaders associate board. We want to thank our exceptional panel: Tracy Brown, Eira Corral Sepúlveda, Lottie Ferguson, and Bweza Itaagi. Special shout-out to our event sponsor, William Blair, for making the event possible!
The Agroforestry Series (YouTube): In partnership with the Savanna Institute and Liberty Prairie Foundation, Delta Institute is co-hosting a series of webinars discussing concepts surrounding agroforestry. We have a playlist of webinar recordings available you can check out on our YouTube channel.
Illinois Soil Health Land Valuation Market Research (PDF): Delta offers this analysis of Illinois’ farmland real estate market from 2017—2023 to synthesize market signals of farmland real estate in Illinois to uncover driving factors that place value to land. These findings will inform the ultimate goal of institutionalizing soil health as a factor in the land appraisal process in Illinois.
A Blueprint to Scale Up Urban Reforestation and Wetland Restoration in Underserved Communities across the Greater Milwaukee Area (PDF): Delta Institute co-authored this report in collaboration with other members of RISC Solutions. This report examines Milwaukee’s history, changing rainfall amounts, capital improvements, and the need to enhance investments in nature-based solutions in underserved communities across the Greater Milwaukee region.
A Blueprint to Scale Up Green Stormwater Infrastructure in Underserved Communities across the Greater Chicago Region (PDF). Also co-authored with other partners from RISC Solutions, this summary report examines regulatory compliance needs, changing rainfall amounts, capital improvements, and the need to enhance investments in underserved communities across the Greater Chicago region.