Goethe-Institut Chicago
The Green Goethe-Institut

Plants at GI Chicago
Goethe- Institut Chicago

Using a disposable coffee cup on your way to work, accidentally making a few extra copies, not recycling your microwavable lunch packaging – in only one day alone Goethe-Institut staff, teachers, students and guests produce a lot of waste.

Because of this, a few employees formed the “Green Institute” initiative and implemented small changes such as “Lights off!” stickers on all light switches, setting the copier to print double sided, and using environmentally friendly cleaning products in our kitchen. After a while more and more ideas emerged to reduce the carbon footprint at the Goethe-Institut.

Reuse and Upcycle

Keeping the idea of reusing and recycling in mind, we were able to come up with two projects: The “Teilen/Exchange” book case and tote bags made from old banners used in an outdoor exhibit.
The Teilen/Exchange book case is a central meeting point in the lobby of the Institute. Students, guests and staff are able to exchange books, shopping bags, notebooks, and much more. The book case itself was old office furniture that we upcycled by painting. We were inspired by a similar project at the Goethe-Institut Bratislava.

In 2015, we produced a series of banners for our “Building Bridges” exhibit that celebrated the 20th anniversary of Chicago and Hamburg’s sister cities partnership at 2 North Riverside Plaza. In April 2017, the banners, which had been in storage for two years, came back to life: SeamCraft, a local manufacturer in Chicago, was able to transform the banners into 42 tote bags. Every bag is truly unique and can be purchased at the Institute, while supplies last.

Since July 2017, all print materials are printed on 100% recycled paper. On average, we produce about 170 lbs/77 kg of promotional flyers and brochures – by switching to recycled paper we save 1,7 trees (8 in/20 cm diameter und 45 ft/14 m high; source: Sierra Club). It is also very important to us to order promotional material that is made from recycled or environmentally friendly materials.

However, not only the staff at the Institute is working to reduce waste and the carbon footprint. Students and guests drink their coffee not from disposable styrofoam cups, but instead use regular china. Our water cups are made from renewable resources and are recyclable as well. Students can now register online for language courses and do not have to fill out paper forms anymore. Our teachers use iPads and Smartboards in the classroom – not only saving lot of paper, but making learning German a lot more fun too!