Chicago’s buildings leading the way in energy efficiency

Chicago's energy efficiency aspirations

Chicago’s energy efficiency aspirations

Since the birth of the skyscraper, Chicago has played a leading role as an innovative hub for architecture and construction. This innovative streak continues with Chicago’s buildings leading the way in energy efficiency with the goal of saving the city money and reducing its carbon emissions: Each year, Chicago spends around $3 billion on energy, with energy usage by buildings creating 71% of the city’s carbon emissions. To reduce energy bills and carbon emissions Chicago has set itself the goal of improving, citywide, energy efficiency by 5%. To achieve this goal, Chicago is focusing on increasing energy efficiency in commercial and residential buildings.

Chicago’s energy efficient commercial buildings

Chicago has established the Retrofit Chicago Commercial Building Initiative in which participants commit to increasing energy efficiency by 20% over five years. The initiative includes a variety of building types including office, hotel, multi-family apartments, university and cultural institutions. As part of the initiative, partners provide operational and financial roadmaps. To increase awareness, full-page ads are placed in the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times with photos of the buildings when they join. So far, 48 buildings have signed on with a total of 37 million square feet of space. Already these participants have saved $2.5 million and reduced energy usage by 7%.

Driving energy savings in residential buildings

To drive energy savings in residential buildings, the Residential Partnership unites non-profits with utility companies to connect residents to energy retrofit contractors, free energy upgrades and equipment rebates. Chicago has doubled its original two-year goal of retrofitting 7,750 homes with over 13,000 retrofits completed and over 100,000 homes receiving free upgrades. To target the most needy households Chicago has divided the city into energy efficiency zones with 12 zones identified as having high relative energy use and low-to-moderate income levels. Chicago has publicly released the data that identifies these energy efficiency zones. The city has also launched the Energy Map project that helps residents understand their energy use at home. By going to the map’s website – – residents can enter their address and see how their energy usage compares to other blocks in the neighborhood or citywide. So far this partnership has made $5.9 million in savings and reduced energy usage in retrofitted homes by 15%.

The take-out

Cities can form partnerships with the private sector as well as non-profits to encourage energy efficiency and lower carbon emissions.

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Author: Robert C. Brears

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  1. It seems to be a good Public-Private initiative. Robert, could you share with us how the municipal goverment of Chicago stimulates the participation (tax relief,….)¿?. Thks,

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  2. CHICAGO’s west and south sides, and the Midway Airport areas still see streets/roadways strewn with HUGE, un-swept piles of ugly, ILLEGAL litter and wastes. CHICAGO made T+L’FORBES “Dirtiest Cities” lists, but not ranked badly as rivals Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Los Angeles and (consensus)#1″Dirtiest” NEW YORK CITY! Now “below average,” ILLINOIS, with TEXAS, were the largest populated “worst” governments in the 2011-2013 Am. State Litter Scorecard (

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