Silver Merchandise: The Mart’s LEED Journey

The world’s largest commercial building, The Merchandise Mart Chicago, achieved U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Existing Building (LEED-EB) Silver certification in November 2007. This was a tremendous accomplishment for a 75+ year-old building that encompasses 4.2 million square feet and houses over 700 tenants, especially considering that the unique tenant roster includes retailers, wholesale showrooms and corporate offices.

Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc. (MMPI), which manages The Mart and 16 other properties across the country, has long been an advocate of sustainable building practices. The Mart first began conserving resources in 1950 when air conditioning was installed. In 1986, the building began operating the largest thermal storage facility in the world, capable of producing 2 million pounds of ice per night, cooling more than 100 buildings in the surrounding neighborhood, and saving $200,000 in electricity costs in the first year.

MMPI began its campaign for LEED certification for The Mart in 2005, with assistance from the Delta Institute, a Chicago based non-profit. By simply auditing building practices, such as systems equipment and purchasing criteria, as well as waste management procedures, Delta was able to determine that LEED certification was possible. In July 2006, MMPI registered the project on the USGBC website and began the arduous task of writing the programs and new LEED-based policies for the building. Now with MMPI staff newly trained in these programs and policies, The Mart began implementing these new programs and educating employees and tenants on how to participate in these initiatives.

The Mart’s new LEED based policies focus on priorities such as green construction standards utilizing low VOC and energy efficient products, waste reduction and recycling, reduced mercury lighting, alternative transportation programs, green purchasing, an indoor air quality (IAQ) Management Program and a Green Site Maintenance Plan for managing storm water and implementing integrated pest management strategies.

One such policy limits the use of potentially hazardous chemical cleaning agents and requires that all cleaners be non-toxic in their undiluted state, that their ingredients exhibit biodegradability and that the primary packaging be recyclable. All cleaning products must meet high indoor air quality standards per the Green Seal third party certification program. Employed and contract cleaners must provide documentation showing specifications on cleaners used and personal training on cleaning policies for the building. Another policy requires the purchase of products with recycled content and those that mitigate poor indoor air quality, such as air-friendly paints and cleaning products.

To ensure all such policies are strictly adhered to, language has been modified in leasing agreements and construction guidelines, as well the creation of new policy outlines for cleaning and exterior maintenance. In addition, The Mart staff received in-depth training from the Delta Institute and Mart management to understand these new policies and what they mean for day-to-day operations.

In order to bid on a job at The Mart, contractors, engineers and architects must attend similar training seminars. The seminars review the new LEED building standards and educate attendees on the new policies and guidelines. Only those individuals who complete this training will be included on the preferred bidders list. MMPI has also assigned a single project manager to perform random inspections on all construction projects, with assistance from an independent consultant, where LEED related documentation, IAQ compliance and material selections are all reviewed.

Future goals for the building include: reducing the quantity of water needed for the building through the installation of more efficient fixtures, optimizing energy efficiency through lighting retrofits, supporting ozone protection protocols, encouraging renewable and alternative energy sources, purchasing materials with less environmental impact and eliminating the sources of indoor air pollution.
LEED certification would not have been possible without support from the Mart tenants who have been enthusiastic partners in this endeavor. They have embraced green building initiatives and continue to lead the environmental movement. Currently, three Mart showrooms have achieved LEED CI (Commercial Interiors) certification and a dozen more are actively pursuing certification. The Mart has created a detailed document helping tenants navigate the LEED process and encouraging them to certify.
The Delta Institute assisted MMPI in its path toward certification. The Delta Institute is a non-profit organization formed in 1998 to develop and test fresh ideas for bringing about sustainable communities and integrating environmental protection with economic development. The Mart was also grateful for the assistance of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity in achieving this monumental goal.


The Mart’s recycling program has been recognized by the Mayor as one of Chicago¬ís most successful recycling initiatives. The numbers:

2.5 million – pounds of construction debris recycled

161,743 – pounds of volatile organic compounds saved from the environment by switching to low-VOC cleaning products and paints

750 – tons of paper recycled, resulting in the saving of 13,421 trees, 3.2 million KWh of electricity and 5.5 million gallons of water


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