Retrofit Chicago

By Matt Baker

Some in the sustainability community were unsure of what sort of policy changes to expect as Mayor Daley handed over his office to Rahm Emanuel. After all, under Daley’s charge, a number of green building programs were put in place, such as the Green Permit Program, the Chicago Climate Action Plan and the Chicago Green Bungalow Initiative. The green roof on top of city hall stood as a badge of his commitment for years.

Questions of Emanuel’s environmental mettle were quelled with his announcement of the new Retrofit Chicago Commercial Building Initiative. The goal of the program is to launch retrofit projects in the private sector that reduce energy use by 20% over the next five years within 14 million SF of commercial building space in Chicago.

“Under Mayor Emanuel, Chicago is focused on driving sustainability and innovation throughout the city,” said Karen Weigert, Chicago’s Chief Sustainability Officer. “Increasing sustainability in Chicago can create dramatic economic opportunity, and accelerating energy efficiency with programs like the Commercial Building Initiative is a major part of this.”

Earlier this year, the mayor announced the formation of an infrastructure trust board that would be tasked with determining the best projects to repair Chicago’s roads, bridges and other pieces of infrastructure. The first one they considered was Retrofit Chicago, a $225 million trust set up to rehabilitate city-owned properties and that would ultimately be funded by the utility savings that those changes create.

This June, he opened up the program to commercial buildings as well. Building owners will not receive any public funding, but are encouraged to make the same sort of changes that the city has committed to, and realize utility savings of their own. “Today is a major step forward for the City of Chicago, as we create a private sector complement for the work we are doing to ensure energy efficiency in our municipal buildings and infrastructure,” said Mayor Emanuel.

Emanuel announced the voluntary initiative at the historic Wrigley Building, one of the pilot 14 buildings to commit to the program. Other notable buildings to join were the Hyatt Center, the NBC Tower, the InterContinental Chicago, the Marquette Building and the AT&T Building.

These buildings range from 222,000 to 2.5 million SF and from 7 to 117 years old. When the work is completed, they will have combined to save over $5 million a year and the carbon output equivalent of 8,000 automobiles.

This new program does not supplant the Green Office Challenge, initiated by Daley’s office. Under that program, property managers and tenant companies entered into a friendly competition to lower energy consumption.

“[The Green Office Challenge] is more about the activity of tenants in commercial office buildings, as opposed to retrofitting building systems,” said Rick Needham. His firm, Behringer Harvard, dedicated two buildings to the initiative, Fifth Third Center and One Financial Place, both in excess of 1 million SF.

These commercial buildings, in conjunction with the municipal buildings already taking part in Retrofit Chicago, will allow Chicago to join the Obama administration’s Better Buildings Challenge, a national leadership call to action seeking government officials, business executives, and community leaders to achieve tangible progress in efficiency improvement.

The Retrofit Chicago Commercial Business Initiative is supported by a number of partners, including the Building Owners & Managers Association of Chicago (BOMA/Chicago), the Clinton Climate Initiative, Civic Consulting Alliance, ComEd, Peoples Gas, Natural Resources Defense Council, Shaw Environmental & Infrastructure Group, Sieben Energy Associates, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, The Joyce Foundation and others.

BOMA/Chicago will offer tools and resources to help building owners develop a business case for making efficiency upgrades. A forum hosted by BOMA/Chicago and Jump Start Chicago, an initiative of the Energy Future Coalition, will cover some unique projects that have taken on energy efficient upgrades and their short payback windows.

“By meeting the Mayor’s voluntary challenge to cut energy use, Chicago office building owners can make their buildings, our industry and our city more competitive and prosperous,” said T.J. Brookover, Chairman of the BOMA/Chicago Energy Committee.

The City of Chicago is committed to finding more buildings to join the initiative, expanding the overall energy impact and savings that will be realized across the city. Work on the 14 committed buildings will begin over the next six months.

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