Building Green Chicago 2014

By Linda Seggelke

This past May, 200 Chicago-area real estate professionals attended the eighth annual Building Green Chicago Conference & Expo. Hosted by Sustainable Chicago magazine, this conference is tailored for architects, contractors, designers, developers and others in related fields. Attendees are able to meet with vendors of sustainable products and services, network with others interested in green building and take in the educational programming.

Deborah Stone, Cook County Chief Sustainability Officer

Deborah Stone, Cook County Chief Sustainability Officer

Every year we strive to put together an excellent faculty of speakers discussing a variety of topics related to sustainable design and construction, and this year was no different. The 2014 Building Green Chicago Conference panels covered Chicago’s new energy benchmarking ordinance, the tenets of passive house construction and smarter designs for a building’s waste infrastructure. We cover those topics in further detail elsewhere in this issue.

The keynote speaker this year was Deborah Stone, the Chief Sustainability Officer for Cook County. Stone has held the position since being appointed three years ago by County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Before holding this position, Stone had been the Deputy Director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Director of the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission and Executive Director at the Metropolitan Planning Council.

Stone spent her time at the podium laying out the County’s sustainability strategy, including some of the steps they have already taken and those that they are eyeing for the future. Stone began by discussing how Preckwinkle put together a Sustainability Advisory Council, comprised of parties from the private and non-profit sectors, co-chaired by Chris Kennedy, the former President of Merchandise Mart Properties and ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore.

The advisory council’s report came out several months ago, in which was suggested that the County reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by an audacious 80% by 2050. “A lot of organizations have similar goals,” said Stone, “but it’s unusual for elected officials to step up and publicly say this is our goal and we are going to take steps to meet it.”

The 8th annual Building Green Chicago Conference.

The 8th annual Building Green Chicago Conference.

The County’s primary aim is to reduce energy use in its building stock. The two largest contributors to their carbon footprint are the Department of Corrections facility at 26th and California and Stroger Hospital. These two campuses account for 60% of the County’s energy demand.

“We now have the majority of the buildings in those campuses, particularly the older, less efficient buildings such as the power plants, under ESCO contracts,” Stone said. These ESCOs, or energy saving contracts, are the largest ever undertaken by a county government. Construction is underway now and should wrap up in about a year. Stone expects to see a 20% reduction in energy use by the time construction finishes. This investment came with ambitious—but in Stone’s mind, attainable—goals. “We couldn’t have gotten elected officials in the county to sign off on if we didn’t think it was achievable.”

The County has mapped out various places they can conserve energy. Besides the sites currently under ESCO, there are planned projects at court houses and other County-owned buildings, as well as space consolidation. Still, achieving the full 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would rely on uncharted factors, such as advances in green technology and renewables.

“These aren’t jobs you can outsource. You can’t weatherize a house from China.”

“Most of these projects, given financing, have a positive dollar payback,” said Stone. Board President Preckwinkle campaigned on a promise to roll back sales taxes, so County revenue was immediately in decline when she came to office. The County is currently reviewing proposals for two additional ESCO projects: the George W. Dunne County Building in the Loop and Provident Hospital on the south side.

Stone and the Department of Environmental Control have begun working within the whole of the County organization to institutionalize sustainability as a way of doing business. All of the bureau chiefs have been tasked with setting goals to reduce water use, trim the waste stream and shrink energy use both in buildings and fleet. “We aren’t where we want to be on those things,” Stone said, “but we’re moving on all of them.”

The four goals set forward by County administration are fiscal responsibility, transparency in government, innovative leadership and improved services. As far as political talking points go, reducing energy use is seldom discussed while other things, like job creation and lowering taxes, often are. But sustainability supports those other goals. For instance, 20 direct and indirect jobs are created for every $1 million spent on energy efficiency. “These are not jobs you can outsource,” Stone said. “You can’t weatherize a house from China.”

The hope, according to Stone, is that they are able to raise the bar not only in the County government, but within its sphere of influence. That includes County employees, the supply chain and other municipalities. “We want to be a change agent sparking sustainable actions through all 130 municipalities and all five million people that live in the County,” she said.

Photos: Maria Marquez

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