Chicago Energy Benchmarking Ordinance – Coming to a Building Near You

For years, the Chicago skyline has been known for its tall buildings. The Willis Tower, the John Hancock Building, Two Prudential Plaza, and the Trump Tower are all admired for their impressive size, unique architecture, innovative engineering, and beautiful interior aesthetics. Starting this year, these buildings, along with the rest of Chicago’s largest Class A buildings, will begin to be known for something else – energy usage.

Last September, Mayor Emanuel passed the Chicago Benchmarking Ordinance requiring all commercial buildings (larger than 250,000 square feet) to report their energy use starting June 1, 2014. The purpose of the new law is to increase awareness of the amount of energy large buildings are consuming. The reports will also create a baseline to begin energy efficiency improvements.  Publicizing energy use data has many additional benefits that should not be overlooked. The data will better inform renters/tenants and potential property buyers, will provide a platform for energy efficient buildings to shine, and help identify best practices utilized by the most efficient buildings.

In the past two years, the number of cities encouraging large building energy benchmarking has gained steam. Currently, 8 of the largest US cities require non-residential large buildings to report energy use every year. Even though this is a new law to Chicagoans, reporting energy usage may not be a new concept to some of Chicago’s buildings. Some existing LEED certified buildings already have experience in reporting energy use.  This puts the buildings that are included in the ordinance and are new to energy reporting in a fragile situation. Instead of being known for their unique architecture, innovative engineering, and beautiful interiors, some buildings may be known for their wasteful energy practices. When published, the report on energy usage will show the public which buildings are energy efficiency rock-stars, and which are the opposite.

Some buildings in Chicago already have a head start to preparing for this ordinance. The City of Chicago recently began expanding the Commercial Buildings Initiative (CBI). The CBI is a voluntary program in which large commercial buildings pledge to reduce their energy use by 20% in 5 years. West Monroe Partners teamed up with the City of Chicago last summer to help buildings achieve this goal, build an energy efficient roadmap, and recruit more participants. Currently, 31 of Chicago’s largest commercial buildings are part of the CBI, and once the Benchmarking Ordinance is in full-effect, that number will only increase.

Those who do not currently qualify for Chicago’s benchmarking ordinance should not turn a blind eye. By 2016, all residential and non-residential buildings over 50,000 square feet will be required to submit annual energy use reports. At West Monroe Partners, our experience in creating energy efficiency roadmaps and sustainability reporting for large buildings has equipped us with the ammunition these buildings need to complete their benchmarking reports, implement energy management practices, and stand out in the Chicago community for exemplary energy efficiency.

1 Comment

  • Joe Bellon April 16, 2014 6:36 pm

    This Chicago attitude about energy efficiency is so public spirited it almost makes me want to move to Chicago.

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