For the past two decades, the City of Chicago has worked to become one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the nation. An ENERGY STAR partner since 1995, the city fights climate change through energy-saving initiatives and other green projects, such as mandating the construction of green buildings, installing rooftop gardens on city-owned buildings, and planting more than a half million trees.
As part of this commitment to sustainability, the city launched the Chicago Climate Action Plan (CCAP) in September 2008. The CCAP is an ambitious plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Covering four areas — buildings, transportation, energy, and waste — the plan outlines key actions to reduce emissions and prepare for climate change. It also calls upon a range of governmental bodies — local, regional, and national — to improve policies.
To help meet the goals of the CCAP, the City of Chicago collaborated with ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability to create the Chicago Green Office Challenge. The Challenge is a no-cost, innovative new program that engages property managers and office tenant companies in a friendly competition to reduce their energy, waste, and water usage while engaging in additional sustainability measures.
Launched in 2009, the Challenge focuses on downtown Chicago buildings and tenants, since commercial buildings contribute 39 percent of Chicago’s greenhouse gas emissions. Based on the program’s innovative model and successful first year, ICLEI is expanding the program to additional member communities and is working to make the program replicable for local governments nationwide.
- Chicago Climate Action Plan
- Chicago Green Office Challenge
- Chicago Department of Environment
- ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability
Lead by Example
The City of Chicago is dedicated to making its own operations more sustainable and demonstrating to local businesses and residents that the ambitious goals of the CCAP are achievable if everyone does their part. Since its launch in September 2008, the city has already retrofitted over 13,400 homes and 400 commercial and industrial buildings for energy efficiency; traded more than 30,500 refrigerators, freezers, and air conditioners for energy-efficient appliances; and conserved 35 million gallons of water per day, among other notable achievements.
To continue this progress, the city has implemented a range of sustainable policies and programs, including hosting the Chicago Green Office Challenge; adopting new, sustainable building guidelines; retrofitting public buildings to improve energy efficiency; developing solar and wind power resources; exploring ways to promote alternative transportation and make the city more bike-friendly; educating residents about saving energy and water; increasing recycling; and planning ahead to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. These and other initiatives support the achievement of the five strategies outlined in the CCAP:
- Energy-Efficient Buildings
- Clean & Renewable Energy Sources
- Improved Transportation Options
- Reduced Waste & Industrial Pollution
The City of Chicago’s achievements in combating climate change followed a significant planning and research phase. To properly inform and shape its Climate Action Plan the city undertook a comprehensive study of the causes and effects of climate change in the Chicago metropolitan area. This research effort yielded a forecast of the expected changes to the region as well as a strategic guide for other municipalities to craft similar strategic action plans, helping other local governments to quickly and easily begin fighting climate change in their own backyards.
- Chicago Climate Action Plan website
- Lessons Learned: Creating the Chicago Climate Action Plan
- Chicago’s Guide to Completing an Energy Efficiency & Conservation
- Strategy An Inventory, Forecast and Mitigation Analysis for Chicago and the Metropolitan Region
- Climate Change and Chicago: Projections and Potential Impact
Plan an ENERGY STAR Challenge
Based on the results of Chicago’s community-level greenhouse gas emissions inventory, the energy used in commercial buildings is responsible for almost 40 percent of the city’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, reducing energy use in commercial buildings is central to achieving the goals of the CCAP. In early 2009, the city, in partnership with ICLEI, launched the first annual Chicago Green Office Challenge (the Challenge), a friendly competition for commercial property managers and office tenants to green their operations and receive recognition for their accomplishments from former Mayor Richard M. Daley and local media.
The Challenge focuses on helping businesses cut costs and greenhouse gas emissions by reducing energy, water use, and waste, as well as engaging in other sustainable initiatives. Property managers and office tenants register for the Challenge and commit to a year-long program in which they receive ongoing training, support, and resources. Participants are also encouraged to utilize no-cost ENERGY STAR tools and resources for increasing the energy efficiency of the participant organizations at every level. To achieve their goals, property owners and tenants are guided by the following milestones throughout the year-long Challenge, based on ENERGY STAR Guidelines for Energy Management:
- Assess performance
- Set goals
- Create a plan to meet goals
- Implement the plan
- Evaluate progress
- Recognize accomplishments
At the end of the competition year, those companies that have made the greatest strides in environmental performance are recognized by the mayor for their accomplishments. Property managers and office tenants are judged separately based on the competition criteria established for their individual categories.
Property managers participating in the Challenge are evaluated by their achievements in four key areas: reducing energy use, water use, and waste, as well as engaging tenants. Property managers are encouraged to set a goal of reducing energy and water use by at least 10 percent, reducing waste by at least 30 percent, and engaging at least 25 percent of tenants (based on square footage or number of tenant offices).
After setting reduction goals, property managers work throughout the contest year to take actions that will result in measurable results. Property managers track their energy use and associated greenhouse gas emissions in ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager to measure progress toward meeting energy efficiency goals. Buildings that earn an ENERGY STAR score of 75 or higher — indicating their energy performance is among the top 25 percent nationwide — automatically achieve the competition’s energy use reduction stretch goal and may qualify to earn the ENERGY STAR.
An important strategy for reducing energy use is conserving water. After benchmarking energy and water use in Portfolio Manager, property managers are encouraged to educate tenants about water-saving habits, install water-saving devices, and explore other ways to conserve this important natural resource by visiting EPA’s WaterSense program website. Once improvements are made, participants measure their water savings in Portfolio Manager.
Property managers are also judged on their successes in reducing waste and engaging tenants in the Challenge. To reduce waste, participants are encouraged to ask their waste hauler for a waste audit, conduct a building walk-through to identify ways to decrease waste and increase recycling, and make improvements, such as decreasing or eliminating paper towel waste, enhancing recycling capabilities, and decreasing the amount of packaging sent to the landfill and deliveries to the building by creating a joint purchasing program for tenants. Property managers are also encouraged to ask office tenants to join them in the Challenge and use the Green Office Scorecard to green their own operations.
Office tenants are evaluated using a “Green Office Scorecard,” which is based on 50 green strategies that relate to five key office-related sectors: waste, energy, transportation, outreach, and property manager engagement. The scorecard helps them establish baselines for their current environmental performance, set goals, and measure progress. The scorecard automatically generates a 1-100 score, and tenants are recognized according to four different tiers of achievement. The Challenge provides training opportunities and other resources to help tenants improve, and participants can tap into ENERGY STAR resources for help along the way. For instance, tenants can earn points by developing an ENERGY STAR purchasing policy with procurement guidance from EPA, implementing PC power management education campaign like EPA’s Low Carbon IT Campaign, and engaging employees with EPA’s Bring Your Green to Work off-the-shelf energy awareness program.
The Chicago Green Office Challenge is already in its fifth iteration, with winners from Round 1 announced in July 2010. Among the program’s successes were reducing water use by 5 percent across the board and the diversion of more than 1,200 tons of materials from landfills. Round 1 participants saw cost savings related to reductions in energy use, water use, and waste production. Green Office Challenge Round 1 award winners earned recognition from former Mayor Richard M. Daley, and many notable media outlets reported on the results of the competition, showcasing each participant’s commitment to fighting climate change.
- Chicago Green Office Challenge website
- Chicago Green Office Challenge Resources for Office Tenants
- ENERGY STAR Bring Your Green to Work home page
- Purchase energy-saving products with ENERGY STAR purchasing and procurement guidance
- July 1, 2010 Press Release, “Chicago and ICLEI Recognize Winners of Green Office Challenge”
- Green Office Challenge Flyer
- Letter from the Mayor
- February 4, 2009 City of Chicago Press Release, “Chicago’s Green Office Challenge to Drive Energy, Cost Savings”
Support Energy Efficiency Initiatives
To complement the actions taken by Challenge participants to increase their sustainable practices, the city encourages participation in other Chicago initiatives that help organizations increase energy efficiency. Among the many programs it promotes, the city has extensively supported the installation of green roofs and the participation of Challenge competitors in the Chicago Audubon Society’s Lights Out! initiative.
Green roofs are roofs that are partially or fully covered with plants and growing materials. They serve as an added layer of insulation, decreasing the amount of energy lost through the roof while also reducing urban heat island effect, improving air quality in densely developed neighborhoods, and decreasing the amount of stormwater runoff. Chicago has aggressively supported the development of green roofs by providing grants for green roof projects and incentives such as eligibility in the city’s Green Permitting program. The city also gives special recognition to participants in its Chicago Green Office Challenge that implement innovative strategies, including installing a green roof.
The Lights Out! program encourages building owners and managers to turn off building lights at night to save energy and protect migratory birds, which can get disoriented and die from collision or exhaustion as a result of lights from tall buildings. The city encourages participants in its Green Office Challenge to participate in the Lights Out! program and follow guidelines from the National Audubon Society to minimize exterior or decorative lighting, lobby lighting, and perimeter lighting.
- Guide for Building Green Roofs in Chicago
- City of Chicago Guide to Rooftop Gardening
- Audubon Society Lights Out Program
Recognize Success Along the Way
A key motivator for participants in the Chicago Green Office Challenge is the opportunity to be recognized as environmental leaders by the mayor and media. Held in 2009, the inaugural year of the Chicago Green Office Challenge drew nearly 150 property managers and tenant companies, including 13 major property management firms and major companies such as KPMG, Jones Lang LaSalle, Willis Tower, The Boeing Company, OWP/P|Cannon Design, Microsoft, and Office Depot. Participants saved approximately 72 million kilowatt-hours of electricity and 54,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide — equal to the annual emissions from more than 10,000 vehicles. Additional noteworthy achievements include reducing water usage by more than 5 percent and diverting more than 1,200 tons of materials from landfills. Top performers were recognized at a special awards ceremony on July 1, 2010, and the mayor’s office issued a press release to promote participants’ achievements.
Based on the success of the first year, Chicago and ICLEI are holding the competition again to continue saving energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, ICLEI is expanding the model nationwide and will provide guidance and technical support to help four communities set up their Challenge programs: Charleston, SC; Houston, TX; Arlington County, VA; and the City of San Diego/Port of San Diego, CA. ICLEI’s goal is to further adapt and standardize the program so that it can be replicated by ICLEI’s 600 other U.S. local government members.