Chicago Commercial Buildings Initiative: The Skyline That Makes Our City Beautiful Also Makes it Great

"Eventually, I think Chicago will be the most beautiful great city left in the world." 
Frank Lloyd Wright

Unquestionably, Chicago’s skyline is among the most beautiful in the world. But its beauty is only part of what makes any city great.  Great cities rise to tough challenges. Chicago has a long history of doing that. And that history continues as we grapple with the much-needed transition to a sustainable, clean energy economy.  Here in Chicago, the buildings are part of the solution. The skyline that makes our city beautiful is also making it great: energy efficient, sustainable, resilient and ready to face the challenges of a new generation.

Today, Mayor Emanuel announced that another 18 buildings have signed onto Retrofit Chicago’s Commercial Buildings Initiative (CBI).  These buildings join the 14 founding buildings we wrote about last June in pledging to reduce annual energy consumption by at least 20 percent over a five year period.  

As with the original fourteen buildings, the new participants are diverse – with some more than a century old and several built in just the past three decades. Architecture buffs will be excited to know that there is a Burnham and a van der Rohe in the mix. Eight of the new buildings are hotels, bringing the total number of participating hotels up to ten, and giving Chicago an opportunity to become a destination for energy and carbon-conscious tourists (and conference-goers). And speaking of destinations, the Shedd Aquarium has signed on too, adding its huge attendance and aggressive efficiency plans to the mix. Altogether the thirty-two buildings contain 28 million square feet of space---a pretty impressive total. 

This is not just a feel-good announcement. The buildings taking part in this initiative will get results that make a meaningful impact on the city’s energy grid and carbon footprint. And they will stand as industry leaders, piloting strategies that can be used more broadly throughout Chicago and across the nation. Over the past six months we have highlighted how some of the original members of the CBI – including the Franklin Center, the AT&T Building and the Sheraton Hotel and Towers – are using innovative technological, financial and policy tools to tap into the efficiency potential in their buildings and are on their way to achieving the energy savings target.  Joining CBI is more than just making a statement; it is about joining a group of peers and partners committed to addressing barriers, achieving the goals and providing leadership in Chicago and in the real estate industry at large. 

NRDC is proud to have been a CBI partner from day one, delivering important technical consulting and organization. We are thrilled with the initiative’s initial achievements and growth: thanks in no small part to Mayor Emanuel’s leadership, and that of his staff, including the city’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Karen Weigert. And we are grateful to all 32 of the CBI buildings for stepping up to the challenge of making Chicago both beautiful and great.

The new buildings that committed to the Mayor’s challenge today will form the cornerstone of the commercial building retrofit revolution in Chicago include:

  • 300 South Riverside
  • 330 North Wabash Avenue
  • 625 North Michigan Avenue
  • Continental Plaza, 1330 W. 76th Street
  • Fairfield Inn & Suites, 216 E. Ontario
  • Hampton Inn & Suites, 33 W. Illinois
  • Hilton Hotel Chicago, 720 S. Michigan
  • Hotel Allegro Chicago, a Kimpton Hotel, 171 W. Randolph
  • Hotel Burnham Chicago, a Kimpton Hotel, 1 W. Washington
  • Hampton Inn Majestic, 22 W. Monroe
  • Hotel Monaco, a Kimpton Hotel, 225 N. Wabash
  • ICA GreenRise Uptown, 4750 N. Sheridan
  • Hotel Palomar Chicago, a Kimpton Hotel, 505 N. State
  • The Rookery, 209 S. LaSalle
  • The Merchandise Mart, 222 Merchandise Mart Plaza
  • The Harris Bank Building - West, 115 S. LaSalle
  • The Harris Bank Building - East/Center, 111 W. Monroe
  • The Shedd Aquarium, 1200 S. Lake Shore Drive

You can find out more about the initiative and the gorgeous buildings enrolled at

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