Chicago City Council Passes Energy Use Benchmarking Ordinance, Aldermen Show Impressive Leadership

Today, Chicago’s City Council passed the Energy Use Benchmarking Ordinance by a vote of 32-17.  We thank the City Council for recognizing the importance of addressing energy efficiency in Chicago’s largest buildings.  The ordinance requires buildings over 50,000 square feet (about 3,500 buildings total) to track and disclose their energy use. Less than one percent of Chicago’s buildings are larger than 50,000 square feet, but these buildings represent 22 percent of all energy used by our city’s built environment.  This energy data will allow building owners to make informed decisions on how to improve their efficiency, while prospective tenants or buyers can consider energy costs when deciding where to live and work.     

According to a 2012 EPA analysis of 35,000 benchmarked buildings throughout the nation, just by benchmarking alone, these buildings saw an average energy savings of 7 percent over three years.  That’s because building owners and managers, once they learned how their buildings were performing, took voluntary steps to reduce their energy use.  That’s exactly what the Chicago ordinance aims to do – it does not require buildings to make specific improvements but, rather, aims to inspire building owners and managers to consider their energy use and make voluntary, sensible improvements to their buildings to increase efficiency and save money on utility bills.

NRDC has led efforts to gather support for this ordinance, which culminated in an 86-member coalition, including several major real estate companies, residential management companies, architects, professional associations, hospitals, labor unions, energy services providers, engineers, and public interest organizations focused on the environment, health, job creation, and community-building.  This broad and deep support shows that benchmarking and disclosure has the possibility of creating benefits throughout the city, in several sectors.  We are ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work implementing the ordinance and capturing the benefits benchmarking and disclosure create for our city.

And several members of the City Council are also ready to take on energy use in our largest buildings.  I was at the City Council meeting today and was deeply impressed by what so many of the aldermen said about this ordinance and the positive role it plays in the city’s ongoing sustainability efforts.  Here are some of the great things I heard:

  • Alderman Daniel Solis of the 25th Ward and Chairman of the Zoning Committee expressed his support for the ordinance and cited NRDC’s op-ed on the issue in Crain’s.  
  • Alderman Ameya Pawar of the 47th Ward noted his eight-year background in emergency preparedness and stressed to his colleagues that they could no longer ignore the flooding and asthma rates in the city. 
  • Alderman Burns of the 4th Ward said, “We have to do what we can in the City of Chicago” when it comes to addressing the environment. 
  • Alderman Timothy Cullerton of the 38th Ward, an electrician who served as chairman of the Chicago Electrical Commission, noted that even though there could be a small cost associated with verifying benchmarked data every three years, “in the long run, [energy] costs will go down.” 
  • Alderman Joe Moreno of the 1st Ward passionately stated, “you’ve got to lead when it comes to the environment.” 
  • Alderman George Cardenas of the 12th Ward declared, “I think it is time to move from fear to action” and urged his colleagues to vote in favor of the ordinance. 
  • And lastly, Alderman Joe Moore of the 49th Ward, noting that his ward is largely composed of condominiums, some of which have been drastically misinformed by opposition forces, stated, “the economic benefits [of this ordinance] can be huge in terms of cost-savings.” Further, when addressing concerns about disclosure, he stated, “we should be all about disclosure . . . we want consumers to have information.” 

NRDC recognizes the leadership these aldermen displayed today and thank all thirty-two aldermen who voted in favor of the ordinance.  Chicago now joins other cities with benchmarking ordinances in place, including New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington D.C., Minneapolis, Austin, San Francisco, and Seattle.  We look forward to working with all the aldermen and the mayor’s office as we strive to make Chicago the most sustainable city in the nation.