Press Release

Report: Boosting Energy Efficiency in Chicago's Large Buildings Could Save Up to $184 Million Annually, Create Up to 2,000 Jobs

City Releases Second Annual Report on Building Energy Use and New Data Visualization Tool as Part of Larger Effort to Cut Costs, Climate Pollution

CHICAGO (December 17, 2015)—The City of Chicago yesterday released the results of its second annual assessment of energy use in large commercial, institutional, and residential buildings throughout the city.  Findings reveal that improving energy efficiency in these buildings could reduce energy use up to 24 percent, save up to $184 million in energy costs, create as many as 2,000 jobs, and cut carbon pollution equivalent to removing 306,000 cars from the road.  

“By increasing awareness and transparency on building energy use, Chicago is accelerating the market for energy efficiency and uncovering opportunities to save money while reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Karen Weigert, the City of Chicago’s Chief Sustainability Officer. 

In conjunction with its 2015 Chicago Energy Benchmarking Report and infographic, the City published information on approximately 250 of the its largest buildings on the Chicago Data Portal. The City Energy Project also partnered with Chicago to launch a new website where users can interact with this building energy performance data.

“America’s buildings use more energy than any single country besides China and the United States, and cities like Chicago are actively working to lower energy use in buildings. By curbing our energy usage we can reduce our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, leading to improved health and environmental and economic benefits for everyone. The release of this report immediately after the historic Paris Agreement to curb global GHG emissions underscores the urgency for everyone—from big countries to local cities—to take action now,” said Melissa Wright, Director of the City Energy Project. Chicago is one of 10 cities currently participating in the project, a joint initiative of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT) that is developing locally tailored plans and programs to create healthier, more prosperous, and more resilient cities by reducing carbon pollution from their largest source: buildings.

Chicago’s 2015 report includes data collected through its Building Energy Use Benchmarking Ordinance, which requires owners of buildings larger than 50,000 square feet to collect and share energy-use data with the city annually and verify the data every three years. Residential buildings larger than 250,000 square feet, along with commercial and institutional buildings larger than 50,000 square feet, were required to report 2014 data this year.  The 2015 report examines aggregated 2014 data from more than 1,800 buildings that cover more than 600 million square feet and represent approximately 20 percent of citywide energy use.  The 2015 results mark a five-fold increase in participation. Overall, Chicago buildings reported a median ENERGY STAR score of 58 out of 100, which is 16 percent higher than the national median of 50. Also, the buildings that shared energy data for the second consecutive year showed a slight decrease in site energy use (the amount of energy used per square foot, normalized for weather variations).

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure. The City of Chicago’s new benchmarking report and data visualization platform highlight the wide range of benefits that can be unlocked from improved awareness of how our buildings are using—and, often, wasting—energy,” said Cliff Majersik, executive director of the Institute for Market Transformation, a nonprofit organization that works to improve energy efficiency in buildings across the country. “The actionable information that benchmarking and transparency policies bring to the real estate market sets the stage for greater efforts in cities to cut pollution, save residents money, and create local jobs.”

“Far-reaching partner engagement on Chicago Energy Benchmarking demonstrates the power of information to inspire action,” said Jamie Ponce, Chicago Director of Energy and Climate Innovation for the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group.  “This policy is driving a deeper understanding of energy use that enables allows the real estate industry, energy stakeholders, utilities, policymakers, and the public to make better-informed energy decisions, with implications across the City of Chicago and beyond.”

More than 85 energy, real estate, business, and public interest organizations supported the development and adoption of Chicago’s benchmarking ordinance in 2013, including the Institute for Market Transformation, Natural Resource Defense Council, C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, Elevate Energy, U.S. Green Building Council–Illinois Chapter, American Institute of Architects–Chicago, ASHRAE – Illinois, Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, and Seventhwave. Partner organizations have continued to work with the City to support ordinance implementation by providing extensive outreach and assistance to reporting buildings. In 2015, partner support included a full-time help center that facilitated over 4,800 interactions, 20 free trainings led by local volunteers, and pro-bono assistance to more than 60 buildings.

Following the publication of 2015 findings, the City and its partners will move into the third year of benchmarking policy implementation. In 2016, all commercial, institutional, and residential properties larger than 50,000 square feet will be required to report energy use data by June 1st, and residential buildings 50,000–250,000 square feet will also be required to verify reported information.

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