Chicago’s Green Efforts Turn It Into LEED Platinum City

Launched in 2016, USGBC's program enables cities to benchmark and communicate the performance of sustainability initiatives across more than a dozen metrics.

The U.S. Green Building Council has awarded Chicago with the LEED for Cities Platinum certification, the program’s highest level. Chicago joins the ranks of Washington, D.C., Phoenix, Ariz., Arlington, Va., Songodo, South Korea and Savona, Italy. 

Launched in 2016, the LEED for Cities program enables cities to benchmark and communicate performance from undertaken sustainability initiatives. Specifically, cities are evaluated across 14 key metrics, including energy, water, waste, transportation, education, health, safety and equitability. In addition, the program aims to be an aggregator of and supplement to other initiatives and tools such as STAR Communities, C40 Cities, ISO 37120, CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project), The Climate Registry, ICLEI’s ClearPath and Heat+ tools and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“Chicago has not only committed to bold environmental and sustainability goals, but is now delivering on those commitments, leading to real impact across the city,” Mahesh Ramanujam, president & CEO of USGBC and GBCI, said in a prepared statement. “Mayor Emanuel and the city are proving that improving sustainability and increasing economic growth go hand-in-hand.”

Chicago’s LEED for Cities Platinum certification comes shortly after the city topped the Green Building Adoption Index for the second year in a row, with 70 percent of its space green-certified. Chicago’s Energy Benchmarking Ordinance—which requires large buildings across the metro to measure and report energy usage—is associated with ongoing improvements in energy performance, as well as collective savings of more than $39 million over three years.

Furthermore, the city is set to implement the Chicago Energy Rating System next year—the first of its kind in the U.S.—which will assign a zero- to four-star energy rating to all large properties that are subject to the benchmarking reporting requirements. This new rating system leverages the success of Retrofit Chicago, the city’s voluntary energy efficiency challenge program, which includes more than 80 participating properties spanning in excess of 55 million square feet.

Pledges for the future

Last year, Mayor Emanuel committed to using 100 percent renewable energy in all municipal facilities. In addition, he signed an executive order committing Chicago to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement—currently, Windy City has covered 40 percent of the way to meeting the Paris Agreement target.

In December 2017, Chicago hosted the North American Climate Summit and 2017 C40 Cities Bloomberg Philanthropies Awards in partnership with the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, and C40 Cities Leadership Group. The Summit brought together more than 50 municipal leaders from across the U. S., Canada and Mexico to articulate commitments to the Paris Agreement. 

The initial Chicago Climate Charter was signed in early December at the North American Climate Summit. Additional cities have recently adhered to the initiative—Tokyo, Japan; Hamburg, Germany; Zurich, Switzerland; and Rotterdam, Netherlands, bringing the total number to 72 cities.

By signing the pledge, cities commit to achieving a percent reduction in carbon emissions in line with the Paris Agreement; they quantify, track and publicly report city emissions, consistent with standards and best practices of measurement and transparency; advocated for greater local authority and flexibility to develop policies and local laws that empower cities to take action on climate; recognize and include groups underrepresented in climate policy; incorporate the realities of climate change and its impacts into local infrastructure and emergency planning through strategies of adaptation and resilience; support regional, state and federal policies and partnerships, as well as private sector initiatives that incentivize the transition to a new climate economy and last, but not least, they partner with experts, communities, businesses, environmental justice groups, advocates and other allies to develop holistic climate mitigation and resilience solutions.

Mayor Emanuel is also the Honorary Committee Chair of the Greenbuild Host Committee, a group of Chicago-area leaders associated with the Illinois Green Alliance and USGBC lending their name to welcome an international audience later this year at the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in Chicago.

Video courtesy of USGBC