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Retrofit Chicago Commercial Challenge Program Updates with Impressive Statistics

The City of Chicago’s Commercial Buildings Initiative is a voluntary program launched in 2012 as part of the overall Retrofit Chicago program. This Challenge provides support and recognition of existing commercial buildings over 200,000 square feet that commit to a 20% energy reduction within 5 years. On Friday July 18, members of the MEEA staff attended the two year update of this program led by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chief Sustainability Officer Karen Weigert. Other attendees included advocate organizations, building owner participants, and stakeholder partners.  Notable highlights included a 7% energy use decrease across all buildings (where data is available) when compared to the 2010 baseline, and a tripling in participation from 12 buildings covering 14 million square feet in 2012 to 48 buildings covering 37 million square feet as of July 2014.

Buildings participating in the program range from 7-117 years old, and include 24 commercial office spaces, 10 hotels, 11 university buildings, 2 cultural institutions and 1 residential multi-family building. Through participation and completion of the program, these buildings will utilize cross-sector outreach and technical resources of program partners, tailored peer support, as well as utility energy efficiency incentives in order to realize the cost savings and avoided greenhouse gas emissions associated with permanent reductions in energy consumption.  On the whole, participating buildings have received over $2 million in utility incentives resulting in annual savings of 21 million kWh and an equivalent of $1.5 million in utility bill reductions.

By using benchmarking to track energy use in existing buildings and target opportunities for efficiency improvements, MEEA supports the efforts taken by the City of Chicago and applauds its progress in realized energy savings and participation recruitment. Many participants have utilized the Building Operator Certification, a MEEA-administered training program for building operators that leads to an average energy savings of $12,000 per facility. While these training services are offered to participants in the Commercial Buildings Initiative, MEEA also administers these trainings throughout the entire Midwest region.

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Best practices from the Retrofit Chicago Commercial Buildings Initiative were highlighted at the program update event and available in an on-line document, but perhaps most noteworthy was testimony from a participating building owner who made the business case for participation by emphasizing the relatively quick return-on-investment for these energy efficiency upgrades.  For buildings this large, a 20% reduction in energy use represents a major cost with savings that add up quickly when compounded over the lifetime of the upgrade investment(s). As participants begin reporting on these savings, MEEA hopes more and more Chicago building owners will jump on board.

For more information on the Retrofit Chicago Commercial Buildings Initiative or other challenge programs, contact Greg Gillette, Policy Intern, at, or Steve Kismohr, Senior Technical Manager, at