Beyond Energy Benchmarking: Key Partnerships Drive Success

We are all familiar with the adage “You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” which is particularly true when it comes to managing the energy consumption and emissions of our buildings. Cities and counties across the US are beginning to mandate energy benchmarking to encourage property managers to understand their consumption and – hopefully – reduce their energy use.

In the city of Chicago, building energy use costs owners $3 billion annually and is responsible for 71% of city-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. While these high costs and emissions are not unusual, the steps taken to reduce these numbers are just the start of a scalable solution that could take place in the rest of the country.

Three years ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel launched Sustainable Chicago 2015 as an actionable framework for making the Windy City more livable, competitive and sustainable. The Chicago Energy Benchmarking Ordinance was born from this plan. Currently in the second year of the three-year implementation schedule, the ordinance requires all commercial, municipal and residential buildings over 50,000 square feet to benchmark whole-building energy use through ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager on an annual basis, have data accuracy verified by a qualified professional, and report this data to the city each year.

Building on insights gained from similar energy benchmarking programs implemented in other U.S. cities, Chicago’s program utilizes strategic best practices to create strong buy-in from local stakeholders and contribute to the success of the program.


Facilitating Key Partnerships

Key to the success of the program has been the partnership between industry stakeholders in the city including the Mayor’s Office, USGBC-Illinois, ASHRAE Illinois Chapter, C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, and the City Energy Project. Working together to develop the language of the ordinance and support its ongoing implementation, these key players drew upon their combined expertise to successfully launch the country’s first benchmarking ordinance to require data verification by a qualified professional. This strategy facilitates the collection of robust, clean data to avoid the issues of data quality experienced in other cities and provides the following stakeholder education and ongoing support.

Stakeholder Education


  • Outreach at local conferences and events to get the word out about the city’s Energy Benchmarking Ordinance.
  • Free training of data verification professionals prior to the implementation of the ordinance.
  • Grassroots advocacy within the industry to educate professionals and property representatives on the requirements of the ordinance.


Ongoing Support

  • Targeted outreach to representatives of over 500 buildings to make sure they are aware that their building falls under the requirements of the ordinance.
  • Call center hotline, FAQ web pages and online forums help answer questions and streamline common requests before the deadline, facilitating cleaner data.
  • Ongoing information sessions for owners, property managers and other key stakeholders throughout program implementation.
  • Free ongoing training of data verification professionals following the implementation of the ordinance.
  • Assistance from volunteer data verification professionals offered to qualifying non-profit groups.


Measurable Results

The first reporting year results from 2014 have been published and the hard efforts put into the program are paying off. In total, 348 office, healthcare, K-12 schools, universities, and other facilities over 250,000 square feet, spanning over 260 million square feet in total and representing roughly 11% of citywide building energy use, were required to report in the first year of the program. Widespread participation was reported, with over 90% of applicable buildings in compliance including 77 voluntary and early adopters.

The median ENERGY STAR score for the first wave of buildings falling under the ordinance was an astounding 76 out of 100, which is comparable to large buildings in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. The city now has an unprecedented look at quality sector-specific data on energy use in Chicago’s largest buildings. With nearly five times as many buildings required to comply in 2015, the city is in the process of analyzing the next set of data and will disseminate the results by the end of the year.

Building energy data reported in 2014 suggests significant potential to save money, reduce emissions and energy consumption, and create jobs in the city of Chicago. Improving buildings’ energy intensity to average or above-average levels (by sector) could yield:

  • 13%–23% total energy use reduction
  • $44M–$77M in energy cost savings
  • 460,000–844,000 tons of avoided greenhouse gas emissions (equivalent to removing 95,000–175,000 cars from the road)
  • More than 1,000 jobs from investments to achieve these savings  


Next Steps For Energy Benchmarking

Benchmarking is a powerful tool to create increased awareness of energy consumption and GHG emissions in the city, but it is only the first step toward real results. United by this call to action, the key partners involved throughout the development and implementation of this program must continue to support each other in order to realize these reduction goals.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.