Chicago archdiocese an energy efficiency leader

The Archdiocese of Chicago last summer began measuring the energy use in its 2,700 buildings in Chicago and surrounding Cook and Lake counties.

That research, according to Midwest Energy News, has made the archdiocese a standout in the city’s energy benchmarking program, an initiative launched in 2013 that marked notable progress in 2015, as noted in a recent annual report.

The Chicago Housing Authority, Swedish Covenant Hospital and downtown commercial buildings also logged high marks for complying with the city’s benchmarking ordinance, which mandated that all commercial and institutional buildings with more than 250,000 square feet and residential buildings with more than 50,000 square feet complete energy audits by the end of 2015. Residential buildings over 50,000 square feet must comply next year, with updated reports due every three years.

An increasing number of cities have launched benchmarking programs and requirements, allowing comparisons and best practices to emerge.

The recent 2015 Chicago benchmarking report revealed the potential to save up to $184 million annually in energy costs in the 1,840 buildings reporting from all 77 of the city’s neighborhoods, representing about a fifth of the city’s total building energy use.

Katie Kaluzny, associate director of the U.S. Green Building Council-Illinois chapter, said that “2014 was like a pilot year, with the largest commercial office buildings, many that had been focused on energy use to begin with.

“The year 2015 was really bringing in new buildings where energy tracking hadn’t been a big part of the conversation. If this is the first time you’re looking at your energy use, what are you going to do with that score or that number? How will that prod you to do things differently, looking at operations of your building, improvements that might not have been on your radar to begin with.”

The report notes that energy accounts for almost a third of a typical building’s costs, and that buildings are responsible for 71 percent of the greenhouse gases emitted to power the city.

The report says there are now 15 cities, two states and one county with benchmarking requirements. Ohio, Michigan and Minnesota have benchmarking programs for public buildings, and Minneapolis has a program for commercial buildings.

Chicago’s is the first in the nation to include data verification. Starting in 2015, Chicago data was made available to the public. Chicago buildings must use the EPA’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager, a free online tool, to comply with the ordinance.

Chicago buildings reporting in 2015 had an average Energy Star score of 58, which is above the national median of 50. Offices, schools and retail establishments scored above the national average for their building type, while multi-family buildings and health care institutions scored lower than average.

Non-profit organizations including the U.S. Green Building Council, Elevate Energy, the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance and Natural Resources Defense Council partnered with the city in offering benchmarking assistance.

Eighteen of the archdiocese’s buildings are covered by the Chicago ordinance. The archdiocese has also benchmarked 700 other buildings in the city. With annual energy costs of about $30 million, the EPA tool estimates the archdiocese could save $3 million to $9 million per year on energy.

“As you might expect, an organization as large as ours cobbled together over 175 years wasn’t quite streamlined,” said Kevin Marzalik, director of business transactions and affiliated services and interim director of real estate management and development for the archdiocese.

He said that while the national benchmarking information is helpful, the archdiocese itself is so large that even benchmarking within their own portfolio provides very useful information.

“We have buildings and campuses that are similar, so why is the energy use at one different than others?” he asked. “We look at the number of floors, the volume, whether there is a gym. We’re also looking to add heating and cooling information from our insurance assessors. We’re grabbing from every source we can to see explanations of why there’s a variance, to point us to low-hanging fruit, and go after that first to get savings for parishes.”


Topics: Associations / Organizations, Building Owners and Managers, Certifications, Construction Firms, Consulting - Green & Sustainable Strategies and Solutions, Religious Buildings, Sustainable Trends and Statistics, Urban Planning and Design, USGBC

Companies: U.S. Green Building Council

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