Responding to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s “Retrofit Chicago—Commercial Buildings Initiative” challenge, Chicago-based realty company U.S. Equities Realty enrolled its 30-story office building at 515 N. State Street in the program and earned LEED Gold in the process. Retrofit Chicago is the city’s iteration of President Obama’s Better Buildings Challenge for reducing energy usage in commercial buildings by 20 percent in the next five years. Nancy Crockatt, property manager for U.S. Equities, says, “We eagerly took on the Retrofit Chicago challenge because it aligns with the firm’s long-held company philosophy to focus on sustainable and best energy practices for the management of buildings.”
Karen Weigert, the chief sustainability officer for the City of Chicago, says of the Retrofit Chicago program, “Simply put, the City of Chicago—private and public—has over a half-million buildings that we heat, cool, and operate. We estimate that this costs around $3 billion and accounts for 71 percent of Chicago’s carbon emissions. There’s a huge potential for impact here.”
The building at 515 N. State is a Class A office tower standing at 427 feet at its highest point, which is more than 30 stories into the Chicago skyline. Designed by Kenzo Tange and completed in 1990, it contains nearly 623,000 square feet of rentable space. With its aluminum and glass exterior, situated in alternating horizontal strips of stone and reflective glass, the tower is materially indistinct from its surroundings. However, with its unique, diamond-shaped footprint and rectangular hole punched through the upper floors of the tower, the building stands as a unique entry in downtown Chicago’s architectural vocabulary. This stance is bolstered by U.S. Equities’ history with the property, which began in 2007 and quickly led to a LEED overhaul beginning in 2009.
“Before the building pursued LEED certification, we hired an engineering firm to conduct an ASHRAE Level I audit, which helped us determine a baseline,” Crockatt says. “Also, the building created a profile in Energy Star. Our baseline score was 52, and we are happy to report that our score is currently 74.”
The property received LEED Gold certification in March 2012 following an extensive overhaul of the equipment and habits used and practiced within the building. The HVAC systems were retrocommissioned, leading to revised operating sequences, automated functionality, and the establishment of procedures for reviewing trend logs. Along with LED lighting, occupancy sensors, low-flow water fixture aerators, variable speed drives on condensers and water pumps, U.S. Equities also implemented green cleaning, pest control, and water treatment programs.
“All recycling and waste, including construction and demolition debris, is tracked through our waste hauler,” Crockatt says. “A waste audit is performed each year and the results are shared with our tenants. The other important component is tenant engagement and community impact. Over the last three years, we have focused on implementing green best practices accompanied by an extensive tenant awareness and education program.”
Aspects of the program include green gift giveaways supporting local charities, such as Bright Endeavors, organic food served at tenant events, encouragement to participate in Bike to Work Week, adopted land at Chicago’s Northerly Island, the purchase of renewable energy credits, and several other community-oriented efforts. “Recognizing that commercial real estate has a significant impact on our environment, U.S. Equities is dedicated to serving as a leader in sustainable real estate services,” Crockatt says.
Although U.S. Equities’ LEED overhaul at 515 N. State and consequent LEED designation was concluded before the initiation of the Retrofit Chicago program, for Crockatt and U.S. Equities, aligning the building with the program made simple sense. “When Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration announced Retrofit Chicago, we were one of the first companies approached to become a partner because the program is a perfect fit with the firm’s overall philosophy and current activities,” Crockatt says.
Retrofit Chicago is a multifaceted program, and though the first step of the program involved the City of Chicago retrofitting its own assets, it was through the partnership of companies such as U.S. Equities that allowed the City of Chicago to announce the commercial buildings aspect of the program.
“This announcement of the commercial buildings aspect was concerning 14 million square feet of at least 14 buildings that have all agreed to at least 20 percent energy efficiency improvement in the next five years,” Weigert says. “It’s an extraordinary group of buildings. We have buildings built in the 19th, 20th, and 21st century, and they span the architectural styles. This was the city that built the first skyscraper, and now we’re working to be the first city to green our skyline.”
The articulation and corresponding success of green-minded municipal programs similar to Retrofit Chicago depends on strong relationships between private entities, such as U.S. Equities, and the public sector. By initiating its own retrofit programs, U.S. Equities oriented itself as an ideal partner for the Retrofit Chicago program, which not only benefits U.S. Equities stakeholders, but the City of Chicago as a representative of the modern city.