Chicago Takes the LEED in Green Design

by Megan Ladewig for SUST 210

When people think of Chicago, they think of huge skyscrapers and enormous office buildings. Large amounts of materials like steel and glass go into making these legendary buildings. Seemingly infinite amounts of energy must be present to heat and cool these gigantic structures while the Windy City experiences the many mood-swings of Mother Nature. Chicago is known for its skyline which glows at night while it reflects off the surrounding lake, which has become almost an iconic picture for the city. All this being said, Chicago can’t possibly be an environmentally friendly city, right? Wrong!

Chicago's iconic skyline (photo: K. Garner)

Chicago’s iconic skyline (photo: K. Garner)

Chicago actually has the highest number of LEED-certified buildings in the entire United States. The city is home to 124 LEED-certified buildings that include 32 municipal buildings. As noted by Ashley Katz writing for the US Green Building Council, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, focuses on “redefining the way we think about the places we live, work, and learn.” LEED looks at strategies that aim for high performance in areas of human and environmental health that include sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, material selection, and indoor environmental quality. Buildings with this certification cost less to operate, reducing energy and water bills by 40% and increasing efficiency of the building. For more information about LEED-certification visit the USGBC website.

Chicago Center for Green Technology (photo: City of Chicago)

Chicago Center for Green Technology (photo: City of Chicago)

Mayor Richard Daley supported the idea of green buildings and sustainability in Chicago when the city opened the Chicago Center for Green Technology in 2002. This building’s environmentally friendly features include a geothermal heating system, water conservation features, ceiling tiles made of recycled newspaper, and floors made from recycled carpet and cork, according to this article from Grist by Kari Richardson). The Chicago Center for Green technology was the first municipal building in the country to earn the certification. The building is open to the public for tours and workshops.

Many people have attended these workshops. U.S. Green Building Council Associate Director Katie Kaluzny notes the importance of these workshops and says “it’s now difficult to find a Chicago architectural firm that doesn’t have LEED expertise” (as quoted in Richardson). Green building is seems to now be dominating the city, as the cost of construction of LEED buildings is now comparable to other methods of construction. Mayor Daley and other city leaders now say that all new buildings, as well as those that are remodeled, will be LEED-certified as well.

Former longtime mayor Richard M. Daley made a huge impact with the transformation into a green city. John Albrecht, director of sustainability for the Chicago firm NELSON, notes that Mayor Daley has “embraced sustainable building early on” (Richardson). When Mayor Daley first took his position, he started out by planting various floras and then later focused on the impact of city buildings and city living on the environment. Seeing the leader of a city embrace these changes for a more sustainable future has impacted the city and its citizens in countless ways. Green projects administrator Michael Berkshire says “It’s a pretty simple program that could be applicable just about anywhere” (as quoted in Richardson), which can be seen through Mayor Daley inspiring other towns such as Indianapolis and Grand Rapids to come up with their own sustainable building strategies. Hopefully other major cities will follow after Mayor Daley.

Each week during the Fall 2013 semester, students in Prof. Mike Bryson’s SUST 210 Sustainable Future online class at Roosevelt University will contribute blog posts on suburban sustainability issues to the Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future website.

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About Suburban Sustainability

Founder and editor of the Schaumburg's Sustainability Future social media project (est. Earth Day, 2011)
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