Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

Chicago Grabs Lead in Green Office Buildings, Study Shows

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  • Two thirds of Windy City’s commercial space certified green
  • ’It’s an oddity if you’re not green certified’: study author

Chicago’s offices have gone green.

The windy city now has the highest percentage of certified LEED or Energy Star office buildings, 66 percent, among the 30 largest real estate markets in the U.S., according to a study published on Thursday by CBRE Group Inc. and Maastricht University.

Chicago increased its percentage of green office space square footage by 6.5 percent in the last year, taking the top spot away from San Francisco, which slipped to second place in the annual study. In San Francisco, green buildings represent almost 62 percent of commercial office space.

"Green certification is no longer an oddity or nice to have," said Nils Kok, associate professor at the Dutch university. "In many top markets it’s an oddity if you’re not green certified."

Atlanta, Houston and Minneapolis were also among the top five cities for green buildings, according to the study, which tracked buildings that have been LEED or Energy Star certified in the past five years. Across the top 30 U.S. real estate markets, the average proportion of green certified square footage is 38 percent, according to the researchers.

The Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, program rates buildings based on environmentally-friendly features, such as solar lighting, and efficient energy and water systems, while the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star certification shows a building has met strict energy performance standards.

Greening Chicago

Chicago’s office buildings have gotten visibly greener as the city built incentives for buildings to add green roofs and expedited permitting for buildings with sustainable certification, according to Matt Baker, former editor of Sustainable Chicago Magazine. Some buildings place energy monitors in the lobby, showing how the building is performing on water or heating, Baker said.

The magazine, which tracked green building in Chicago since 2008, shut down last month, saying that sustainable construction in the city had become the norm.

"It used to be that if a project was green they would really advertise and promote, but now you might as well say we’ve installed smoke detectors," Baker said.

Buildings are the top source of greenhouse gas emissions in Chicago, according to the city’s website. An energy benchmarking ordinance passed in the city in 2013 covers 900 million square feet of commercial buildings, requiring them to publish their energy ratings each year. That peer pressure has led cities that have benchmarking rules to have slightly higher rates of green buildings, according to David Pogue, CBRE’s global director of corporate responsibility.

In April, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel committed to shift all city-owned buildings to 100 percent renewable energy by 2025. The city as a whole cut carbon emissions by seven percent from 2010 to 2015, even as its population grew by 25,000, according to the mayor’s press office. "As the Trump administration pulls back on building a clean energy economy, Chicago is doubling down,” Emanuel said in a statement at the time.

Investors, particularly in top real estate markets, are looking for green-certified buildings to attract big corporate tenants, according to Pogue. "Green buildings are getting the bigger tenants, higher dollars, and more investor capital," Pogue said. "Big companies need these spaces because they want to communicate to their employees that they embrace this."

— With assistance by Patrick Clark

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