The Windy City embraces its environmental legacy ahead of Greenbuild 2018

The Windy City embraces its environmental legacy ahead of Greenbuild 2018


Fall 2018 | Written by Kevin Stark

Since its incorporation in the 1830s, Chicago has played a central role in the economic, cultural, and political history of the United States. Today, Chicago continues to lead by focusing on cultivating a sustainable economy and hitting a number of major milestones, which exemplify collaboration at the highest levels and have produced measurable results.

The city of Chicago has positioned itself as a counterpoint to the federal government, especially on issues of global climate change. After the United States withdrew from the Paris Agreement, more than 1,000 mayors, governors, and business leaders gathered in Chicago for the North American Climate Summit to signal their continued support of climate action. Many made that commitment by signing what the city dubbed the Chicago Climate Charter.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has demonstrated strong leadership on environmental and sustainable development issues. “Chicago is working with cities across the country and around the world to address the threat of climate change,” Emanuel said during his interview with USGBC+.

“Last year, in the face of federal inaction, I committed Chicago to the goals of the Paris Agreement. As a city, we are already 40 percent of the way there. Chicago is doing its part. From reducing electricity usage in our buildings to updating streetlights across the city to investing in electric vehicles and public transportation, Chicago is committed to building a 21st-century economy and fostering opportunities to make sustainability part of the Chicago experience,” said Emanuel.

“Chicago is a global clean energy leader, and will continue to make strides to combat climate change while supporting 21st-century jobs in every neighborhood.”

Above: (Left) Sandra Henry is chief sustainability officer for the city of Chicago. (Right) Amy Jewel is an advisor on the City Energy Project for Chicago. | Photo: Nima Taradji

In 2015, Chicago inventoried its overall emissions and found they had dropped citywide by 11 percent since 2005. The city is using less energy, and the energy it is using is cleaner. Chicago no longer powers its city buildings with coal and has committed to 100 percent renewable power by 2025 for these same municipal buildings—more than 90 of which are Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified.

Sandra Henry, chief sustainability officer for the city of Chicago, says that this commitment extends to Chicago’s sister agencies—the housing authority and school district, for example. “We need a pathway for all of the sister agencies to get to that 100 percent renewable commitment, as well,” she says.

Henry’s job is to figure out that path for the city and provide guidance to its agencies, which all have their own leadership teams and sets of goals and challenges. “It’s huge,” Henry says. “What does the mix look like? How much renewable energy can be installed on site versus purchased as renewable energy credits. We are figuring out the magic math.”

Last year, the City Council created a new zero-to-four-star rating system, a scorecard based on publicly available energy data for each building. One important metric that emerged: One-fifth of Chicago’s emissions come from the heating and cooling of buildings with 50,000 square feet or more—more emissions than all the vehicles on its roads.

“Our biggest buildings are the source of a large chunk of our emissions,” Henry says. “We continue to engage the building owners and provide them with tools and resources to help them reduce their energy consumption. Benchmarking is the foundation of that. Hopefully, it will provide building owners with even more incentive to improve their energy efficiency, reduce their use, and cut their emissions.”

Chicago was one of the first cities to achieve LEED for Cities Platinum certification. “The recognition shows that we are on the leading edge,” says Amy Jewel advisor on the City Energy Project for Chicago. “All of the work that the city and its partners have done over the past many years is being recognized, and by pursuing the Platinum rating, we are validated as being a leader in sustainability,” says Jewel.

Jewel says the sustainability effort was built on many different policies, but the foundation was the Chicago Climate Action Plan that the city adopted roughly a decade ago. “That included long-term targets to reduce carbon emissions by 2020 and 2050 and a number of different policy and program ideas that focused on energy use, transportation, water, recycling—all of the pieces.”

Above: There are more than 500 vegetated roofs in the city of Chicago. | Photo: Nima Taradji

Above: Brian Imus is the executive director of Illinois Green Alliance. | Photo: Nima Taradji

On the state level, after two years of grueling negotiations between energy companies, advocates, and environmental groups, Illinois passed the Future Energy Jobs Act in December 2016. With a few exceptions, it was the most significant piece of clean energy legislation to come from a state this generation.

It required the state’s two largest electric utilities to dramatically reduce energy use by 2030, created incentives for solar production, and provided resources for clean energy job training across the state.

State and local government aren’t the only leaders on the ground; the business and real estate community is also actively pushing the envelope. In 2017, the majority of Chicago’s office buildings—66 percent—were LEED certified or ENERGY STAR certified, more than any other city in the United States. Chicago is home to Soldier Field, a LEED-certified National Football League stadium and a LEED Platinum municipal building.

“It’s something that the city takes a lot of pride in,” says Brian Imus, executive director of Illinois Green Alliance, an aligned USGBC community. “Chicago has always taken a lead and been recognized nationally for sustainability.”

Imus says Chicago’s leadership is being driven by many Fortune 500 companies that are headquartered in the city, and the these companies are choosing to build LEED buildings. They have prioritized sustainability as part of their business plan. “That’s really driven the community and product manufacturers to respond to that demand.”

Beyond that, he says Chicago’s reputation for green building leadership is creating job opportunities. As interest in green building grows around the world, countries are looking to Chicago for ideas and talent. “The growth of green buildings elsewhere in the world can be a job creator here in Illinois where we can export that green building know-how,” Imus says.

As the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo returns to Chicago, it is the perfect moment to dive deep into the stories of the communities and businesses that are making the city a model for the future.


“The thing that is probably most different about our homes, compared to a traditional home, is the way we frame it,” Benjamin Van Horne says as he crouches, assembling a diagram out of wood scraps. He lays a two-by-eight flat on the floor, placing studs on either side. He’s modeling what he calls a “staggered stud-wall,” an advanced framing technique designed to make a home more energy efficient and reduce construction waste.

“I haven’t met a carpenter yet who is qualified to build a house, who can’t do this with just a little bit of instruction,” he says. “It doesn’t cost me much, if anything, to frame the house this way, and it significantly increases the energy efficiency of the house.”

Van Horne is the president and founder of Greenline Homes, LLC, a developer of modern, single-family homes using sustainable design. He’s inside of what will be a 2,100-square-foot, 4-bedroom home off of 61st Street in the Woodlawn neighborhood of Chicago’s South Side.

The home—still under construction but already under contract to be sold—is listed on the company’s website at $389,000, and it’s a great example of the ambitious idea behind Greenline Homes. Van Horne is successfully building new middle-income homes sustainably and ethically in Chicago, a city with one of the hottest real estate markets in the country.

“There is a gaping hole in the new home market,” Van Horne says. “There are heavily subsidized projects for low- and very low-income families, and there are plenty of homes being built in the $700,000 to $1 million market. But there is not much in the $300,000 to $450,000 range in the city of Chicago, and there is a huge need for this high-quality housing.”

Greenline Homes is not the largest developer in Chicago, nor the flashiest, but Van Horne carved out a niche in the real estate space. The company brings the value of merchant, new-construction home building to neighborhoods that need more moderate-income housing. Right now, the company works exclusively in Woodlawn and the nearby Bronzeville neighborhood, also on Chicago’s South Side.

Above: Benjamin Van Horne is the president and founder of Greenline Homes. | Photo: Nima Taradji

Above: Andre Blacknard is a partner at Greenline Homes. | Photo: Nima Taradji

“Development without displacement” is one core tenet of the company, and has been, since Van Horn founded it in 1999. “I want to build in previously redlined neighborhoods,” he says, referencing government-sanctioned housing discrimination. Redlining refers to a practice in which home loans were selectively granted, and the company’s name is a nod to Van Horne’s desire to invest in neighborhoods that have suffered from neglect.

“I want to build or rehab homes that are constructed in a way that meets the community’s needs. At a bare minimum, it means I’m never going to kick someone out of their home. I’m not going to buy an occupied home. I only work with vacant properties. It means, for me, I use my capacity to build well and affordably to best meet the needs of the neighborhood.”

It’s a balance, certainly, but Van Horne thinks that through energy-efficient building methods like the staggered stud-wall framing technique and others, he can reduce costs and create comfortable living spaces. In short, he thinks he’s found the right mix.

“We focus on the air sealing,” he says. “It’s the low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency. It is the cheapest, easiest thing you can do, and it is more about paying attention and directing your subcontractors well, other than a big extra cost.”

Since 2009, the company has only built LEED-certified homes. As of last year, all new homes use electricity to heat and cool the space, and the company sites homes in highly accessible, transit-oriented neighborhoods.

“There are plenty of neighborhoods in cities around the world that would kill to have the Greenline; here we have a couple square miles of vacant land within walking distance of it,” Van Horne says. “From a city planning environmental point of view, you have to develop these areas. There is already such great transit access.”

In the last three years, the roof of each new Greenline Homes project is designed for the maximum number of solar arrays. Van Horne says the company is choosing its sites based on their solar capacity, which means finding large, vacant property with the best exposure to the sun.

“Every house planned has a rooftop, fully maximized for solar,” he says. “Not three panels as a demonstration project, but what is the most capacity we can get.”

Pointing at the roof, Andre Blacknard, a partner at Greenline Homes, explains that the company actually elevated the frame of this home to get more sun. Blacknard says that years ago, he became interested in green building and trying to get it done in Chicago. But does he think it can be done elsewhere? “I think it can,” Blacknard says. He thinks that Greenline Homes has figured out a new model.

The all-electric, efficient Greenline Homes fixed with solar panels save the homeowner a lot of money each month in utility costs, too. The average utility bill is around $17 a month.

Van Horne says the decision to go all solar and electric is based on more than energy efficiency. “If we want to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we have to show that this is better and possible, especially for the homeowners,” he says. “The electric HVAC systems are awesome, and they provide a level of comfort that most people are not used to.”

Battery-Operated Bronzeville

Van Horne works in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago, which will soon be home to one of the most innovative power grid projects in the United States.
ComEd, the largest utility in Illinois, is building a microgrid cluster in Bronzeville. The goal is to integrate solar and battery storage into one of Chicago’s most innovative, historic, and creative neighborhoods, while at the same time building a more resilient electricity grid. The project won a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Above: Mural by Bernard Williams celebrating Jessie ‘Ma’ Houston, a veteran civil rights and prisoner rights activist and early supporter of Operation PUSH (People United to Serve Humanity), located at the Houston Playground Park in Bronzeville. | Photo: Nima Taradji

During the mid-20th century, Bronzeville was a center of African American culture and business, and the site of many cultural and civic institutions—including the Regal Theater, Provident Hospital, George Cleveland Hall Library—as well as jazz, blues, and other music clubs. Community leaders today want to see sustainability and cutting-edge technology become part of Bronzeville’s history.

At first, ComEd’s microgrid will have .75 megawatts and .5 megawatts of battery storage and will serve 490 customers. As the project develops, ComEd will add 4.5 megawatts of load and 7.5 megawatts of controllable generation.

The microgrid will be able to operate as part of the larger power grid even on hot summer afternoons when customers are running air conditioning units and reaching peak electricity demand. Eventually, the microgrid will serve more than 1,000 customers, and power will still flow even during an outage from a storm or other event.

Microgrids offer power reliability in today’s technology-driven, digital world, and are sited at hospitals, military facilities, and other critical infrastructure to ensure that clean power is available even during emergencies. The U.S. military is one of the largest builders of microgrids in the world. The proximity of Bronzeville to critical services is one reason that the utility chose the neighborhood, according to Michelle Blaise, senior vice president of technical services for ComEd.

“Microgrids add resiliency, that was very important to us,” she says. “Within a catastrophic event, if you lose the main grid, a microgrid will enable the systems to continue to operate. What is critical are your public services—police, fire, hospitals, and transportation. Within Bronzeville, there is the Chicago police headquarters, and senior citizen homes. Bronzeville made sense for us to demonstrate the capabilities of a microgrid.”

Another reason: The Illinois Institute of Technology is nearby and operates its own microgrid. ComEd built an advanced microgrid controller with $1.2 million from the U.S. Department of Energy that allows the utility to cluster the microgrids together—the first of its kind in the United States.

Above: Local Alderman Pat Dowell

Above: Michelle Blaise is senior vice president of technical services for ComEd.

Blaise says it’s more than just exploring renewable and clean energy production on a neighborhood scale. Another goal is to spur economic development and community engagement. “Because this isn’t just about the technology. It is about the community,” she says.

ComEd developed the Community of the Future program in an effort to develop a community around a smart grid, a neighborhood-scale incubator for clean technology and ideas, and to enhance everyday life. The microgrid will be at the center of the initiative in Bronzeville, and smart switches and meters have already been installed across the entire neighborhood.

The utility is partnering with several community groups through an advisory council, and it has developed other pilots—a smart street light and an electric vehicle experiment. The EV pilot is located at a senior center on 53rd Street, where residents can catch a $3 ride in a car powered by a lithium-ion battery, and will expand to two more senior facilities in October.

Blaise says the project provides for real-world learning opportunities for how ComEd can coordinate with distributed resources like solar and battery storage, which provide an opportunity to reduce Chicago’s carbon footprint and support its economy. But their intermittent production poses challenges for the power grid. “This microgrid project will help us learn how to integrate higher levels of solar PV (photovoltaic) with energy storage battery so we can get the benefits of this technology while ensuring the safety and reliability of the grid,” she says.
Local Alderman Pat Dowell has said that Bronzeville is on the verge of a “new and exciting renaissance, poised to emerge as an epicenter of innovation. This is a new opportunity for Bronzeville,” Dowell says. “The microgrid project is cutting edge technology and I’m delighted that Bronzeville will have the first community microgrid in the country. Besides providing reliable and secure power to residents should an emergency occur, this initiative is a source for new jobs and business opportunities for African American companies working in the energy field.”

Dowell added that the microgrid project complements Bronzeville’s long history of innovation. “Our vision for our historic community is centered on sustainability and accelerating the adoption of smart technology and infrastructure,” she says. “The Bronzeville community looks forward to continuing a robust civic engagement process as we build out the components of the microgrid.”

ComEd broke ground on the solar array and battery storage facility this year, and the utility expects it will be completed by the end of the year. They hope to fully integrate with Illinois Tech by the end of 2019.

Near the University of Illinois campus in Champaign, Illinois, a utility-scale microgrid is already online.

Above: Richard Mark is Ameren’s president and chairman.

Above: Mike Kilpatrick is vice president of U.S. Power Systems Solutions.

Macro Microgrid

Located at its Technology Applications Center near the University of Illinois campus in Champaign, Illinois, Ameren operates the largest utility-scale microgrid in the United States, built with the help of S&C Electric.
Nearly every tour of Ameren’s PEER-certified microgrid includes a highly anticlimactic demonstration (PEER stands for Performance Excellence in Electricity Renewal). “It’s the most uneventful demo ever,” says Mike Kilpatrick, vice president of U.S. Power Systems Solutions for S&C Electric, an innovative power grid company.

The dull demo is evidence of why the project is innovative and that it works.
Ameren invested $5 million in the facility, which provides enough power to run 190 homes. The vast majority of these power customers have no idea that they receive electricity from one of the most advanced distribution systems on Earth.

During the demo Ameren will cut power from the larger grid for all users inside the microgrid, ensuring that all the electricity on the microgrid is derived from the distributed resources found on site—it’s called “islanding,” and it happens with little fanfare. “The lights don’t blink,” Kilpatrick says. “It’s just a video feed that shows you we flipped the switch.” It’s verification that the microgrid is disconnected from the larger power grid.

The unique thing about Ameren’s microgrid is that it has four different sources of energy. There are wind turbines, a small solar farm, a natural gas generator, and a large battery to store any extra energy that’s produced. The project is an exploration of how renewable energy resources can be seamlessly integrated into the power grid—a study of what the future will look like and what controls are needed to have a reliable, resilient, and more sustainable power grid.

“The big eye-opener for me with Ameren’s project was seeing just how critical the energy storage is to the microgrid,” Kilpatrick says. “It unlocks a lot more potential out of the wind and solar.”

Ameren tested the capacity of renewables when coupled with a large battery. The utility islanded the microgrid and shut down its gas generation for an entire day. “Charging the battery never went below 80 percent,” Kilpatrick says. “It was really interesting to show how far you can get with renewable integration and energy storage and not have traditional generation backup there.”

Ameren’s utility-scale microgrid was also the first in the world to be awarded PEER Gold, which recognizes high-performing electricity distribution systems. The certification is a nod not only to the microgrid’s reliability and resiliency but also to energy efficiency and best practices.

Richard Mark, Ameren’s president and chairman says, “With the technologies we’re testing at our Champaign microgrid, we’re on the ground floor of a movement that will one day reshape how energy is produced and delivered to our customers.” (Ameren and S&C are receiving the PEER Galvin Award at the Leadership Awards Reception at Greenbuild for this work.)


People’s Place

In its nearly century-long life, Chicago’s Navy Pier has transformed several times. One of the largest public piers in the world, its nicknames include the “3,000-foot-long exclamation point” and the “People’s Pier.” Navy Pier has been the site of harbor facilities, auditoriums, a jail for World War I draft dodgers, the Pageants of Progress in the early 1920s, and a Navy training center. It was also the one-time home of the University of Illinois.

In 2012, James Corner Field Operations redesigned it once again, this time as Chicago’s green spine, a structure of sustainable play.

At the time, Navy Pier was sunbaked and carnivalesque, filled with kitschy kiosks and mainly devoid of trees. It was the top tourist destination in the Midwest, but it wasn’t always frequented by Chicagoans.

Sarah Weidner Astheimer, a principal who managed the initial redesign, says the Field Operations team wanted to change the local idea of Navy Pier, engage the community and expand its off-season use. She says they wanted people to perceive it as a park. “A place that would celebrate Chicago’s history and a place that people could really feel proud and embrace as part of their daily lives.”

First, the firm reimagined the Pier’s South Dock promenade and entrance plaza. “South Dock was pretty hot and pretty barren and pretty cluttered,” Astheimer says. “There were hardly any trees and plants except for a few struggling planters—there were no spaces that felt comfortable for a person.”

Field Operations built more areas for people to sit and play, new architectural pavilions, fountains and water features. And they planted native plants, which are fed with rainwater through a drip irrigation system, to make the space more seasonally dynamic and sustainable.

Navy Pier’s energy consumption was reduced by 60 percent through efficient lighting and pumps, and other efficiency measures. All of the structural waste and 99.94 percent of roadway and infrastructure waste was diverted from landfill. In 2016, Navy Pier committed to using renewable resources for 100 percent of its energy needs for a period of five years.

“South Dock was subject to lots of piecemeal renovation projects over the years,” Astheimer says. “This was the opportunity to really consider South Dock holistically and think about it in a much more green and sustainable way.”

Above: The redesign of the Navy Pier achieved SITES Gold.

Navy Pier president and CEO Marilynn Kelly Gardner says the redesign created a model of sustainability for not only Chicago but also institutions around the world. “[That] was at the forefront of our minds as we embarked on the reimagination of the Pier’s public space,” says Gardner.

The redesign achieved SITES Gold—the first project to do so under the Sustainable SITES Initiative v2 rating system—which recognizes environmental commitment through the construction of green spaces, walkability, energy efficiency, recycling, and stormwater management.

Millennium Park, just across the Chicago River, flanked by the Art Institute of Chicago and bustling Michigan Avenue, is is another example of Chicago’s commitment to sustainability.

When the $480 million park opened in the East Loop in 2004, the New York Times called it a “modernist playground.” The site had been an industrial no man’s land, located between Grant Park to the south and the Illinois Central to the north. Today, the free public park has been redesigned with a bandshell crafted by Frank Gehry and some grand works of public sculpture: the Bean—that’s what locals call Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate—and the joyful video fountain designed by Jaume Plensa, called Crown Fountain.

A few years ago, the 24.5-acre park overtook Navy Pier as the number one tourist attraction in the region—20 million people visited in the second half of 2016—while also transforming the office and business district that surrounds it. By 2011, residential home values facing the park increased by as much as $250 a square foot, according to an economic impact study.

This year, the Millennium Park Foundation studied how people engaged with the park. Scott Stewart, executive director of the foundation, says they will begin another park renovation in 2019.

“We have 15 years worth of understanding of how people use the park, says Stewart. “We are documenting where people like to gather, where people like to sit and listen to music, and where people like to eat their lunches. There are other areas where people don’t engage in the landscape, and we’re identifying opportunities in all of these areas to redesign the landscape.”

Details of the project will be released later this year. The foundation plans to plant native plants, develop areas to host pollinators, provide shelter and feed for birds, and maximize the overall ecological function of major areas of the park.

“I think we have a real opportunity—an obligation—as a premier urban cultural public space to promote ideas of urban ecology in urban sustainability through everything we do,” Stewart says. “Not just our programs or vision statements but through plants and structure in the ground that reflect those same qualities.”

Above: Millennium Park in Chicago features works of art by Frank Gehry and Anish Kapoor.


Education and Environment

Environmental sustainability is at the center of the educational philosophy of Chicago’s Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC), a public charter school located in the Garfield Ridge neighborhood of Chicago’s Southwest Side. Here, students work in an organic urban garden, eat 100 percent organic breakfast and lunch, harvest honey from the school’s beehives, and care for free range chickens.

Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, the school’s founder and executive director, says the school’s mission was to reimagine the purpose of education and cultivate the next generation of globally minded citizens. She hopes to instill the necessary skills in students to take environmental action in their community. “Our entire kindergarten through eighth-grade educational philosophy is rooted in environmental sustainability,” she says. “It’s woven throughout everything that we do and teach throughout the day.”

The academy was founded in 2008 and currently serves 468 students. About 10,000 teachers, principals, superintendents, and other educators from around the world have visited AGC, and Ippel and AGC’s leadership are sharing their teaching model through a co-authored a book called Reimagine Education: Designing the School to Change the World, and an educational toolkit and sustainability handbook. They estimate the academy has touched 1.5 million students. Former First Lady Michelle Obama invited the academy’s founding team to the White House. In 2012, the school was recognized as a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School, and it has won awards and recognitions from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. House of Representatives and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and has been profiled by a long list of national and local media organizations.

The academy hopes to once again redefine learning in the construction of a new sustainably-minded campus and organic farm. Designed by Studio Gang Architects, the new academy campus will produce more energy than it consumes. Ippel says the net-positive school will be built around the curiosity of children and redefine a traditional school space. For one, there won’t be classrooms, but fluid learning environments—both inside and outside—to facilitate creativity and interaction with the natural world.

The new campus will have solar panels and geothermal power. It will be planted with native prairie grasses and equipped with innovative stormwater management techniques. The new farm will be on three acres, and it will include orchards, community gardens, greenhouses, and a learning barn. Students will grow much of their own produce. Food and nutrition is integrated into the daily curriculum with teaching kitchens and other experiential learning projects.

“We are really excited to push the envelope and be among the first projects in the Midwest that really shows what’s possible in this climate and in this environment, where people don’t always believe that it’s possible,” Ippel says. “It’s not only for us an imperative because of our fundamental beliefs around sustainability, but we also see this as an incredible learning opportunity not only for our students but also for our community and ultimately the world. We believe this is the future. This is absolutely where the future is heading.”

Above: The Academy teaches children how to grow their own food. A three-acre farm built on the property will include greenhouses and a learning barn. | Photo: Nima Taradji

Above: The Academy teaches children how to grow their own food. A three-acre farm built on the property will include greenhouses and a learning barn. | Photo: Nima Taradji

Above: Sarah Elizabeth Ippel is the founder and executive director of Chicago’s Academy for Global Citizenship. | Photo: Nima Taradji


Build Well

Leopardo Companies Inc., one of the largest builders in the United States with a substantial résumé of LEED-certified projects, is redefining sustainability for itself at its new office in Chicago. The company wants to incorporate health and wellness into its plans and is pursuing dual LEED and WELL certifications.

Environmental consciousness has long been a core value of the company, but Leopardo executives hope to make it part of employees’ everyday lives. They want to create a model for other companies to follow and are trying to “walk the walk.”

Patty Lloyd, Leopardo’s sustainability manager, says that the certification process is having an unexpected impact: It’s changing the corporate culture, too. “I’m a sustainability manager, so I’m married to the environment,” she says. But now that she has been exposed to the WELL standards “my eating habits have changed,” she says. “It’s having a positive impact at work and when I go home. I think for LEED, it’s the same thing—it gives people exposure to these ideas.”

On a sweltering July afternoon, Lloyd is wearing a yellow safety vest and hard hat. She points around the third floor of a construction site. Over in that corner? That’ll be a golf simulator. That dip in the polished concrete? “One of two balconies,” she says. “People will come out here to make phone calls, have meetings, or just take a break.”

Lloyd surveys what will be the firm’s sleek 24,000-square-foot headquarters at 210 N. Carpenter, a 12-story boutique office building located in the Fulton Market District of Chicago.

On its first day of operation, 56 people will stream into the new space. They will sit in ergonomic chairs or raise their desk and work while standing. The work areas will be sectioned off with sleek dividers, a design meant to be comfortable, encourage collaboration, and make heating and cooling more efficient.

The vast majority will arrive by public transit, bike, or on a shuttle from Ogilvie and Union Station. The company looked at five different locations, and proximity to public transit was a top priority. As a Pink Line train rattles by, its chugging sound echoes around the space.

Above: Patty Lloyd is Leopardo’s sustainability manager. | Photo: Nima Taradji

Indeed, the new office is at eye level with the “L,” Chicago’s century-old elevated train system, close enough to hit with a well-aimed tennis ball. But not to worry, Kevin Gujral, a senior project manager for Leopardo says, the company is upgrading the glazing on the windows to help dampen the sound of the train. “You will still hear it some,” he says, but it will be a white noise.

Leopardo hopes its employees will benefit from all of these features, plus access to gyms, clean air, and healthy snacks—all an effort to promote health and wellness. “You want to do jazzercise?” she says. “Great, we’ll support you. You want a gym membership? Great, we’ll support you.”

Gujral and Lloyd ride the construction lift up and walk out onto the roof, where elevated planters will be home to trees, ground cover, and annuals. Molly Meyer of OMNI Ecosystems, a local company specializing in green roofs, is planning the garden.

With the outdoor terrace overlooking the Chicago skyline, the top floor will also be home to a bar and lounge, complete with a food prep area and galley for staging caterers. Also, employees can use a full-service fitness center, yoga room, locker rooms with showers, and a 50-foot, two-lane lap swimming pool.

But there won’t be any smoking, a rule that checks a box for WELL and LEED certification. “One question I get all the time: Are WELL and LEED competing?” she says. “WELL credits have synergy with LEED, and there’s a lot of them—active transportation support, smoking ban. There is a crosswalk from LEED to WELL.”

Leopardo expects to move into the space in December of 2018. The mixed-use building is being developed by Sterling Bay. The architect is Solomon Cordwell Buenz and Partners by Design, for the office space. Leopardo is the general contractor on site and the first tenant.

Above: One of Leopardo’s projects, Radio Flyer’s headquarters, was named to Crain’s Chicago Business 2017 list of Coolest Offices.

Hotel Headquarters

One of the very first U.S. projects to pursue dual LEED and WELL certification is Hyatt’s new headquarters in Chicago’s West Loop, which occupies 10 floors of a 54-story skyscraper located at 150 N. Riverside Plaza.

Constructed on the confluence of three branches of the Chicago River, the building is a feat of engineering and has transformed a barren stretch of the riverbank. Today, Chicagoans can visit 1.5 acres of public parks at the building’s base. The land is rehabbed riverfront property in an area once dubbed Smokey Hollow because of all the industrial emissions. The skyscraper is a feature of the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s famous boat tour.

Ted Lorenzi, director of facilities for Hyatt, says that sustainability and wellness begin with good building bones, and the forward-thinking construction checked many of the WELL rating boxes. Hyatt took care of the rest through innovative design that streamlined heating and cooling, maximizing energy efficiency and air quality. Location and access to public transit helps, too—the building is walking distance from Ogilvie and Union Station. Workers arriving by transit are not driving, a way to reduce the company’s overall footprint. “We only have like 20 parking spots,” Lorenzi says.

Stepping into the lobby of Hyatt’s new headquarters is like walking into one of their hotels. Receptionists sit behind long tables, tapping away on small laptops. The walls are polished cement and white oak, the floor a gray terrazzo; bathed in sunlight from the floor-to-ceiling windows.

There’s a fireplace and a coffee and pastry bar, and a lounge with communal tables, couches, and large chairs. One employee said they were tempted to sit by the fire with a glass of rosé while cranking out a few emails.

Employees work from desks, any of the 137 small meeting rooms, or 52 mini phone rooms. Larger meetings are held in conference rooms, and many people gather in an open floor work area. The layout is designed to strike a balance between individual and collaborative space, but Lorenzi says it also helps reduce energy from the building’s HVAC, which runs on an automated system of demand control ventilation.

Above: Ted Lorenzi is the director of facilities for Hyatt. | Photo: Nima Taradji

The system can detect when a huddle room is unoccupied. “When there is no one in the space the air conditioning shuts off,” says Keara Fanning, the Central Region sustainability practice lead for commercial real estate firm JLL.

Innovative space design, along with nearly 100 percent LED energy-efficient lights throughout the entire space, helped the company meet its energy efficiency goals. Hyatt achieved all available points toward LEED certification in the Water Efficiency credit category, and nearly all available points for the Energy and Atmosphere category. “We control the light levels dimming, occupancy sensors, everything from any computer,” Lorenzi says. The space achieved LEED Platinum with a score of 83 out of 110. The project also earned full points for credits related to site selection, development density and community connectivity, and providing access to public transportation.

“Platinum was the goal from the onset,” Fanning says. “It was a no-brainer from the beginning and that was really refreshing to work with a client that understood how LEED could actually be an investment for them. It wasn’t just a checklist.”

After the sustainable construction and design, the biggest lift toward meeting Hyatt’s goals was crafting the staff food and beverage program. They had to reduce typical serving sizes to match the WELL requirements—snacks should have less than 30 grams of sugar. The office has a dedicated café that serves breakfast prepared by a corporate chef. For lunch, employees can choose from the chef’s hot options and a station run by the company Fooda, which brings in meals from local restaurants along with sandwiches and salads. There are healthy snacks provided, too.

Hyatt’s plans included a soda machine. Fanning worried that the sugary drinks would kill the certification, but the company found a solution to serving these sugary drinks. In a kind of lightbulb moment, Fanning realized they could reduce the size of the glasses. “The certification is not meant to be a Big Brother dictating to people what they should do,” Fanning says. “All we’re trying to do is build a positive environment to help them essentially make good choices.”

Kristen Conry, former vice president of global design services at Hyatt, says the company listened to its employees’ ideas about workspace design in the same way its guests’ comments guide the design of the hotel experience. “What we heard led us to design a space that provides balance and choice, embodies our culture and purpose, and enables collaboration and innovation,” Conry says.

Above: Hyatt Headquarters in Chicago uses nearly 100 percent LED energy-efficient lights to help meet its energy efficiency goals. | Photo: Nima Taradji

Above: The Hyatt’s spaces are meant to foster collaboration between employees. | Photo: Nima Taradji

Above: The project also earned full points for site selection, development density, and community engagement. | Photo: Nima Taradji

A Model for the Future

So, where does Chicago go from here? There’s still work to be done, much of it around building energy emissions, which account for 71 percent of the city’s emissions. Chicago’s benchmarking ordinance is a good start, along with highlighting sustainable projects and other initiatives like Retrofit Chicago, an incentive that encourages private companies to spend money on efficiency upgrades.

Many cities have struggled to address emissions from buildings, which requires engagement from owners and private contractors. There is never a single solution, but city leaders say that reducing building energy consumption is the only way to meet its goals. Through the Retrofit Chicago program, the city estimates that it has reduced emissions by 70,000 metric tons and saved 90 million kilowatt-hours per year, the equivalent of almost 8,000 homes.

In order for Chicago to hit its ambitious energy targets, it will also need to continue to improve its public transportation and clean up its bus fleet. To start, the city recently spent $32 million on 20 new electric buses.

Despite committing municipal resources to sustainable energy and shuttering several coal-fired power plants, much of the energy mix in the region is still reliant on coal, although energy experts say that this is changing rapidly, especially with the passage of the Future Energy Jobs Act.

Imus says the work now is to take it out of Chicago’s front yard, the glitzy downtown Loop and downtown neighborhoods, and into the rest of the city and elsewhere.

How will the city retain its recognition as a leader in advancing the latest trends in green building? Imus says Chicago needs to leverage its existing programs. “There’s a huge investment by ComEd in energy efficiency being driven by the Future Energy Jobs Act. There is a community solar program.”

But business and city leaders also have to reach out to community partners and make sure they have the resources to take advantage of all of these programs. Imus says Chicago needs to “take what the green building community has learned in advancing LEED buildings here and bring it to more buildings and more neighborhoods that may not have been impacted by the green building movement yet.”

If any city can do it, Chicago can.

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