Chicago Achieves LEED for Cities Platinum

09/26/2018 | By Sarah Kloepple

The city of Chicago continues to live up to its title as the nation’s greenest city (as ranked by the Green Building Adoption Index). It recently received the highest level of certification available from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC): LEED for Cities Platinum.

“Chicago continues to show world-class leadership when it comes to reducing harmful carbon pollution while also strengthening and improving neighborhoods across the city,” says Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a statement. Sustainability is a major part of Emanuel’s platform as mayor.

He continues, “This award is evidence that our efforts are making an impact. We will keep accelerating initiatives that improve our quality of life and conserve resources, all while supporting clean, 21st-century jobs.”

Chicago just achieved LEED for Cities Platinum Certification
(Photo: Chicago - just achieved LEED for Cities Platinum Certification)

How Chicago Got There

The LEED for Cities program, established in 2016, enables cities to measure and communicate performance, focusing on outcomes from ongoing sustainability efforts across an array of metrics, including energy, water, waste, transportation and human experience (i.e. health and safety, education).

Vatsal Bhatt, director of Cities and Communities at the USGBC, says that the program was established to be in line with the organization’s vision that in order to sustain a future for the next generation, all green building must focus on the development of smart cities and communities.

“We saw that cities need a flexible, credible and globally consistent way to communicate continuous performance across an array of objectives and to different types of stakeholders,” he says. “Additionally, cities are seeking ways to compare and benchmark aspects of their performance to other cities. The idea behind LEED for Cities is to revolutionize the way cities are planned, developed and operated.”

Related: 10 Tips for Green Building Certification

Before earning this certification, Chicago had already done such things as enact the Energy Benchmarking Ordinance, which requires large buildings across the city to measure and report energy use. That ordinance is associated with Chicago’s collective savings of more than $39 million over three years.

In addition, Mayor Emanuel, in 2017, committed the city to using 100-percent renewable energy in all municipal facilities. Seventy percent of Chicago’s space is now green certified.

“Chicago already had a robust city-wide sustainability plan, but the framework provided by LEED for Cities set up the city to continually benchmark and improve upon its efforts,” says Bhatt. He adds, “Chicago showed great initiative in pursuing LEED for Cities, as it already has a long history of sustainable development that includes nearly 750 LEED-certified buildings, representing more than 233 million gross square feet of space.”

In 2017, Chicago also hosted the North American Climate Summit, bringing together more than 50 municipal leaders from across the U.S., Canada and Mexico to discuss the goals of the Paris Agreement and highlight the scope and scale of city climate action. There, many signed the Chicago Climate Charter, where cities pledged to do such things as track and publicly report city emissions, recognize and include groups traditionally underrepresented in climate policy, and advocate for greater local authority and flexibility so cities can take aggressive action on climate.

In November 2018, Chicago will host the Greenbuild International Conference & Expo, the largest convening of green building professionals in the world.

What it Means to Be LEED for Cities-Certified

Chicago is now one of seven cities in the world to receive this highest level of certification available from the USGBC. The first city to receive LEED for Cities Platinum was Washington, D.C., in 2017.

The five other cities include:

  • Phoenix, Arizona
  • Lancaster, Pennsylvania
  • San Jose, California
  • Surat, India
  • Savona, Italy

The two municipalities that have achieved LEED for Communities Platinum are:

  • Arlington County, Virginia
  • San Diego County, California

LEED-certified cities and communities have access to Arc, “a digital performance platform that enables cities to better track sustainability performance and improve related programs.” According to the USGBC, with these certifications, cities can show their commitment to sustainability policies and ensure long-term vitality of the community.

Bhatt explains, “By providing cities with a framework for measuring and managing the performance of water consumption, energy use, health and safety, equitability, waste and transportation on a city-wide level, we can improve the quality of life of citizens around the world.”


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