Scarlet Letter E: Chicago will out its energy hogs

Can public shaming help reduce energy consumption?

view of chicago from the building formerly known as the sears tower.png
Chicago wants to start using public shaming -- rather, energy benchmarking -- as a way to reduce energy usage in its biggest buildings. IEEE Spectrum reports.

Last week, the city council passed an ordinance that will require operators of about 3,500 buildings with more than 50,000 square feet of floor space to track and verify energy consumption and report it directly to the city.

Only 1 percent of Chicago's buildings will be covered under the ordinance, according to the Chicago Tribune, but they account for 22 percent of the city's total building-related energy use.

The city wants to cut energy use by 30 percent by 2020 in half its buildings, and it thinks public disclosure would help spur the market for energy efficiency and encourage building owners to make improvements.

According to the press release [pdf]:

If the buildings covered by this ordinance make energy efficiency improvements that result in just 5% of energy savings, this will result in a $250 million investment. This investment will not only create jobs, it will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by removing the equivalent of at least 50,000 cars from the roads.

  • Building energy consumption will be tracked using Portfolio Manager, an online tool administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Energy use data will be reported annually to the city through an automated process; the data must be verified by a licensed architect or engineer every three years.
  • The city will publish an annual report on energy efficiency and publicly disclose individual building energy performance starting June 2015.

Eight cities and two states already require energy benchmarking, including: Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York, Boston, California and Washington state.

The largest commercial and municipal buildings will be the first report, in June 2014. Residential buildings between 50,000 and 250,000 square feet won’t have to begin reporting until June 2016 -- giving building owners a chance to improve.

There isn't any particular idea for improving energy use contained within the laws, IEEE explains: they're just intended to get people embarrassed enough to do something to improve.

[City of Chicago Press Office via IEEE Spectrum, Chicago Tribune]

Image: J. Fang

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com