Case Studies

USGBC Illinois Chapter

Powering the green building evolution in the Windy City and beyond

For several years in a row, Illinois has topped the list of states driving the green building industry, setting a precedent in sustainability and energy efficiency in all forms of building space. With 161 buildings and nearly 44 million square feet of certified LEED space, Illinois again claims first place in the U.S. Green Building Council’s annual study, “The Top 10 States for LEED.” Illinois has more per capita green building square footage than any other state in the nation.

USGBC-Illinois Chapter

At the forefront of the green building push in greater Chicagoland and beyond is the USGBC-Illinois Chapter, an organization that brings together 800-plus members representing the entire spectrum of the state’s green building community — real estate professionals, architects, engineers, designers, contractors, product manufacturers, state and local government officials, homebuilders, homeowners — anyone who wants to support the green building mission.

“Year after year Illinois sets a high bar for green building thanks to the dynamic network of companies and industry leaders who have made sustainability part of their business model,” says Brian Imus, executive director of USGBC-Illinois.

Energy action at work

Another factor that’s changing the green energy market is the Chicago Energy Benchmarking Ordinance. Put into action in 2013, the ordinance calls on Chicago’s largest institutional, commercial and residential buildings to track, verify and report whole-building energy use. Bringing in a standard for energy metrics, analysis and transparency in Chicago’s built environment, the benchmarking ordinance holds the potential to unlock energy savings, increase asset value and protect the environment. “The ordinance is dramatically raising awareness among building managers, and building service providers to help them know and understand what to do to become more efficient, save money and get recognized for their success,” says Imus. “Other cities have passed energy benchmarking ordinances before ours, but certain features included in Chicago’s such as verification and not-for-profit support of implementation is unique to Chicago.”

“There’s a big commitment not just from green building professionals, but also businesses and major corporations based here. With these leaders in support, there’s potential to export our design and engineering know how to emerging markets around the world where there’s a growing demand for green building.”

– Brian Imus, executive director of USGBC-Illinois Chapter

Imus, whose background is in urban planning and architecture, has worked in the nonprofit sector for many years, researching and lobbying around consumer and environmental policy. He says in terms of green building, there’s no better place to be than Chicago. “It’s great to be in a place that’s supported by such a strong, robust green building community. There are so many unique industries coming to the table and it’s great to be a part of this and to help foster it through USGBC-Illinois.”

Imus says green leaders join USGBC-Illinois for many reasons, but mostly to connect with other leaders from different sectors of the green economy. “They also join to help promote the latest trends in design and technology, but really it’s about strong connections,” he says. “Another reason companies and individuals join us is because they want to use their unique expertise to make a difference in the community.”

USGBC-Illinois makes headway every year in promoting smart design and energy efficient building and facility management by more than 75 chapter events and programs for members and the general public. “We offer everything from building tours to a LEED fellows’ daylong credentials workshop, giving members the opportunity to hear from LEED fellows and educators,” says Imus.

For the last three years, USGBC-Illinois has hosted the GreenBuilt Home Tour covering 16 homes and more than 2,000 home visits throughout Chicago and surrounding boroughs. “This is a program our members organized and has been a huge hit,” says Imus. “We open the tours up to builders, designers and homeowners interested in residential green building trends and technology. The tours also help homeowners learn tips to renovate or build their own green home and connect them to experienced professionals in the residential green building field.”

Healthier schools, workplaces and homes for the future

Another program USGBC-Illinois is a proud supporter of is Green Ribbon Schools. In partnership with the Illinois State Board of Education, USGBC-Illinois accepts applications from schools that integrate best practices in energy, water and waste management, healthy school environments and environmental education. The applications are scored by a panel based on three pillars: reduced environmental impact and costs; improved health and wellness of schools, students, staff and environmental education, teaching disciplines that effectively incorporate STEM, civic skills and green career pathways.

Despite the prevalence of green building in Chicago, Imus says the industry is still up against some hurdles. “One of the biggest challenges we face is overcoming the misconception that green building has to cost more — that’s not the case,” adds Imus. “The other challenge is factoring in the latest technology and trends and making them work in the existing building stock, especially for facility managers and building owners who lack the time and resources. We help direct them to information and support services. We also offer free trainings in how to comply with the energy benchmarking ordinance and how to go beyond just benchmarking and actually implement energy efficient measures.”

With the proper support, Imus says he sees huge potential for Chicago’s green building market to flourish, well beyond the Windy City. “There’s a big commitment not just from green building professionals, but also businesses and major corporations based here,” he says. “With these leaders in support, there’s potential to export our design and engineering know how to emerging markets around the world where there’s a growing demand for green building.”

Imus says green building is so important because it helps fuel healthy communities: “Overall, it improves quality of life and strengthens neighborhoods — this is what inspires me daily and it’s why I’m in this industry.” Through ongoing education, advocacy and collaboration USGBC-Illinois continues its mission, helping Illinois remain a nationwide leader in green building, smart design and energy efficiency.

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