Local Government Leading: City of Chicago

By Better Buildings Beat Team on Dec 12, 2018

This installment of the Local Government Leading blog series highlights the City of Chicago, Illinois.

In addition to being a Better Buildings Challenge (BBC) Partner, Chicago was recently selected as a winner of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ American Cities Climate Challenge. Chicago was selected because of its broad and ambitious Climate Action Plan. The plan outlines five strategies and 35 actions to achieve the goal of reducing citywide greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2020 and 80% by 2050.

As a winner of the Climate Challenge, Chicago will receive technical assistance valued at up to $2.5 million. Bloomberg Philanthropies will work with the city through its acceleration program to achieve an accelerated reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 through the following actions:

  • Accelerate energy code compliance and city workforce training;
  • Encourage new low-carbon mobility options, such as expanding bike-share services to reach 100% of the city and developing policies that support car sharing and transit ridership while reducing vehicle ownership;
  • Define and expand the high-frequency public transit network to increase ridership by developing a strategy for increasing services;
  • Create an electric vehicle and solar readiness framework;
  • Expand renewable energy procurement and the solar workforce to meet municipal electricity demand.


In addition to its Climate Action Plan, Chicago also established a goal to achieve a 20% energy reduction across 24 million-square-feet of public and private buildings in the city by 2022 through a separate, voluntary commitment to the Better Buildings Challenge.

Chicago has improved energy performance by an average of 4.3% per year from a 2011 baseline, which is comparable to a 22% cumulative improvement. As a result, Chicago has met and exceeded its 20% savings goal in advance of the city's goal year of 2022. Chicago’s success can be partially attributed to a series of concrete, sector-specific efforts encompassed in the Retrofit Chicago initiative launched in 2012. Retrofit Chicago is a cross-sector effort to drive energy efficiency in municipal, commercial, and residential buildings across the city.

  • Municipal Buildings: 60 municipal buildings covering 4.9 million square feet were retrofitted with more than $12 million secured by the Chicago Infrastructure Trust, an innovative way to leverage private investment for transformative infrastructure projects. The estimated impacts from the completed retrofits are $1.4 million in savings and an 18% energy reduction.
  • Commercial Buildings: 90 buildings spanning over 57 million square feet have committed to the Retrofit Chicago Energy Challenge, a voluntary initiative that challenges large, private building owners to reduce whole-building energy use by 20% over five years. To facilitate participants’ progress toward meeting their commitment, the city leveraged public-private partnerships to deliver customized Energy Road Maps with technical and strategic recommendations aimed at maximizing internal rate of return and utility incentives. Current participants have reduced energy use by 17%, saving more than $11 million in energy costs per year.
  • Residential Buildings: The Retrofit Chicago Residential Partnership brings together organizations seeking to advance residential energy efficiency for Chicago residents. Residential efforts in single and multi-family homes include weatherization, appliance upgrades, and energy-saving behavior. The Partnership has saved Chicago residents over $4 million annually with over 100,000 installations of energy saving products in residences and over 20,000 deeper retrofit improvements.


Chicago also announced a new initiative modeled after Retrofit Chicago called the Chicago Renewable Energy Challenge in November 2018.  The Renewable Energy Challenge is a voluntary leadership effort to accelerate the installation of renewable energy in commercial and institutional properties across the city. The initiative is designed to support the Mayor’s 2017 commitment to transition Chicago to 100% renewable energy to power all city buildings by 2025.  Members of the Renewable Energy Challenge commit to achieve 100% renewable energy to power one or more participating buildings in Chicago by 2035 or sooner and maintain it for at least 10 years. 

Through its ambitious goals and innovative initiatives, Chicago is demonstrating leadership in improving building energy performance, utilizing renewable energy, and expanding sustainable transportation options in order to secure a more resilient economy and healthier environment for its citizens.

Be sure to check out our previous Local Government Leading installments featuring the City of SeattleDistrict of Columbia, City of Philadelphia, City of Los Angeles, City of Boston, City of San Diego, and City of Pittsburgh.