Over the past year, Chicago has emerged as one of the leading cites for energy-efficient building practices. Based on the number of LEED certifications awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), Chicago came in third in the country with 75 certifications between January 2016 and mid-March 2017. The only U.S. cities with more certifications during this period were Washington D.C. (117) and New York (108). Among the cities on the list with LEED certifications, Chicago is the only non-coastal city at the top. When cites are ranked according to the total square footage of LEED-certified space, Chicago comes in second with more than 25 million square feet.
Established in 1993, USGBC was created in order to promote an increased focus on sustainability practices in the building industry. In 2000, USBGC introduced its LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system, which awards points to new or newly renovated buildings based on the sustainability of their design and operation. Since its creation, LEED has gone through a number of updates in order to stay market relevant and adapt to new and emerging research.
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LEED certification is available for almost every type of building or community in both the public and private sectors. Buildings that apply for LEED certification are given a strict set of prerequisite requirements according to the building type. These requirements must be met before they can start earning points toward one of four levels of certification. The four levels of certification include Certified (40-49 points), Silver (50-59 points), Gold (60-79 points), and Platinum (80+ points). According to the Chicago Business Journal, only about five percent of all the buildings certified since LEED began have been awarded Platinum certification. Currently, a majority of LEED properties have attained either Gold or Silver certification.
Chicago was at the forefront of adopting green building practices. In fact, it was an early participant in LEED certification; completing its first LEED certified building in 2001 – the U.S. Navy Bachelor Enlisted Quarters at Great Lakes Naval Station. Since then, more than 400 buildings in Chicago have been awarded LEED certification.
The Chicago Department of Planning and Development has been instrumental in promoting the move toward more sustainable building practices. In 2004, they created the Chicago Sustainable Development Policy, which required all real estate developments receiving financial assistance from the city to obtain a recognized form of green building certification (i.e., LEED). In addition, the city has created incentives, like expedited permits, to encourage buildings to become sustainably certified.