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1. Programme context Citywide reduction target(s) As mapped out in the Chicago Climate Action Plan (CCAP) created in 2008, the City of Chicago aims to reduce CO2 emissions by 25% by 2020 and 80% by 2050, compared to 1990 levels.

Built environment context and programme background In the 19th century Chicago gave birth to the modern skyscraper. In the 20th century, the city built a spectacular skyline that is a living monument to innovative architecture and design. Now, in the 21st century, Chicago is working to make that skyline one of the most energy efficient in the world. Residents and businesses in Chicago spend more than $3 billion each year on energy consumption, and building energy use accounts for 71% of citywide GHG emissions. Much of the building stock’s energy expenditures are spent on Chicago’s 3,246 heating degree days (C)1 during cold months. This amount of required heating is the primary metric through which the U.S. Department of Energy defines the City of Chicago as having a “cold climate”. To advance Chicago’s long-term climate and environmental goals through practical, near-term action, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel led public and private stakeholders in creating the Sustainable Chicago Action Agenda (City of Chicago, 2012). This plan identified energy efficiency and the promotion of renewable energy as key components of citywide sustainability efforts. The Retrofit Chicago Energy Challenge (henceforth “the Challenge”) emerged from this context. It represents an important piece of the City of Chicago’s participation in the Better Buildings Challenge launched by President Obama and the U.S. Department of Energy in 2011. This national initiative mobilises local governments, businesses and partner institutions across the U.S. to bring cities to take measures to improve the energy efficiency of commercial, industrial, residential and public buildings by 20% over 10 years. Chicago’s participation in the Better Buildings Challenge comprises of three related programmes (commercial, municipal, residential). The focus of this case study is on the segment of Retrofit Chicago targeting commercial, non-profit, institutional and other private sector buildings.

Credit: Roman Boed /


1 The degree-day measurement is the difference in temperature between the average outdoor temperature over a 24-hour period and a given base temperature for a building space, typically 25°C. It represents the magnitude of heating requirements in a location. Examples of other cities are 2,420 in Seattle, 2,509 in New York City, and 2,967 in Philadelphia (source: ).


Urban Efficiency II: Seven Innovative City Programmes for Existing Building Energy Efficiency  

Urban Efficiency II: Seven Innovative City Programmes for Existing Building Energy Efficiency builds on research in the successful predecess...