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Public Shaming': Chicago to Require Biggest Energy Users to Disclose Numbers


"...intended to get people embarrassed enough to do something to improve."

The downtown Chicago, Illinois skyline, including the Willis Tower (R), formerly known as the Sears Tower, as viewed from the John Hancock Tower, May 18, 2012, on the eve of the NATO summit. After a decade in Afghanistan, NATO leaders gather for a key summit May 20, 2012, hoping for a show of unity in the final two years of combat -- even though allies are eager to bring troops home. (Photo credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Building managers in Chicago are complaining they will be put through "public shaming" after the city council voted to require them to publicly disclose their energy use in the city's bid to cut it by 30 percent by 2020, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The downtown Chicago, Illinois skyline, The downtown Chicago skyline. Managers of some of the city's largest buildings, under a new city ordinance, are required to publicly disclose energy use starting next year. (Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Beginning next year, Chicago buildings will submit annual reports regarding their energy efficiency and could be compared to their peers.

Only buildings larger than 50,000 square feet will be required to report data to a program the Tribune compared to TurboTax run through the EPA, called Energy Star Portfolio Manager.

Buildings in the city account for 70 percent of Chicago's energy use, the Tribune noted of CNT Energy's stats, but these larger buildings take up 22 percent of portion.

The Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago opposed this public disclosure, expressing a wish that it be released to "interested parties" only, according to the Tribune.

Alderman Brenden Reilly to opposed the ordinance, saying it would lead to competition among the buildings, leading to expensive efficiency retrofits to reduce energy use and entice people to invest in the building.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel doesn't see a problem with this.

“Do you check the mileage before you purchase a car? Do you check the energy-efficiency of a utility before you purchase it? Do you do comparative? What is wrong with providing people information?" Emanuel said, according to the Tribune.

Emanuel said in a statement that "good data drives markets and innovation."

“This ordinance will accelerate Chicago’s growth as a capital for green jobs by arming building owners, real estate companies, energy service companies and others with the information they need to make smart, cost-saving investments," Emanuel's statement continued.

According to the city's announcement about the ordinance passing, buildings making energy efficiency improvements could see a 5 percent energy savings, translating to $250 million in savings city-wide and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to removing 50,000 cars from the roads.

IEEE spectrum pointed out that this "scarlet-letter route" isn't anything new, noting Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., New York and other cities having similar benchmarking practices.

"The interesting thing about this plan is that there isn't any particular idea for improving energy use contained within the laws. They're just intended to get people embarrassed enough to do something to improve," Dave Levitan for IEEE spectrum wrote of Chicago's ordinance.

All in all, "no one wants that big red E on their building," Levitan continued later in his post, "we'll see if benchmarking really ends up making a dent in our energy use."



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