Why Chicago's challenging businesses to switch to renewable energy

Chicago already has a track record of commitment to renewable energy, energy efficiency and environmental stewardship that extends back to 2011 if not earlier. While its population and economy have grown, the city has charted reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, won a 2017 ENERGY STAR award and other recognitions for its efforts to protect the environment through energy efficiency, embarked on a smart street lighting project, committed to renewable energy for public buildings and more.

It's an admirable record, but what other cities can take away from Chicago's environmental protection and energy strategies is that, like its Retrofit Chicago Energy Challenge, they're very much built on collaboration. And that collaboration occurs on a broad scale, including collaboration between city agencies, utilities, local institutions and businesses. It's a tool cities large and small can and should be using as they work toward their smart city transformations. — Doug Peeples


Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced in April of last year that the city's public schools, park district, housing authority, fleet and facility management and city colleges had signed on to switch to 100% renewable energy for their buildings by 2025.

Last week he said the program would be extended to private sector buildings throughout the city in what the city refers to as its Chicago Renewable Energy Challenge.

"We are proud of our pledge to use 100% clean energy for municipal facilities, and now we are extending a challenge to the private sector to do the same," Emanuel said in a statement. "Chicago is not only leading  by example, but doing its part to work with our business community to drive down harmful carbon pollution while supporting clean energy jobs for the 21st century."

In 2016, city agencies and departments used 1.8 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, 8% of the city's total energy consumption.

Founding members of the Renewable Energy Challenge have committed to converting at least one or more of their buildings to 100% renewable energy by 2025 or earlier and to maintain the commitment for at least 10 years. Founding members also have committed to collectively reducing energy use by 184.5 million kilowatt-hours annually.

And there are some very big names among those founding members, including local universities, the McDonald's restaurant chain and Council Global Lead Partner Microsoft.

"A healthier, more sustainable future will require greater investment in renewable energy, which is why we invested in an Illinois wind farm in 2014 and have grown our investments in renewable energy globally to more than 1.2 gigawatts in three continents today," said Adam Hecktman, Microsoft Director of Technology & Civic Innovation for Chicago.

A statewide commitment to renewables
As of the November 6 general election, it also looks like the state of Illinois will follow a very similar path toward a renewable energy future. Newly-elected Governor J.B. Pritzker promised in a statement on his campaign website, "As governor, I will bring all stakeholders to the table to put Illinois on a path toward 100% clean, renewable energy and make sure that every community justly benefits during this transition."