Merchandise Mart: World's Biggest Green Building

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For 78 years, Chicago's Merchandise Mart has been the world's largest commercial building; It is also now LEED-EB (existing building) Silver. According to Business Week, "The effort required overhauling decades-old practices and technology, from replacing most of the Mart's 4,000-plus windows and upgrading rusty motors deep in its subbasements to taking better care of dust mops. The reward: At 78 years of age, the Merchandise Mart is now the biggest green building in the world."Business Week notes that "the return has been quick: Thanks to the upgrades, utility bills last year fell about 10%, and occupancy rates climbed to 96%, from 77% a decade ago. "We've had a wave of interest," says Christopher G. Kennedy, president of Merchandise Mart Properties and an heir to former building owner Joseph P. Kennedy. "One prospective tenant, who had passed us over, came back because they require a LEED space."

One strategy that we talk about often at TreeHugger is metering and measuring:

Many commercial buildings rely on "master" meters, which track consumption of water, electricity, and other utilities for the entire structure. Landlords then apportion utility charges based on the space each tenant occupies. Thus, two offices of similar size may have the same bill even if one leaves the AC, lights, and computers running all night while the other shuts off everything. The Mart was ahead of the curve: It already had individual meters that billed tenants for their actual consumption. "You can't make them change to high-efficiency bulbs, but the minute we start passing on the true costs," notes Bettin, "the savings start."

Other features we love: "a 1980s ice-storage cooling system installed by its previous owners, the Kennedy family, who bought the building in 1945 and sold it to Vornado Realty Trust in 1998. The system freezes tons of water overnight, even in winter months when the Mart's cooling needs are minimal. The ice is then brought up to 34 degrees and pumped into the air conditioning system during the day. The setup shifts power consumption to lower-price, off-peak periods."

This is a perfect example of why we say renovations can be greener than new construction- this was all done while tenants were in place, bit by bit, after careful analysis of what would be the most efficient and effective things to do. ::Business Week

Tags: Energy Efficiency | Preservation

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