Michael Cornicelli of BOMA

CHICAGO—On July 23, the City Council’s Zoning Committee will consider an energy benchmarking ordinance proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel that would require municipal, commercial and residential properties with more than 50,000-square-feet to track and publicly report their energy usage. Other cities such as New York, Washington, DC, Boston and Minneapolis have enacted similar legislation. But BOMA/Chicago, the organization that represents most downtown building owners, says that while they support the idea of tracking and reducing energy use, they also believe the public reporting provision will stigmatize older buildings that frequently struggle to increase energy efficiency.

“We’ve been working with and talking with the mayor’s office about this ordinance for over a year,” says Michael Cornicelli, executive vice president of BOMA/Chicago. “We support the notion of the benchmarking itself, but what we object to is where they want to post, probably on a city website, the scores of each building. Every older class C or class B building can’t get a LEED Gold certification.”

The mayor’s proposal has found supporters. The Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, an advocacy group, endorses the idea. And real estate executives such as Bob Wislow, chairman and CEO of U.S. Equities, also voice support. “U.S. Equities includes benchmarking energy use of the buildings in our portfolio and using that data to drive results,” he says. “Our buildings see better financial and leasing performance as their environmental performance improves.”

Still, Cornicelli says many older buildings have lower rental rates and will still find it difficult to afford the changes needed to boost their energy efficiency scores. “To publicize a poor score for no other reason than to shame the owner of an old or historic building doesn’t seem right or very effective.”

BOMA/Chicago is not accustomed to opposing the mayor, whose initiatives they generally support, especially on such an issue. The organization takes pride in its programs that promote energy efficiency among its members. Earlier this year, for example, they launched a pilot program which will help design and construct a “smart grid” in downtown Chicago. Up to 40 Chicago buildings will participate and provide their property managers with granular, real-time data on energy usage, allowing each to tailor an energy efficiency strategy and reduce their energy bills. And BOMA recently published a study showing that Chicago ranks first among US cities in square footage of LEED-certified buildings.

“We have always taken the view that it’s important for BOMA members to understand their energy use,” says Cornicelli. “And we’ve supported this benchmark concept for a long time.” That includes the portion of the ordinance that requires the use of the Environmental Protection Agency’s industry-standard online tool, ENERGY STAR ® Portfolio Manager, to collect the energy use data. “Where we diverge with the mayor is on the public disclosure of the information; for us, that’s confidential business information.”

Cornicelli would prefer a compromise that only required disclosure of detailed energy data to people, such as tenants or prospective buyers, who have a specific transactional interest in a building. But he worries the ordinance as proposed will get approved by both the committee and then the full council as soon as next week. “This thing is moving fast.”