Green ideas Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2008

Green is moving from the fringe to the foundation of the real estate business. As the concept becomes more mainstream so have the tools.

“Until recently, there were not as many resources available to help business owners choose green products and services for their real estate and operational needs,” says Amy Mahone, associate in the Real Estate Practice Group at Levenfeld Pearlstein, LLC. “But now there are many new products and services on the market to help business owners go green and there are great improvements in sustainable materials.”

Smart Business learned from Mahone about ideas and resources for going green in the Chicago area.

Why should business owners go green today?

The time to jump on the green bandwagon is now. Within a few years, green will not just be ‘in,’ it will be required by cities nationwide, including Chicago. Already in Chicago all renovated City buildings must be certified under LEED, and new City buildings must achieve at least a LEED Silver rating. Even without achieving LEED status, there are many changes a small business owner can make with respect to Energy Star appliances, conservation, recycling and using green products that can make a difference both to the bottom line of a business and to the environment. Due to the innovation in green options, the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) recently estimated that going green only increased expenses by 2 percent, but saved at least 25 to 30 percent in energy costs.

What are some of the ways to develop environmentally conscious buildings?

There are a multitude of opportunities to increase the green factor in buildings. These include:

Sustainable site development: Location, layout and features of real estate, including locating a building near public transportation, creating space for bicycle storage and changing rooms, and providing priority parking for hybrid cars and carpools;

Water efficiency: Potable water use reduction in sewage by choosing water-conserving fixtures and decreasing use inside the building;

Energy conservation: Using Energy Star-certified products, replacing fluorescent lamps with incandescent light bulbs (saves close to 75 percent in electricity costs) and installing skylights;

Green roofs: A green roof is one that is either partially or completely covered with vegetation and soil or another type of growing medium, planted over a waterproofing roof membrane. This design greatly reduces stormwater runoff, urban heat island effect and energy requirements, and makes Chicago small businesses eligible for $5,000 grants and density bonuses;

Indoor air quality: Healthier, less-polluting products, such as paints and carpets with low volatile organics, windows that open, and natural ventilation systems.

What Chicago project incorporates many green strategies?

The Merchandise Mart in Chicago is the world’s largest green commercial building and achieved a LEED Silver certification by completing several actions. According to the Mart’s Web site, it ‘installed motion sensors in restrooms and lower wattage fixtures wherever possible, made an I-Go hybrid car available to tenants and employees 24 hours a day, retrofitted exit lights to require less energy, and implemented an exterior and dock lighting schedule.’ The Mart has also cut water consumption by 35 percent, or roughly 20 million gallons, since 2001 by fixing leaks and reusing nondrinking water, and reduced air pollution by more than 120,000 kilograms since 2006, the largest single reduction by any commercial building, according to company officials.

What are some government initiatives to support green building?


  • The Illinois Solar Energy Rebate Program allows certain businesses to claim a rebate of up to $10,000 for solar energy systems purchased or installed after Jan. 1, 2007.



  • The Illinois Solar Thermal Incentive program provides funding for the purchase and installation of solar energy systems that collect and transfer heat for space heating and cooling and water heating and electric generation, as long as the project cost is in excess of $50,000.



  • The Federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 provides a tax deduction of up to $1.80 per square foot for new commercial buildings that reduce energy use by 50 percent. Existing buildings can earn a deduction of $1.20 per square foot for upgrading lighting and HVAC systems.



  • The EPA offers small businesses grants for monitoring and control of air pollution, safe buildings and water security, wastewater management, etc.



  • The Chicago Green Permit Program expedites permits on projects that incorporate innovative green building strategies.



  • The Chicago Green Roof Grants award grants of up to $5,000 to help with the cost of installing a green roof. The Chicago Cool Roof Grants offer rebates based on the amount of surface area and the coating used.


AMY MAHONE is an associate in the Real Estate Practice Group at Levenfeld Pearlstein, LLC and a member of the firm's Green Development Initiative. Reach her at or (312) 476-7591.