Photograph: Brian Kelly; Hair and Makeup: Jenna Baltes/Artists By Timothy Priano
Name: Rand Ekman
Director of Sustainability: Cannon Design
Buildings are by far the largest consumers of energy in the United States. So four years ago, when 240 architecture firms across the United States signed a promise that by 2030 they would build only carbon-neutral structures, it was an inspiring call for accountability. But one problem soon arose: There was no uniform way to measure energy efficiency. “Architects were doing designs without having any idea what the energy consumption of those projects would be,” says Rand Ekman, who works in the Loop office of the 980-person international architecture and engineering firm.
A green evangelist since he was a student at UCLA, Ekman knew that the success of such a sweeping pledge depended on finding a way to hold firms to their commitments. In 2009 he convened a group of prominent Chicago architects from firms such as Gensler and Goettsch Partners to develop a tool to model a building’s energy efficiency.
It took a year, but Ekman and his nine-person team of volunteers developed a detailed worksheet that assesses everything from how many therms of gas it takes to heat a building to how much rainwater is collected and reused. The tool was immediately adopted as the standard for firms participating in the 2030 challenge. “If 240 firms are thinking about their carbon footprints, that means that over time we can really change the culture of architecture,” says Ekman, whose own firm is on track for a 60 percent reduction by 2015.
Moreover, in 2011 his tool helped the American Institute of Architects, a governing body, account for energy spent across 650 million square feet of new developments, a significant first step. Zurich Esposito, executive vice president of the AIA’s Chicago chapter, says Ekman’s work falls in line with the city’s long tradition of architectural innovation: “It’s a huge step forward.”
Rand Ekman is one of five winners of Chicago magazine’s 2013 Green Awards. Each year, we honor unsung locals whose innovations are putting Chicago on the national map and doing something good for the earth.