Willis Tower looks to go green, from the rooftops on down

Rooftop gardens part of plan to improve efficiency.



Growing up in the southwest suburbs, Sara Beardsley had a view of the Chicago skyline from her house, according to a story in the Chicago Tribune . Today, she is transforming that skyline, but you won't find her work glorified on a $6 mug or gracing postcards.

Most of her impact is invisible as she attempts to reduce one of the largest carbon footprints in Chicago -- that of Willis Tower. Beardsley, a senior architect at Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture in Chicago, is managing a $200 million to $300 million project to "green" the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.

The building was completed as Sears Tower in 1973, the heyday of energy ignorance, which means the skyscraper has single-pane windows that leak around the edges and let in hot air in summer and cold in winter, lights everywhere and inefficient electric heating throughout.

"Each old window is like a car driving around," Beardsley said. "And people don't think of it that way -- it's just a window. But I think maybe we need to start thinking about it that way."

Buildings account for about 70% of all Chicago emissions, according to the Chicago Climate Action Plan. If the largest 10 buildings in the Loop were targeted for greening projects, Beardsley said, it would reduce the energy needs of the Loop by more than 10%.

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