Winner for Design: The  Merchandise Mart, Chicago, Illinois

By Allen Bunting
March 12, 2009
 Winner for Design: The Merchandise Mart, Chicago, Illinois
Courtesy of The Merchandise Mart

As the largest commercial building in the world, The Merchandise Mart welcomes millions each year to shop and tour its showrooms. When administrators decided to implement green policies in the 4.2-million-square-foot structure and apply for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, they asked their employees for ideas. “There’s plenty of room to improve how a building operates,” says Mark Bettin, vice president of engineering at The Mart.

 The new green standards are paying off in a big way. In 2006, The Mart joined Clean Air Counts, a Chicago-based initiative to improve air quality, and has reduced pollution by more than 264,018 pounds―the largest reduction ever by a commercial building. Inside The Mart, and amid new construction, paint and building materials must contain low levels of VOCs (volatile organic compounds), potentially harmful to the environment. A stringent recycling program focuses on reusing and breaking down lightbulbs, batteries, paper products, construction waste, and more.

The Mart also maintains a site-management plan that mandates drought-tolerant plants and the use of environmentally friendly pest control. Efforts for more energy efficiency include a thermal cooling system and the latest lighting technology (to compensate for the extended hours required to illuminate showrooms). Tenants can even rent an I-Go hybrid car by the hour.

In 2007, The Mart earned LEED Silver certification for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB). Although it may not be shiny and new, the historic structure is a prime example of how it’s never too late for change. “Our certification wasn’t just a one-time goal,” Mark says. “It’s an ongoing effort.”

For more information on The Mart, call 312/527-4141 or visit

Winning Strategies!

• Environmental education courses

• Pollution reduction―by more than 250,000 pounds since inception

• Thermal heating and cooling system

• Efficient lighting technology, including motion sensors and low-wattage fixtures

• Eco-friendly pest control and cleaning products