AMA Plaza: Green from Roof to Bottom

By Jessica Bates

This is the third in a series of case studies exploring the six best practice areas evaluated by the BOMA 360 Performance Program®.

Most people who visit the 52-story AMA Plaza in downtown Chicago have no idea that they are sharing the building with 20,000 earthworms. “Five or six years ago, commercial composting services were rare in the Chicago area, so we decided to implement our own composting program right in the building,” explains AMA Plaza General Manager Susan Hammer. “These days, most of our composting gets sent offsite, but we still use worms to compost some of our waste in the building’s mechanical room.”

AMA Plaza, home to tenants as varied as the American Medical Association and five-star luxury hotel The Langham, has always been a little ahead of the curve. In fact, it was one of the first two buildings in Illinois to earn the BOMA 360 designation when the BOMA 360 Performance Program was launched back in 2009. Since then, the Riverview Realty Partners team, which manages the building, has worked to renew the designation twice, and each time, the skyscraper stood out in the area of environmental and sustainability performance, one of the six categories evaluated by the BOMA 360 program. Hammer says they consider BOMA 360 an important complement to their LEED® Gold certification, as the BOMA 360 designation takes into account every component of building operations and management. “I think it’s essential to see how every category really works together,” Hammer explains. “Our strength in sustainability improves our work in the area of community relations, for example.”

Tenants of AMA Plaza have access to an exclusive shuttle service that connects them to the commuter train stations, which, along with the secure bike storage, has significantly reduced the need for car commuting to the building. Green cleaning services are used and more than 300 pounds of material is recycled for each person in the office every year, including over 95 percent of all office paper waste in the building. The building also boasts a green roof carpeted with its own ecosystem of plants that help to contain storm runoff and reduce the urban heat island effect.

These initiatives have had a quantifiable impact on both the building’s tenants and the environment. In fact, Property Manager Courtney Stern, RPA, LEED AP, says this was especially apparent when they were gathering documentation to renew their BOMA 360 designation last year. “When I looked at how much pollution we avoid each year through our green commuting programs, for example, it was really eye-opening,” she explains. “We’re making a real difference, and it’s great to be able to demonstrate that with the BOMA 360 label.”

The building’s property management team is happy to devote the time and resources needed to keep these green initiatives going strong, and the team continue to challenge itself to add new programs every year. As with their composting, they often are early adopters of new sustainability practices. AMA Plaza was one of the first properties in Chicago to “close the loop” on their recycling program by buying back their recycled paper in the form of paper towels and other products. They’ve also worked to reduce the amount of material used in the property in the first place. When a tenant vacates a space, the building team discards as little construction material as possible, instead offering to let tenants take materials with them to their new space—or even reusing materials in the new tenant’s buildout. The building’s café also offers a discount to anyone using their own to-go cup or container, and any leftover food ends up as dinner for the building’s worms before becoming compost for the outside landscaping.

“It’s wonderful to come to work and know that you’re helping the environment on top of everything else you do,” says Hammer. It also is an important part of the legacy of the building. AMA Plaza was the last American building designed by renowned architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who was known for his modern, minimalist style. “Mies van der Rohe designed his buildings to be easily adaptable for future use,” Hammer explains. “He wanted them to stay relevant far into the future. I can’t think of a better way to honor his legacy than through our sustainability programs.”