Sustainability and Business Will Coexist Profitably as the Building Becomes 40% More Energy Efficient, Officials Say
One of the most enduring symbols of the 20th century, the Empire State Building, is being revamped for the energy-conscious 21st century.
Under a plan announced this week, energy consumption at the 102-story tower would be reduced by nearly 40 percent over the next four years, saving $4.4 million annually in energy costs and earning the building two prestigious environmental markers: the government’s Energy Star label and the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification for sustainability, project officials said.
If those goals are achieved, few high-rises in the country -- new or old -- would come close to matching the energy efficiency or energy cost savings at the pre-war tower.
“It’s easy to pick the low hanging fruit, but the mandate here from ownership was to be much more effective than that,” said Raymond Quartararo, international director and program lead for Jones Lang LaSalle
, the property firm that is overseeing the project. “We were shooting very, very high.”
The other members of the project team are energy services company Johnson Controls, the environmental consulting firm Rocky Mountain Institute
(RMI) and Clinton Climate Initiative
(CCI), the climate change program of former President Bill Clinton’s foundation that organized the project (see the project website
Kept secret for nearly two years, details of the retrofit were revealed Monday at a news conference hosted by Anthony E. Malkin, president of Wien & Malkin, which oversees the building for the Malkin family and the Helmsley estate, the building’s co-owners.
With New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former President Clinton seated to his right, Malkin used his first few words to set the stakes.
“I’m Anthony Malkin, and on behalf of the Empire State Building Company, welcome to the world’s most famous office building,” he said.
The retrofit is significant not only for the tower’s celebrity, which is already drawing international attention to the project, but also for its ambition. Retrofits of older buildings can be intrusive and costly, and the size of the Empire State Building -- 1,250 feet tall and roughly 2.6 million square feet -- presented other challenges.
Malkin called the building “one of the most complicated buildings in New York” in a phone interview with CoStar on Tuesday. He was wary initially that the intricacies of the building might not be appreciated in the project, although those concerns subsided as his team went to work, he said.
The team vetted more than 60 energy efficiency ideas over 8 months of planning, crafting detailed charettes on the greenhouse gas reduction potential and financial costs and paybacks for each measure.
In the end, eight projects were selected. All of the building’s 6,500 windows are being refitted with a thin film and a gas fill to reduce heat gain in the summer and heat loss in the winter, and the chiller, lighting systems and existing energy management systems will be upgraded. Co2 sensors are being installed in every unit in the building, and tenants will have access to real time information on how much energy they use.
According to Mayor Bloomberg, the project team is “showing the rest of the city that existing buildings, no matter how tall they are, no matter how old they are, can take steps to significantly reduce their energy consumption.”
“If they lead the way, others will follow,” he said at the news conference Monday.
When the project completes in 2013, the building will be in the 90th percentile of energy efficient properties in the United States, Jones Lang LaSalle said. Work has already started, and the building’s energy use is expected to decrease by almost 20 percent during the next two years, when most of the measures will be implemented. Carbon dioxide emissions from the building are being slashed by 105,000 metric tons over a period of 15 years.
Buildings account for 80 percent of the carbon footprint of New York City, Mayor Bloomberg said, which is more metric tonnage than is emitted by the country of Portugal.
The cost of the project, which is adding an estimated $20 million to a half billion-dollar capital improvement program at the building, will be recouped in less than five years, a stunning figure that Malkin and others frequently cited on Monday.
What’s more, the economics of the project, which do not include any incentives or government subsidies, can be replicated at buildings around the world, those involved with the project are stressing.
“Until today, nothing has existed to offer enough certainty to owners to spend, and contractors to guarantee, savings from energy efficiency retrofits of existing buildings,” Malkin said at the news conference. He added that the project’s economics can inform policy makers, property owners and lenders on “actions to take, laws and codes to write, and new financing programs to support.”
A few minutes later, former President Clinton said, “We will never conquer climate change until we prove it’s good business to do so.”
Yet, if the Empire State Building retrofit is good business, that was not always a sure thing.
The project was born almost two years ago in a conversation between Malkin and James Russell, a senior director with Clinton Climate Initiative, at CCI’s C40 Large Cities Climate Summit in New York. Malkin’s idea was to donate one of his company’s New York properties to CCI as a guinea pig of sorts to determine a cost-benefit analysis of energy efficiency measures.
The stakes were raised considerably when CCI requested the Empire State Building, to which Malkin agreed, albeit with reservations.
According to Malkin, “There was a risk that we could have done all this work and find out it didn’t work.”