Sustainability Round-Up: Greening the Empire Edition

Posted on: December 1st, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation


The Empire State Building is being re-branded with a green message. (Photo: Flickr user Wherever I Roam)

Written by Rachel Bowdon

There have been several exciting developments over the past two years regarding the extensive $550 million upgrade project of the 80 year old Empire State Building. As many of you already know, this project included not only a restoration of its many spectacular art deco architectural features, but also a $20 million energy efficiency retrofit of the entire landmark building. Windows were refurbished, lighting designs were improved, the HVAC system was upgraded, and more.  All of these improvements  reduced energy use by nearly 40% and accounts for savings of more than $4.4 million annually for the 2.85 million square foot, 102-story building!

But that’s not all. Back in January, the Empire State Building’s caretakers announced that the 80 year old building had become the largest commercial purchaser of wind energy in New York. In a two year deal with Green Mountain Energy, the “world’s most famous office building” agreed to purchase 55 million kilowatt hours worth of renewable energy certificates annually—enough to cover 100% of its yearly energy consumption. Two weeks ago on November 16, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognized this achievement and awarded the office building with a 2011 Green Power Leadership Award. ""This is only part of our continuing efforts to reduce our environmental impact and we hope to encourage other buildings globally to consider purchasing clean energy,” stated Anthony E. Malkin of the Empire State Building Company in a press release.

The Empire State Building’s investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency has also earned recognition from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). On September 13, the USGBC awarded the Empire State Building with LEED-Gold certification. "LEED Gold certification is another win for us following our ground-breaking energy efficiency retrofit work," said Malkin. "It is my hope that all future LEED certifications for existing building projects will require demonstrable, quantifiable improvements in energy efficiency, delivering economic returns for building owners, tenants, and the communities in which they are located." We do too!

Check out a few more articles regarding the greening of the Empire State Building below the jump.

The Height of Sustainability - Preservation Magazine

This article (over a year old but definitely a must-read) discusses how groundbreaking the concept of greening the Empire State Building truly was:

“The notion that a developer could help the environment, preserve a historic commercial building, and make good money in the process was nothing short of bold. After all, some experts had always claimed that the costs of retrofitting a building to make it energy efficient were steep enough to delay a return on the investment by many years. Malkin, however, was relying on statistics, engineering, and cold, hard economics. His approach was worlds away from some fuzzy, feel-good notion of ecofriendliness, and it posed a direct challenge to developers whose buildings feature all the hip green flourishes (the bamboo flooring, the engineered lumber, the wood finishes free of solvents, the vegetation on the roof) but still leak BTUs like colossal sieves."

Building Retrofits: Tapping the Energy Saving Potential - Yale Environment

“The Empire State Building is just the most visible example of a new trend — retrofitting old buildings to be more energy efficient. For example, billionaire businessman Richard Branson’s Carbon War Room and the Ygrene Energy Fund are leading a consortium that will invest as much as $650 million in similar retrofits in Miami and Sacramento. Globally, businesses, national and local governments, and property owners have begun to retrofit millions of older buildings in a bid to cut down on energy use and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These retrofits are the most cost-efficient way to combat climate change and save on rising power bills, according to analysts ranging from the McKinsey Institute to the International Energy Agency.”

The Empire State Building’s Luster Returns - Wall Street Journal

Architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable writes how the renovation was needed to “brand” the Empire State Building:

“Much has been written about the advanced energy-saving installations carried out by experts, and how small, shabby offices more suggestive of shady detective agencies or fly-by-night financial operators were replaced by "prebuilt" high-tech interiors to attract prime corporate tenants. But it is the strategy of this turnaround that highlights the crucial difference between those who advocate for old buildings on the basis of art and history and those who deal in them as commercial commodities. Real estate has a succinct language of its own that serves as a defining and selling tool. The process began with "branding." To quote Mr. Malkin, "branding elevates the Empire State Building to a world-wide standard of excellence." It transforms an old, deteriorating, below-market property from a liability to a "prewar trophy building…Mr. Malkin is a businessman focused on the bottom line. His objective was to turn the Empire State Building into a state-of-the-art property with a restored image that would give it a unique competitive marketing edge.”

Rachel Bowdon is the program assistant for the Sustainability Program at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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