Cities - 26/September/2019

Better to dance with than challenge an 800 pound gorilla

The deep retrofit of the Empire State Building showcases efficient use of energy, but more will be needed

Big change: To reduce energy use, save cash and increase the property’s value, the Empire State Building has voluntarily undergone a closely watched $12 million core retrofit

Big savings: In the first year, the retrofit saved 4000 tonnes of carbon. Over 15 years, carbon emissions are projected to be cut by 105,000 tonnes. The deep retrofit has also saved money, reducing energy costs by more than $4.4 million annually. The payback period for the base retrofit was about three years

Key quote: “People associate greening with expense and compromise. We are trying to prove: no compromise and payback.”

New York City’s real estate sector has been described as the 800-pound gorilla of the mega-city’s politics. But a deep retrofit of the Empire State Building, famous as the background to King Kong’s defeat in the iconic 1933 horror film, shows how the property industry can collaborate in fighting climate emissions even with a building that is nearly 90 years old. Still, the world’s most famous skyscraper will need to do significantly more to meet the 2030 carbon emissions cap set by New York’s new Climate Mobilisation Act 

The Empire State Building, a listed 102-storey Art Deco office tower of almost 2.7 million square feet (251,000 square metres) and a mind-boggling 73 elevators, was built in 1931 during the Great Depression and for nearly 40 years was the world's tallest skyscraper.

To reduce energy use, save cash and increase the property’s value, the Empire State Building has voluntarily undergone a closely watched $12 million core retrofit. The groundbreaking initiative was announced in 2009 by Anthony Malkin, CEO of the building’s owner Empire State Realty Trust, former President Bill Clinton and then Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “People associate greening with expense and compromise,” said Malkin at the time. “We are trying to prove: no compromise and payback.”

The retrofitted building has exceeded its energy use targets. In the first year alone, the retrofit saved 4000 tonnes of carbon. Over a period of 15 years, carbon emissions are projected to be cut by 105,000 tonnes. The deep retrofit has also saved money, already reducing energy costs by more than $4.4 million annually. The payback period for the base retrofit was about three years, said Malkin.

The overhaul was completed in 2011, while a ten-year programme is still under way to optimise individual tenant’s energy use. Once all tenant spaces have been upgraded, the retrofit will slash energy consumption by 38%. Energy consumption in tenants’ suites will be individually metered. As of late June 2019, 48 tenant spaces had been retrofitted.

Partners in the skyscraper’s upgrades included the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), an energy and sustainability NGO, Johnson Controls, a global electronics company, Jones Lang LaSalle, a property firm, and the Clinton Climate Initiative allied with the C40 global cities climate network. ...

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