Jodi Helmer
June 16, 2011

Empire State Building


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The Empire State Building is leading the way toward eco-friendly retrofitting among large buildings.

The Empire State Building is the tallest building in New York, and is on its way to becoming one of the most eco-friendly.A $20 million sustainability retrofit was launched in 2009 to help the iconic landmark reduce its energy consumption.

“Buildings in New York City create 65 to 70 percent of the city’s entire carbon footprint,” Anthony E. Malkin, president of Wien & Malkin, the firm that supervises the Empire State Building, told Green Real Estate Daily. “Constructing new green buildings won’t move the needle in mitigating this problem. It is far more important to address the existing building stock.”

Completed in October 2010, the upgrades are expected to reduce annual energy consumption by 38 percent — a savings of $4.4 million per year and reducing greenhouse gasses by 105,000 metric tons over the next 15 years, according to the Clinton Climate Initiative.

Building retrofits included refurbishing 6,514 windows to make them more energy-efficient, adding insulation to reduce heat loss and installing meters to allow tenants to monitor their energy use. The project also addressed water conservation, recycling and indoor air quality.

In January, the Empire State Building signed a two-year contract with Green Mountain Energy to purchase wind power renewable energy certificates. Not only does the commitment make the landmark the largest commercial purchaser of green power in New York City, it also means that the energy consumed in the 2.85 million square-foot building will prevent almost 100 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per year. The costs for the upgrades are expected to be recouped in approximately three years as a result of significant energy savings.

“People associate greening with expense and compromise,” Malkin told the New York Times. “We’re trying to prove: no compromise and payback.”

The retrofit establishes the Empire State Building as one of the most energy-efficient buildings in New York City, and the most eco-friendly pre-World War II office tower in the world.

All of the sustainability upgrades were planned in accordance with the standards for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance gold certification.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave the Empire State Building a score of 90 out of 100 through its Energy Star program for the retrofit.

The consulting partners hoped that the Empire State Building would serve as an example to other building owners, especially those whose buildings were constructed before WWII or have landmark status, who would witness the success of the retrofit and be inspired to pursue green projects. It appears to be working: So far, similar initiatives have taken place or are underway in several historic buildings across the U.S., including the Jeweler’s Building and the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) both in Chicago, and Houston’s historic Gragg Building.

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