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Empire State Building owner talks energy efficient retrofits and dishes out some advice to John Key

Before delivering his keynote speech at today’s Green Property Summit in Auckland, influential “environment capitalist” Anthony Malkin of New York City and Empire State Building fame, had an opportunity yesterday to meet with Prime Minister John Key to talk about energy efficient retrofits and how the rebuilding of Christchurch can benefit from “doing the simple stuff first”.

Doing the “simple stuff” first to achieve a return from retrofitting for energy efficiency was Malkin’s main message for the day. It is a message that he can use the world’s biggest vertical billboard—namely the Empire State Building—as evidence for; a building that the Malkin family has had an ownership interest in dating back to 1961, a year before Anthony Malkin himself was born.

Speaking to Design Daily after his address, Malkin said the lessons being learnt from rethinking energy efficiency as the lead aspect to retrofitting existing commercial property had been spoken about with Key in terms of both future savings and capital cost avoidance, and had definitely been “heard” by the Prime Minister.

There was also an opportunity for Malkin to share his pragmatic and provocative philosophy with John Key that dollars spent on building retrofits have a payback that, when seen in terms of local employment and benefits, arguably outweigh investment in new energy creation projects, where for in the case of a $200 million wind farm for instance the technology is imported and the taxpayer dollar goes offshore.

Malkin began his address to the Green Property Summit by stating the emphasis he places on the concept of environment as being about where we live and work in our cities, not some other place removed from daily life.

Coupled to that he emphasized the fact that future energy efficiency gains to be made from the built environment of a city like Auckland are not going to come from new builds, no matter how highly they might rate in innovative architecture terms. Nor are the energy gains going to come from run-down residential stock. No, according to Malkin, they’re going to come from the existing commercial buildings known to be bulk energy users.

For Malkin the opportunity to repurpose a “tremendously under-performing” Empire State Building has been all about the energy efficient aspect. Of a total spend of some US$550M to give the building a whole new lease of life, this one aspect consisted of about $13 million new spend and $9 million of re-allocating spend that would maximize the energy efficiency goal.

In the course of the overall project Malkin told the Green Property Summit he became more and more convinced of, and converted to, a particular approach and methodology that is now being made available on an open source basis at esbsustainability.com.  

The more than 220 Summit participants in the room were given a detailed breakdown of the approach taken, with Malkin noting “everything we’ve done has been focused on numbers… on integrated, measurable steps given there is no one silver bullet, and doing the right steps at the right time (such as calculating energy loads after implementing things like changes to windows and insulation first)”

In this regard he commended the New Zealand Green Building Council and chief executive Alex Cutler for taking a lead on advocating an increase in data collection to improve building performance in New Zealand. 

A fundamental basis that was established with the Empire State Building project is to work with and audit the whole building, combined with a strong commitment to look at things from a tenant’s and occupant’s point of view and supporting tenants to raise the bar—another story in its own right.

A piece of folk wisdom that became a guiding value for the retrofit was to “do the same thing without spending for stuff you don’t need”. Having seen the gains from following a pragmatic game plan, Malkin is no advocate of what might be called quick wins or of “costly and decorative” tack-on’s that are only being green for Greenwash’s sake.

In line with that thinking, while the Empire State Building will or has achieved highly against US Energystar and international LEED benchmarks, the objectives achieved didn’t need to involve spending money to explicitly target those benchmarks.

During this period of “evangelizing” the Empire State Building retrofit Malkin told Design Daily that he will return to his raft of other business and philanthropic interests as soon as he is satisfied that “the ball is rolling with enough momentum that it’s unstoppable and the needle is truly shifted”.

This means making the toolbox of lessons learned widely available and helping to identify and grow the finite number of genuine experts in this field, of the likes of Johnson Controls and Jones Lang LaSalle.

New Zealanders can feel grateful that Malkin has taken a real shine to this country, and has a property project underway in the Queenstown Lakes district that will involve exploring new standards for sustainable house building with experts at Otago Polytechnic.

In common with all the other key speakers at the Green Property Summit, we’re sure this won’t be the last rallying call we hear from Anthony Malkin.