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Tall, old, and very green

Tall, old, and very green

Proving that even the biggest and oldest buildings can fulfil the retrofit design philosophy, New York’s Empire State Building, completed in 1931, has been awarded US Green Building Council (USGBC) LEED certification, making it the tallest and inevitably most well-known building in the US to do so. Guaranteed to reduce the building’s energy consumption by more than 38 percent and saving US$4.4 million (NZ$5.3 million) in energy costs annually along the way, the retrofit improvements also reduce carbon emissions by an estimated 105,000 metric tons over 15 years. 

Among the energy saving features are old windows replaced with close to 6,500 thermopane glass windows that use existing glass and sashes to create triple-glazed insulated panels, and the introduction of demand control ventilation in occupied spaces to improve air quality and reduce energy required to condition outside air.

The LEED Gold for Existing Buildings certification follows a retrofit process implemented by diversified technology and industrial company Johnson Controls, financial and professional services firm Jones Lang, the Clinton Climate Initiative and the Rocky Mountain Institute. The process formed part of the building's $550 million (NZ$668 million) ReBuilding programme. 

Beyond energy efficiency, activities at the Empire State Building that helped achieve LEED Gold certification include:

• Installation of ultra low-flow fixtures in the building’s restrooms

• Use of green cleaning supplies and pest control products

• Recycling of tenant waste and construction debris

• Use of recycled paper products

• Use of recycled content carpets, low off-gassing wall coverings, paints, and adhesives

• A program of tenant engagement, including submetering, a newly created Tenant Energy Management System, and mandatory green requirements in lease agreements.

In January last year Anthony Malkin, whose family has had an ownership interest in the building dating back to 1961, agreed to buy carbon offsets totalling 55 million kilowatt hours per year of renewable energy, making the Empire State Building carbon-neutral.

“LEED Gold certification is another win for us following our ground-breaking energy efficiency retrofit work. 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,” he said.

Dana Robbins Schneider, vice president of Jones Lang LaSalle, said the energy retrofit and other actions leading to the LEED certification had also helped New York’s economy by creating jobs for 250 people.

The Empire State Building ownership directed that sustainable practices be at the center of new operations and upgrades as part of the Empire State ReBuilding program. Low environmental impact operations procedures were put in place immediately following the transition of the day-to-day operations of the building from Helmsley-Spear to Malkin Holdings, supervisor of building owner Empire State Building Company. After the energy efficiency retrofit program was developed and its implementation was underway, Jones Lang LaSalle led a separate study of the feasibility of LEED certification. This feasibility study showed that LEED Gold certification was within reach at an incremental cost of about US$0.25 (NZ$0.30) per square foot.

Malkin visited New Zealand earlier this year to deliver a keynote speech at the Green Property Summit in Auckland. He offered some advice for Auckland, emphasising 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. They’re going to come from the existing commercial buildings known to be bulk energy users.