Meet me at the top of the Empire State Building…and bring a solar panel


ROTI’s official LEED expert, GoGoMrPoPo, submitted this great news to our inbox this morning.

The Empire State Building will soon be a lot more energy efficient: A series of green renovations were announced for the iconic New York City skyscraper that reduce its energy usage by 40%.

Work has already begun on the $20 million retrofit, which is being done as a joint project involving the Clinton Climate Initiative, Rocky Mountain Institute, Johnson Controls, and Jones Lang LaSalle, and is part of a greater $500 million in planned renovations. Building systems work is expected to be completed in 2010, with work in tenant spaces finished be the end of 2013. At least half of the energy savings should be realized by work completed within the first 18 months of the project.

Since full one quarter of NYC’s GHG emissions are the responsibility of commercial buildings, EarthTech asks, “What took so long?” for the tallest skyscraper to climb onboard the energy efficiency/GHG mitigation express.

But as a very informative post at Green Buildings explains, the project doesn’t simply seek to achieve a marginal increase in efficiency, or a fractional decrease in GHG emissions.

Instead of a dog-and-pony show in the name of “being green,” the Empire State Building is looking for MAXIMUM efficiency improvements across the board.

In a few years, one of the most famous buildings in America could be rated LEED Gold:

The major element that sets it apart is its approach to achieving energy efficiency…

Instead of pursuing incremental improvements, the project partners asked themselves “How can we do this differently to achieve a different outcome … what would be the way to achieve maximum efficiency,” Campbell said.

“The idea was,” Nesler said, “How can we make the investment smarter?”

The result, Nesler and Campbell said, was a series of innovations that were developed for the Empire State Building efficiency upgrade but can be applied to other major commercial buildings.

The first group of innovations involve a whole-building approach to data collection, analysis, achieved and projected energy performance, and evaluation of potential improvements (60 measures were examined) based on the amount of carbon reduction and financial returns.

The second innovation involves providing tenants as well as the building owner with incentives to further efficiency efforts. In the Empire State Building, the owner and the occupants each account for half energy savings. The building owner benefits by realizing the savings made possible by the retrofit investment. And to better engage the occupants, a web-based tenant energy management system is being installed to measure energy at a floor level. The tool is designed to provide tenants with the data and advice to help them manage their energy use. In addition, several “green pre-built” suites are being constructed in the building as a models of high-performance, energy efficiency and cost effective office space.

The third leg in the innovation triangle involves the use of a performance contract in the project. Johnson Controls is guaranteeing the energy savings via a performance contract, and such an instrument would be effective in obtaining third-party energy efficiency financing for retrofit projects, Campbell and Nesler noted. Though such financing wasn’t necessary for the Empire State Building project, it could be crucial for retrofit projects undertaken by others.

The ability to replicate their model has been among the guiding principles of the project, Nesler and Campbell said. To that end, the measurement, performance modeling and financial tools and other material developed in the analysis process by the project partners are being made available online for public use[.]

This three-leg approach, as Green Buildings describes it, ought to be tremendously successful because it allows all the stakeholders to buy in to the project…

This plan works for owner Anthony Malkin (of Wein & Malkin) because it promises to demonstrate holistic improvements that will help reduce GHG emissions and energy expenses for the company’s flagship property. Malkin himself spearheaded this effort, so you know (a) the owners are very much on board and (b) this is probably great for the building’s bottom line.

Giving tenants access to energy-efficiency results is a brilliant move. Once tenants realize that the steps they take to reduce energy use have a very real effect – and they can see the results online right away – they will be spurred to take further steps in service of the GHG-reduction goal.

Finally, it’s encouraging to see that the project team itself is all-in on this one – tying its compensation to the results of the project. This is evidence of the team’s faith in the project and a great model for future energy-efficiency projects, in that it makes these efforts a demonstrably good investment.

After reviewing more than sixty options, the project decided to attack inefficiency using eight major strategies:

1. Window Light Retrofit: Refurbishment of approximately 6,500 thermopane glass windows, using existing glass and sashes to create triple-glazed insulated panels with new components that dramatically reduce both summer heat load and winter heat loss.
2. Radiator Insulation Retrofit: Added insulation behind radiators to reduce heat loss and more efficiently heat the building perimeter.
3. Tenant Lighting, Daylighting and Plug Upgrades: Introduction of improved lighting designs, daylighting controls, and plug load occupancy sensors in common areas and tenant spaces to reduce electricity costs and cooling loads.
4. Air Handler Replacements: Replacement of air handling units with variable frequency drive fans to allow increased energy efficiency in operation while improving comfort for individual tenants.
5. Chiller Plant Retrofit: Reuse of existing chiller shells while removing and replacing “guts” to improve chiller efficiency and controllability, including the introduction of variable frequency drives.
6. Whole-Building Control System Upgrade: Upgrade of existing building control system to optimize HVAC operation as well as provide more detailed sub-metering information.
7. Ventilation Control Upgrade: Introduction of demand control ventilation in occupied spaces to improve air quality and reduce energy required to condition outside air.
8. Tenant Energy Management Systems: Introduction of individualized, web-based power usage systems for each tenant to allow more efficient management of power usage.

Unless you’re a thermopane window junkie or an HVAC engineer, the TEMS (#8) is undoubtedly the sexiest of these items.

We always turn directly to the handy bar-chart on our ROTI headquarters electric bill to see how we did in conserving energy each month…

Now Empire State Building tenants will have a web-based interface that will (hopefully) enable them to drill down and see the fruits of their conservation efforts. Thumbs up.


All this said, we do have a bone to pick with an incredibly annoying blog post by Johnson Controls’ Iain Campbell, boasting about his company’s big contract and chalking it up to his belief in Eastern philosophy:

I believe in karma. What was announced today must be karma.

To understand, rewind to almost exactly 79 years ago — March 1930. It was one this country’s most economically depressing times. Business was in shambles and consumer confidence was waning. Two business titans got together as sort of a competition and to help restore confidence and strength in America. Walter Chrysler (Chrysler Corp.) and John Jakob Raskob (creator of General Motors) decided to see who could build the tallest building, and the Empire State Building in New York came into existence.

Fast forward and our world is facing some economic challenges, our automotive industry is struggling and we consumer confidence is waning. So what else would we do but something similar in scope to what was done 79 years ago.


Karma. Just like 79 years ago there was a drive to do something good during bad times…

And we’re starting with what is certainly one of the most recognizable and beloved buildings anywhere – the building named after the great state that it calls home: the Empire State Building.

Johnson Controls has always stated that improving energy efficiency is the first and most important step toward achieving sustainability in buildings and homes. Energy efficiency helps control rising energy costs, reduces environmental footprints, and increases the value and competitiveness of buildings.


Efficiency now. It’s never been more important.

The idea that making capital investments during a recession equates with “karma” is straight idiotic.

Sure, there’s an argument to be made that building a skyscraper or fighting GHG emissions is a positive thing to do for the world. But that isn’t the motivation behind this project, nor should it have been.

Increasing energy efficiency and reducing GHG emissions isn’t about some touchy-feely Babyface “Change the World” ideology. Acting like this is all about “karma” is childish and makes the project sound frivolous, when it is anything but.

Energy efficiency is critical to the bottom line in business today. When energy costs are high and rising, bleeding energy out your building makes no economic sense!

Moreover, today’s consumers are more environmentally conscious than ever. People want to lease office space in green buildings, and will actually pay more to do so. When you demonstrate that your product or service benefits the environment, it’s a positive thing in the marketplace, especially in a green-conscious city like New York. Ignoring this reality also makes no economic sense!

Responding to the public’s demand for action, regulators in New York and elsewhere are rolling out new GHG regulations every day. Why wantonly spew GHG emissions out your stacks when it will mean a hefty bill from the state? Dropping the ball on energy-efficiency at a time of encroaching regulation makes no economic sense!

That’s even before you consider doomsday scenarios: if GHG emissions have the results that many scientists predict, Manhattan real estate could be seriously imperiled by rising tides! Contributing to a global peril that might put your first floor underwater definitely makes no economic sense!


Ultimately, Wein & Malkin is not ordering a wholesale efficiency overhaul because they want to build good karma.

They’re doing it because to do otherwise would be bad business.

Hopefully, every other skyscraper in New York will follow suit.

(And maybe toss the work to companies whose principals won’t waste our time with idiotic, self-congratulatory blog posts?)

About Alpine McGregor
Just like you, man. I got the shotgun, you got the briefcase. All in the game, though, right?

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