Could the Empire State Building change the world?

The Empire State Building is one of the most instantly recognizable buildings in the world and has evolved to include a more sustainable future.

January 18, 2016

Nestled in the heart of Manhattan, the Empire State Building – with its famous art deco façade – is one of the most instantly recognizable buildings in the world.

Since its construction in 1931 during the Great Depression, the Empire State Building has come to symbolize what people can achieve even in the toughest times when they share a vision of a strong economic future.

In recent times that vision has evolved to include a more sustainable future – and its winning spirit has been in evidence through the building’s current retrofit, which began in 2008 during the worst economic downturn since the 1930s. Now, the 1,000 businesses located on its landmark designated floors are not just working in a cultural icon; following its comprehensive energy retrofit they’re also working in one of the most energy efficient buildings in the U.S.

The building’s $106 million energy retrofit has reduced energy usage by 40 percent, which will save over 115,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the next 15 years with a 3 year payback. Once the installation is complete, cutting edge Otis destination dispatch elevators, which generate electricity instead of just heat when they brake, will wisk employees to their energy efficient office spaces.

And it’s not just a case of leading by example – the Empire State Building is using its own experience to make the business case for economically feasible integrated retrofits and create a global replicable model to blaze a ‘green’ trail for other buildings to follow.

Empire State Realty Trust, the consolidated public REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) that launched the project, is now well prepared to move the needle on sustainable public policy so that it can motivate others to achieve similarly impressive results.

“This [retrofit] was not to be a scavenger hunt for LEED points, just adding green plant walls, water features, bike racks and showers, but to create a replicable model for quantified investment and return analysis from intelligent choices to reduce energy consumption, and to monitor and verify the outcomes,” says Anthony E. Malkin, Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President, Empire State Realty Trust.

Some standout green initiatives

Probably the most impressive achievement of this retrofit is the building’s boost in its ENERGY STAR rating to 90 – which places it in the top 10 percent of buildings in terms of efficiency. The building achieved the 90 score in May 2010, nearly a year ahead of schedule. This is particularly remarkable for a 79-year-old building, given that ENERGY STAR’s benchmarking criteria don’t factor in a building’s age.

According to Empire State Realty Trust’s Malkin, another signature achievement was retrofitting all of the building’s 6,514 windows. Empire State Realty Trust accomplished this by installing an assembly line in the building and removing and installing windows at night without removing any windows from the building, and rebuilding 50 windows at a time.

“We were able to reuse 96 percent of the original frames and glass, installing a Mylar sheet and resealing them with krypton/argon gas, and upgrade them…to cut down on heating and cooling losses,” Malkin says.

Some of the green initiatives had some unanticipated benefits. An example: Improvements in managing the cooling load freed up over 33 percent of the building’s chiller capacity. That rendered unnecessary a planned project to install an additional chiller and rise to expand the capacity of the building’s cooling system.

JLL’s Energy and Sustainability Services (ESS) lead Dana Robbins Schneider, who led the team that implemented the Empire State Building retrofit and continues to lead energy and sustainability programs at the Empire State Building, equates the annual energy cost savings to taking 25,000 cars off the road.

“Our work at the Empire State Building proves that one of the best investments an owner can make is in the efficiency of existing buildings,” says Schneider. “Not only does it drive measurable returns on your investment; it’s also something that needs to be done in order to reduce our overall energy use.

“Our deep energy retrofit at the Empire State Building has also helped to stimulate the local economy while creating more than 250 local and regional jobs over the course of the retrofit, from manufacturing to construction to engineering. If we can do it here, we can do it anywhere. Investing to reduce energy usage by 40 percent with a 3 year payback makes sense in every way. If the largest 20 percent of buildings in New York City followed our model, NYC energy use would be reduced 25 percent. Imagine if we could do this across the country.”

Establishing a green way of thinking

The Empire State Building had an initial goal to reduce energy consumption by 38 percent and achieve an annual energy saving of $4.4 million. As Malkin says: “We are ahead of our goals and looking to save more energy and make more money.”

Most importantly, the Empire State Building retrofit has created a replicable global model for optimizing energy efficiency, sustainable practices, operating expenses and long-term value in existing buildings. More than 100 building owners, lenders and corporate real estate executives have toured the building during the retrofit process, and most of them agree that that some of the strategies being implemented can be translated to other buildings.

All this has great importance for New York City, where 80 percent of the buildings that stand there today will still be there in 2050. It proves that investing capital in making buildings more efficient – wherever they are in the world – has become one of the best returns on investment an owner can make.

Find out more information about the Empire State Building’s retrofit.

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