Empire State Building Efficiency Retrofit Model Rolls Out Across US

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New York City’s Empire State Building is colloquially called “The World’s Most Famous Office Building.” But now, thanks to an exceptionally successful energy efficiency retrofit program, that title may have to change to “The World’s Most Famous Green Building.”

Empire State Building
Empire State Building night skyline picture via Shutterstock

The energy efficiency retrofit project, begun in 2009 as part of the Clinton Global Initiative, has capped off a second year of exceeding project guaranteed energy savings, reducing utility costs for tenants and the building owners by millions of dollars.

Now, the project team that designed and conducted the retrofit over the Empire State Building’s 2.85 million square feet is rolling the same model out in nearly 100 major commercial buildings across the US, targeting the 75% of energy use in urban settings that comes from commercial buildings.

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Guaranteed Energy Savings Via Innovative Upgrades

Three years ago, President Bill Clinton and Mayor Michael Bloomberg kicked off the $550 million retrofit program to reduce costs, increase real estate value, and lower emissions. In 2011 the building beat its efficiency guarantee by 5%, saving $2.4 million, and in 2012 it surpassed efficiency targets by 4%

Empire State Building electric utility costs
Empire State Building annual electric utility costs chart via ESBNYC

Energy savings were guaranteed by partner Johnson Controls through a $20 million performance contract that pays the cost of the retrofit project over the life of the contract – if efficiency goals aren’t met, the difference is paid by Johnson Controls. “When implemented under a performance contract, energy savings are guaranteed, ensuring a no-risk investment and smart business decision,” said Iain Campbell of Johnson Controls.

Building retrofits focused on eight improvement areas to make core building infrastructure, common spaces, and tenant suites more efficient. Upgrades included replacing all 6,514 windows, switching to all LED lighting, installing new building management system controls, creating a web-based tenant energy management system, and upgrading all 68 elevators to be 30% more efficient while sending excess energy back to the building’s grid.

Empire State Building energy management system
Empire State Building energy management system screenshot via ESBNYC

Sustainable Office Space Draws A Crowd

After completing all core retrofits, the building is now LEED Gold and Energy Star Certified, and is more efficient than some of New York City’s new LEED-certified buildings. Some small remaining upgrades will be finished as new tenants build out their high-performance workspaces. Once all tenant spaces are upgraded, the building will save $4.4 million per year while cutting energy demand 38% and carbon emissions 105,000 metric tons over the next 15 years.

It’s surprising to hear the building still has space left, considering the volume of new tenants flocking into sustainable new digs. Companies like LinkedIn, Shutterstock, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and Skanska have all signed leases for new efficient office space since the retrofit began.

Empire State Building Model Rolls Out Across US

But beyond exceeding energy efficiency goals and making the building more profitable, the Empire State Building’s retrofit model is now being applied to large commercial buildings across the US.

Johnson Controls and Jones Lang LaSalle, two members of the project team, are partnering to apply the same approach to all 13 New York metropolitan-area properties owned by Malkin, the company that manages the Empire State Building. “The Empire State Building has conclusively proven the business case for deep energy retrofits of any building,” said Raymond Quartararo of Jones Lang LaSalle.

Empire State Building energy efficiency project savings
Empire State Building energy efficiency project savings chart via ESBNYC

Individually, Johnson Controls has applied the model to 44 commercial buildings, and Jones Lang LaSalle has rolled it out in 25 commercial properties in the US. Another partner, the Rocky Mountain Institute, has used best practices from the initial project to work with properties owned by AT&T and the Department of Defense’s largest retailer.

Impact Could Be “Astounding”

Buildings consume 40% of all energy in the country, so as this new retrofit model rolls out across the country, it could prove to be a turning point in the transition to a clean energy economy. “While the Empire State Building retrofit savings are impressive, its impact if extrapolated over the US building stock is astounding,” said Victor Olgyay of the Rocky Mountain Institute.

To learn more about the Empire State Building’s energy efficiency retrofit process, check out this short video:[vimeo 50648455 w=400 h=300]

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