Building inspiration through an iconic retrofit

Editor's Note: To learn more about energy-efficient buildings, check out VERGE@Greenbuild, November 12-13, in San Francisco.

In the 1933 movie King Kong, the Empire State Building sets the backdrop for the ape’s climactic defeat. Throughout decades of art and culture, America’s favorite building has hosted tragedy and inspired grand solutions. The building magnifies our indomitable spirit and aspirations that carry America forward.

Delve into the past -- and the ideas that emerge are powerful.

Built during the Great Depression, the Empire State Building changed the course of real estate development in Manhattan, and it is poised to do so again. In a time of global warming and lackluster economics, is the “world’s most famous office building” leading us again to a more inspired way forward?

Today, the Empire State Building is more energy efficient due to a deep retrofit that will reduce its energy use by over 38 percent, saving $2.4 million in just the first year. Orchestrated by a team comprised of the Empire State Building Company, LLC; Johnson Controls, Inc.; Jones Lang LaSalle; and Rocky Mountain Institute, in its first year the retrofit saved 4,000 metric tons of carbon, equal to what 750 acres of pine forests offset. Once all tenant spaces are upgraded, the building will cut carbon emissions by 105,000 metric tons over the next 15 years.

"To me, 'green' is about money," Anthony Malkin, president of Malkin Holdings LLC, said earlier this year at RMI’s 30th anniversary celebration on the 61st floor of the iconic building. "What we’re really doing here is providing a very real model about what the economic incentive is to owners and tenants that will yield paybacks."

Existing buildings provide an enormous opportunity to make money and reduce energy use in the United States. Buildings are the single biggest electricity consumer in our economy. America’s 120 million buildings use 42 percent of the nation’s energy -- more than any other sector. To put that in perspective, if our nation's buildings were their own country, they would be the third biggest energy hog behind China and the U.S. In New York alone, buildings consume 80 percent of all energy.

Photo of Empire State Building in Manhattan skyline provided by SeanPavonePhoto via Shutterstock

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