Battling the Beast of Climate Change at the Empire State Building

Battling the Beast of Climate Change at the Empire State Building

It's hard not to think about King Kong when you're in the recently renovated 80th floor Observatory of the Empire State Building. And today I'm thinking about one of my favorite Godzilla movies: "King Kong vs. Godzilla."

Godzilla movies first appeared in Japan in the 1950s and drew a global following amid general public angst over the dangers of radiation and Man interfering with Nature. Even in my 'tweens, when I first began watching these films, the underlying message resonated with me and echoed in the lyrics from Blue Oyster Cult's hit "Godzilla": "History shows again and again how Nature points out the folly of Man."

In "King Kong vs. Godzilla," an electrically souped-up King Kong eventually hauls Godzilla to a watery demise after the requisite destruction of Tokyo and a sacrilegious romp on Mt. Fuji. In my modern-day adolescent fantasy, unmanageable climate change is the mutant manmade threat to human existence and energy efficiency is the 120,000-pound gorilla that I'm rooting for.
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While no scantily clad women clutched in large hairy palms were espied over the safety fence on the 80th floor, within there was the launch of an ambitious $20 million energy efficiency retrofit of the Empire State Building.

Having been involved with building energy savings for over 25 years, I'm more used to these events attracting yawns instead of celebrities. But, perhaps as an indicator that green's sexiness is part of New Normal, on the dais were former President Bill Clinton; New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg; ESB Owner Anthony Malkin, of Wein & Malkin; Amory Lovins, co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute; Raymond Quartararo, International Director for Jones Lang LaSalle; and Iain Campbell, Johnson Controls' North America general manager.

Like King Kong dispatching so many annoying biplanes, this star-studded panel swatted away the typical objections that saving energy is too expensive, too complicated, too risky in this time of economic uncertainty.

All participants agreed that saving energy was being turned into a no-brainer given the suite of innovations being combined in this project, including the integrated design approach, the seamless coordination between the various key parties, the open architecture of information sharing and the leadership on the part of the building owner.

Owner Tony Malkin praised Johnson Controls for guaranteeing the energy savings on the project and anticipated that it would make the Empire State Building more attractive to tenants. One of the goals of this project, he said, was to create a replicable model for others to follow. The full analysis process for the project is available online for public use at and

Clinton noted that 75 percent of climate emissions came from cities and that investing in energy efficiency was one the most effective ways to keep people working during the economic downturn. Clinton also emphasized how crucial the private sector was to making it happen and that proven economics had to be there for building owners to be able to implement these measures.

This video highlights Empire State Building project and the partners in the effort. Produced by the Rocky Mountain Institute, Johnson Controls and Jones Lang LaSalle.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke of how green investment should not slide down in investment priority because of the economy; indeed, he stressed that green building investment is a top pro-growth strategy, particularly in a city with 900,000 buildings. He drew an analogy between today's undertaking and the bold project that produced the Empire State Building, which was launched at the height of the Great Depression as a statement of New York's leadership and confidence in the future.

Amory Lovins explained that every unit of electricity saved in the building eliminates 4 units of fuel input at the power plant. The power of integration is such that the savings were twice as large as conventionally assumed for this type of project, but cost less than a typical retrofit.

Ray Quartararo from Jones Lang LaSalle thought the project's main value was in its use as a laboratory and platform for commercially viable sustainability improvements. He hoped the project would be able to demonstrate concretely the green benefits of tenant retention and increased rent premiums. Jones Lang expects the energy savings to be a stepping-stone to LEED Gold certification under the LEED Existing Building Operations and Maintenance (EBOM) standard.

Johnson Controls' Iain Campbell concluded that the final retrofit, which will be completed by 2013, is expected to reduce total energy consumption by almost 40 percent for an Energy Star score of 90, which will put the Empire State Building in the top 10 percent of all large offices in the country. Resulting CO2 emissions reductions are expected to reach 105,000 tons over the 15-year contract period.

At one point in the film after stomping King Kong pretty well, Godzilla is scorching him with his nuclear flame breath and it looks like the great ape is destined to end up as teppanyaki on the Ginza. But divine intervention in the form of an electrical storm revives King Kong who uses his opposable thumbs and mammalian brain to overcome the dumb strength of Godzilla. Although I'm not counting on divine intervention, it's nice to see that some of us are putting our opposable thumbs and mammalian brains to good use.

Rob Watson
Executive Editor,

For further coverage of this project see today's article on and, and the blog by Iain Campbell, Johnson Controls' vice president and general manager for North America.