NEW YORK -- Most Manhattan office buildings are designed for paper pushers, but there is a new factory running at the end of a long dim corridor on the fifth floor of the Empire State Building. Here machines are whirring, a furnace is roaring, and dozens of blue-collar workers are bustling about.
They are setting up to dismantle the building's 6,514 double-hung window frames, to reuse the glass and make them anew. It is part of one of the nation's most ambitious and symbolic energy-efficiency programs: a $20 million effort to cut the skyscraper's overall energy use by 38 percent.
Along the way, its planners hope to reduce the 79-year-old building's carbon footprint and shrink its $11 million annual utility bill. But the most ambitious part of their scheme calls for the suite of upgrades to pay for itself in just three years.
The "factory" is the outgrowth of a conversation in 2007 between Anthony Malkin, president of the New York real estate firm Malkin Holdings LLC, and Jamie Russell, who was then the director of the William J. Clinton Foundation's climate initiative. Malkin's company owns a collection of buildings across the bustling business sector of midtown Manhattan. Russell was looking for one for the foundation's new energy efficiency building retrofit program. The idea was to showcase economically feasible ways to reduce the energy use of existing buildings around the world.
Malkin suggested an older building already undergoing a $1.25 billion renovation. But Russell was thinking much bigger. He wanted a building that had been in Malkin's portfolio for less than a year, all 102 stories of it. "We knew that a building like the Empire State Building has global impact," said Arah Schuur, director of the Clinton Foundation's building retrofit program.
Before working out a plan with Malkin in early 2008, the foundation had already started several other retrofit partnerships around the world. What it needed was the publicity that was sure to come from the iconic New York landmark because the foundation had picked one of the more intractable problems in the struggle to save energy.
The energy consumed by residential and commercial buildings in the United States represents nearly 40 percent of the country's energy use and overall carbon dioxide emissions, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. In New York City, where there are about a million buildings, the issue is particularly acute.
'Improving the largest users first'
According to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's environmental program, PlaNYC 2030, more than 75 percent of the city's total energy consumption goes into heating and electrifying its buildings. However, New York is a city not only of buildings, but also of large buildings.
Only 2 percent of the buildings in the city -- about 22,000 -- are larger than 50,000 square feet, yet this more spacious variety consumes 45 percent of the city's total energy. Giving a sense of urgency, the plan says the focus must be on "improving the largest users first."
Testifying in front of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee last month to discuss the so-called clean energy economy, Malkin said the Empire State Building consumed as much energy as 40,000 single-family homes each day. The building's peak electricity use tops out at about 9.5 megawatts.
PlaNYC also estimates that the vast majority of the buildings that currently make up New York City will still be standing in 25 years -- roughly 85 percent of them. New "green" construction cannot meaningfully address the issue of greenhouse gas emissions without addressing existing building stock.