Almost as soon as the Clinton Foundation launched its building retrofit program, Bloomberg announced his support for its goals. Part of the foundation's mission is to show hard-nosed building owners that energy efficiency is a shrewd business decision. However, part of the problem is that large buildings have multiple renters -- who often don't know their energy costs -- and landlords who normally take care of the problem by raising the rent.
"We are not motivated by 'doing the right thing,'" Malkin explained to the Joint Economic Committee. The motivation, he said, comes from "making money."
Energy efficiency and profit are not always in the same basket, at least not within a time span many businesses are willing to consider. A successful retrofit project has to have significant reductions and be able to pay back the capital costs within a reasonable time frame, notably, less than five years.
The Clinton Foundation brought in the Rocky Mountain Institute, a Colorado-based energy research group, to help design the strategy for upgrading the Empire State Building. Jones Lang LaSalle manages the project, and Johnson Controls Inc. was awarded a competitive contract to oversee the project installations as well as ensure that the energy savings materialize.
Aiming high by combining low-tech methods
The team now had a major question in front of it: What could it afford to retrofit?
Throwing every "green" idea at a single building to see what sticks can quickly cripple a project financially. Accounting for the age of the building and a host of local environmental factors will determine how much insulation is needed, whether solar panels are a worthwhile investment and what kind of air-conditioning system is best.
After months of analysis, considering 66 energy-efficiency measures and combining them into different "packages" to determine which would work best in tandem, the team ultimately decided to enact a package with eight measures.
The window upgrades will both increase the building's heat retention in the winter and, through the use of a suspended film between each pane of glass, reflect heat in the summer without reducing the amount of visible light. This portion of the upgrade, however, only represents about 13 percent of the project's reduction.
Other improvements to the building include radiator insulation to prevent heat from escaping the building and an upgrade of the chiller system that runs the air conditioning. Five of the eight projects will be completed by the end of the year, representing more than 60 percent of the planned savings. However, none of the upgrades sounds particularly remarkable on its own. In fact, the "most high-tech things" in the building, Malkin said, were the wireless thermostats that improve temperature management.
"But look," he said after the JEC hearing, "it's all innovation." Malkin recalled something his grandfather once told him in the 1970s: "Hardly anything gets invented. But people combine stuff together which had never been combined, and it's in a new way, and it creates a different result."
Strategies abound; implementation is rare
Richard Leigh, director of research and advocacy for the Urban Green Council, the New York chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, said he admires the ongoing renovations at the Empire State Building. The retrofit planning strategy has been known to the academics for many years, he said. What has been missing is practical implementation.
"To change the city's energy consumption," Leigh said, "we have to go after the existing structures."