Empire State Building to go LEED Gold, cut energy costs 38%

An alliance that includes the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI), Johnson Controls, Rocky Mountain Institute, and Jones Lang LaSalle — has come together to green the world’s most famous office building.  By 2013, a team of experts assembled by these organizations aims to reduce the Empire State Building’s energy consumption by 38 per cent, and save its tenants $4.4 million per year in avoided energy costs.

This could be a major flagship project that helps energy efficiency earn its spot next to renewable energy as well-recognized tonic to our environmental and economic ailments (electricity efficiency alone makes up 3 out the 14 stabilization wedges in the full global warming solution).

Of the over 60 efficiency projects that were modeled for the building using cost-benefit curves, the partners identified eight economically viable upgrades:

  1. Window Light Retrofit:  Refurbishment of approximately 6,500 thermopane glass windows, using existing glass and sashes to create triple-glazed insulated panels with new components that dramatically reduce both summer heat load and winter heat loss.
  2. Radiator Insulation Retrofit:  Added insulation behind radiators to reduce heat loss and more efficiently heat the building perimeter.
  3. Tenant Lighting, Daylighting and Plug Upgrades: Introduction of improved lighting designs, daylighting controls, and plug load occupancy sensors in common areas and tenant spaces to reduce electricity costs and cooling loads.
  4. Air Handler Replacements: Replacement of air handling units with variable frequency drive fans to allow increased energy efficiency in operation while improving comfort for individual tenants.
  5. Chiller Plant Retrofit: Reuse of existing chiller shells while removing and replacing “guts” to improve chiller efficiency and controllability, including the introduction of variable frequency drives.
  6. Whole-Building Control System Upgrade: Upgrade of existing building control system to optimize HVAC operation as well as provide more detailed sub-metering information.
  7. Ventilation Control Upgrade: Introduction of demand control ventilation in occupied spaces to improve air quality and reduce energy required to condition outside air.
  8. Tenant Energy Management Systems:  Introduction of individualized, web-based power usage systems for each tenant to allow more efficient management of power usage.

According to the Clinton Climate Initiative press release, the project will:

…prove the viability for energy efficiency retrofit projects to dramatically increase building energy efficiency and reduce overall carbon output with sensible payback periods and enhanced profitability.

It’s probably not a coincidence that the CCI is seeking to help “prove the viability of energy efficiency retrofits” just 2 months after progressives allocated over $20 billion of stimulus funds for energy efficiency-related programs, and 3-6 months before another barrage of massive energy infrastructure and climate bills are scheduled to hit the senate floor.

Using this high-visibility project as an empire state-sized ad for the democratic energy and economic platform is a shrewd maneuver because it helps to popularize the idea of investment in energy efficiency as a economy saver while also providing a replicable model on which future project developers can build.

President Clinton remarked:

In this distressed economic climate, there is a tremendous opportunity for cities and building owners to retrofit existing buildings to save money and save energy. I’m proud of the work my foundation’s climate initiative has done with 40 of the world’s largest cities, including New York where we played a central role in convening a unique set of partners that are working to make the Empire State Building retrofit project possible. It is this kind of innovative collaboration that is crucial to protecting our planet and getting our economy up and running again.

Its good to see that the dems are finally growing a pair and are getting over their reluctance to use a national economic crisis for the advancement of their political ideals. The press release also had a few notable quotes from the private sector leaders involved to help drive home the green jobs and cost savings message:

“This innovative process, which has developed new techniques for modeling and organizing an integrated program, offers a clear path to adoption around the world, leading to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions,” according to Anthony E. Malkin, of the Empire State Building Company.  “Along with other steps taken, in recycling waste and construction debris, use of recycled materials, and green cleaning and pest control products, the model built at the Empire State Building will meaningfully speed the reduction in energy consumption and environmental impact and allow more sustainable operations – while simultaneously enhancing profitability and tenant comfort.  This is a real program, happening in real time, creating real green jobs.”

“This project brings to bear every bit of experience, research and innovation we’ve accumulated in our 125 years in this business,” said Iain Campbell, Vice President, Johnson Controls, which serves as the energy services company for the program.  “It’s gratifying to know that just as we point to this building as one of the greatest achievements of our grandparent’s generation, so can our grandchildren point to us.”

“Not only will this project dramatically reduce the Empire State Building’s environmental impact, but now we’re able to do it in a way that provides meaningful costs savings to the building as well as its tenants,” said Raymond Quartararo, International Director, Jones Lang LaSalle.

Once underway, the new LEED GOLD Empire State Building retrofit project will provide great ammunition for the progressive framing of the climate issue as an economic opportunity.

Playing up the economic benefits while putting the spotlight on the private sector engineering and construction companies involved (Johnson Controls Inc., and Jones Lang LaSalle) really makes this operation look like a win-win-win: a job maker, money saver and an environmentally conscious move, a link that the American pepole are astonishingly still wrapping their brains around.

— Sean Pool

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13 Responses to Empire State Building to go LEED Gold, cut energy costs 38%

  1. ecostew says:

    Recent international climate meeting:

  2. cugel says:

    This appears to be a very well thought out scheme. It provides proof-of-principle on a flagship project which should be easy to publicise and difficult to discredit. Hopefully it will prompt stakeholders in other real-estate to ask “Why aren’t we doing this?”.

    (Of course for some the Clinton name will be enough to discredit it, but such voices are fading fast. Money talks much louder.)

  3. paulm says:

    Hope they use empty floors to provide housing for the homeless.

  4. David says:

    This project doesn’t seem to be a very good argument for efficiency. 60 projects were proposed. Only 8 of them made economic sense and will result in a 38% reduction in energy use. Not bad, except that the ESB was built in the early 1900’s. For structures that were built more recently, a 38% reduction is probably out of the question. 5% to 10% maybe, but that won’t make a huge dent in energy consumption.

    [JR: Uhh, no. In fact, the huge size of the building and its location and its age limit what is cost effective. In 2 decades, I have never entered a building that couldn’t cost-effectively cut its energy consumption 25% to 50% depending on the owners’ desired return on investment (other than a few buildings that were designed to be very green). And that is without redesigning utility regulations so that they become a partner in pushing efficiency. Indeed, many buildings built in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s are huge energy hogs.]

  5. A new website features details, reports, an interactive model, and video on the Empire State Project. See

  6. Harrier says:

    The Empire State Building has, to me, always symbolized the best of New York City, the United States, and human industry. It is a uniquely human, uniquely industrial icon that nevertheless has endured the changing times with a fortitude worthy of a natural landmark.

    This retrofit gives me confidence that the Empire State Building can continue to endure and serve as a model to future generations.

  7. EricG says:

    Thanks RMI, for this link. Very cool site with lots of detail.

    Did you guys consider the energy savings that could be realized by turning off the decorative lighting at the top of the building?

  8. Matt Herrick says:

    If I may point out a new strategy by the State Department to build all embassies to achieve LEED Silver. The initial embassies have achieved Standard, but those hereafter will get the Silver. I (totally work for State) wrote about this recently:

  9. cugel says:

    My thanks also to RMI for that link. It deserves the widest possible promotion.

  10. Bob Wallace says:

    Rather than turning off the lights on top, how about replacing them with LEDs? The general public is not going to be as green-friendly if they are fed an efficient, but uninteresting world.

    We need some highly decorated green buildings and a few very fast BEVs like the Tesla. Let people see that they can have that extra zing! if they want it and not wreck the environment getting it.

  11. Col says:


    The RMI has also recently put out a 17 policy goals publication. It gets at the idea that price changes are necessary but not sufficient, barriers need to be busted. I’d love to get your thoughts on that publication some day (Sorry if you already have and I missed it).

  12. green-retrofit says:

    to David (8.April) and reg. the ESB green retrofit project in general.
    The total budget is $500 million, so the “green-budget” of $20 million is NOT that much of a commitment. The ESB owners are looking at a very short pay-back time of only ca. 5 years. Had they opted for a period of 10 – 15 years, a significantly higher reduction in energy use (kWh/m2/a) could be achieved. To get an idea what is possible, have a look at the info and data published by the “German Energy Agency” (dena – Deutsche Energie Agentur): The program to tackle the energy performance of the existing housing stock began in 2003 and the average reduction is 85%. If you look at the “Best Practice Datenbank” (in German only), you will find a wide range of buildings reg. construction and age. Some of the biggest savings were achieved in apartment buildings from the 60’s and 70’s.