At the Empire State Building, Reducing Energy Consumption, While Avoiding Capital Costs

Yesterday, BusinessWeek published an instructive 12-page slideshow that features the Empire State Building over the years, along with plenty of of data points, including why it was erected, who financed, and who designed it.

The reason the skyscraper is in the news, of course, is because Empire State Realty Trust, the company that controls the iconic 102-story edifice, recently filed to raise as much as $1 billion in an IPO. (That is, at least, unless one investor, who just filed suit against the company over those plans, somehow torpedoes them).

Still, BusinessWeek missed one big opportunity. It didn’t give readers a peek inside the 2.8 million-square-foot building, which recently underwent one of the largest “green” retrofits yet, and whose energy saving measures may eventually be replicated across other treasured New York buildings, if not the world.

A new issue of Harvard magazine recaps much of the story, beginning with efforts involved in reducing the Empire State Building’s energy consumption.

Unsurprisingly, the building’s 6,514 windows — which dated back to its 1931 opening and were anything but energy efficient — were a natural starting point. Completely replacing them wasn’t a consideration for a number of reasons, including the age of the building. (Newer windows would have meant losing architectural detail.) Instead, the windows were removed, their seals broken, and a mylar sheath inserted, after which the windows were sealed with krypton argon gas and reinstalled.

Other meaningful changes came in the form of automatic dampers that capture the winds that swirl around tall buildings and create a draft that moves upward, and removing dropped ceilings, so more sunlight could stream into the building, lessening the need for artificial lighting.

Energy efficiency came next (think LCD monitors and automatically dimming lights). And today, thanks to daily software calculations that get widely distributed: “Everyone in the Empire State Building, from occupants to operators, now knows how much energy they are using per square foot, how that compares to the energy used by other people doing similar work in similar circumstances, and what steps they could take for optimal efficiency,” according to Harvard.

So how interesting is all of this? Anthony Malkin, the real estate investor whose family owns a majority stake of the building, says that savings from the retrofits now shave $4.4 million off the building’s operations expenses per year, a substantial savings, particularly given that his management company spent just $13 million on upgrades. (Malkin tells Harvard that the project also involved money — $93 million — that would have been spent anyway, but was spent “differently” once the firm began working with the engineering team that projected the savings.)

More, Malkin has become an influential proponent of reducing energy consumption through retrofits, as opposed to spending on new sources of energy. He tells Harvard: “[A] watt saved is so much less expensive through this process than a watt generated by solar or wind.”  (Malkin has told Congress as much, too.)

In the meantime, the building’s “green” appeal has been attracting top-tier tenants like LinkedIn, the FDIC and Li & Fung, a Hong Kong-based company that provides supply-chain management services for retailing behemoths, including Target and Wal-Mart. Those same tenants are also enjoying newly refurbished elevators and other perks tied to a $550 million, ongoing renovation project that encompasses the energy efficient upgrades.In fact, Malkin and his partners say they need $55 million to $65 million beyond 2013 to finish the project — thus the IPO.

The Empire State Realty Trust owns and manages 12 office properties altogether that encompass roughly 7.7 million rentable square feet of office space. The Empire State Building itself features more square footage than some metropolitan areas, noted American Public Media in a recent report.

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