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Ways of the World

Carol Stone, business economist & active Episcopalian, brings you "Ways of the World". Exploring business & consumers & stewardship, we'll discuss everyday issues: kids & finances, gas prices, & some larger issues: what if foreigners start dumping our debt? And so on. We can provide answers & seek out sources for others. We'll talk about current events & perhaps get different perspectives from what the media says. Write to Carol. Let her know what's important to you:

Monday, April 20, 2009

Celebrate Earth Day! Visit -- the Empire State Building?


The Empire State Building is presently undergoing a $500 million renovation. Two weeks ago, the building’s owners announced plans to add some $13 million to that to install environment-oriented refurbishments. The specific set of measures are expected to reduce energy consumption by 38% by 2013 and carbon dioxide emissions by 150,000 metric tons over the next 15 years. The cost savings, at current energy prices, should be so great that these investments will pay for themselves in just three years.

This prospect that such environmental enhancements to a commercial structure can recover their own costs so quickly is really exciting, to say nothing of what they can do for New York City air quality. Cost effectiveness should encourage more projects to retrofit existing buildings, especially if the example is a 75-plus-year-old National Landmark. The owners, the Empire State Building Company, an operating firm for the ultimate owners, the Malkin Family and the Helmsley Estate, initiated the design work. It was conducted by a team of four organizations: Jones Lang LaSalle, a global real estate management company; Johnson Controls, a large manufacturer of air-conditioning and building climate control equipment; the Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit think-tank specializing in business applications of environmental friendly technology; and the Clinton Climate Initiative, a division of the William J. Clinton Foundation, which coordinated the project. It is thus a product of profit-making and nonprofit institutions in the private sector. No governmental body was involved.

Some specific pieces of the work encompass very simple ideas. The Empire State Building has 6,514 operable windows. They were due to be removed, cleaned and reinstalled so they would open and close properly. Now, while they are apart, a thin “low-emissive” film of insulation will be inserted between the double panes of glass, giving as much climate protection as another entire pane of glass.

Sub-metering will be installed for individual tenant spaces, which will also be given additional flexibility in temperature control. The building’s air-circulating equipment is being upgraded to such an extent that two fans on each floor will now do the work of four current machines.

Much of this is a pioneering effort in retrofitting an existing high-rise building. While the designs are specific to the Empire State Building, the approach and types of undertakings can be readily adapted to other similar remodeling efforts.

When we began writing Ways of the World, now nearly three years ago, we were skeptical about what we’d have to say on the environment. Would we just stand around wringing our hands and whining over global warming? Would we pace impatiently until government policies took more defined shape, as they have just now with last Friday’s announcement from the Environmental Protection Agency about the public health threat from CO2 emissions? While many may applaud this latter action, it still will take a very long time yet to devise the regulations.

We soon learned, though, that there’s a lot going on here. Hybrid cars are just the tip of the iceberg among very dynamic activities. Boone Pickens and his windmills. Honda and their hydrogen-powered FCX Clarity sedan, with a couple now actually being driven around Santa Monica, CA, by real people in their everyday lives. A second generation of solar panels under development: lighter-weight and cheaper, so perhaps more popular. Gardens spreading as roof projects on city buildings – they use the CO2 and provide oxygen in return. Not on a large scale, but every little bit helps.

These things are not only really helpful, they’re fun. Technology issues are something Americans are good at fixing and enjoy. The Rocky Mountain Institute, as an example, calls their occasional journal “Solutions”. No hand-wringing here, there’s too much work to do. They’re already doing it. And whatever work they do boosts economic activity too.

So there’s a lot to celebrate on Earth Day. Go plant a tree. Or ride to the top of the Empire State Building! Its trademark nightly illumination, by the way, takes just a tiny fraction of the building’s energy and will not be diminished in the energy-saving. It apparently has a “green” light. And will indeed on April 22.

Rocky Mountain Institute: Entire site worth wandering around
Clinton Climate Initiative:
Empire State Building:
A 6-minute video on the sustainability project can be seen right on the homepage.
Special Sustainable Empire State Building site: There are links here to Jones Lang LaSalle and Johnson Controls sites, which provide more detail.
New York Times article, “Empire State Building Plans Environmental Retrofit”, April 6, 2009: This article also highlights pro-active modifications made by Skanska Construction Company, a new tenant in the building, to its own floor.



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