Redefining Green at the Empire State Building

Built during the Great Depression, the Empire State Building symbolizes America’s unlimited potential.

Thanks to a collaboration of Rocky Mountain Institute and other world-class experts—including Johnson Controls, Jones Lang LaSalle and the Clinton Climate Initiative—the building underwent a deep retrofit incorporating RMI’s integrated design approach to become a leading example of economic and environmental revitalization.

Today, the Empire State Building is one of the most energy-efficient office buildings in the U.S. With savings of $4.4 million in annual energy costs, the efficiency upgrades, part a larger renovation, will pay for themselves in just over three years.

“To me, ‘green’ is about money,” Anthony Malkin, president of Malkin Holdings LLC, said Thursday evening at RMI’s 30th anniversary celebration on the 61st floor of the iconic building. “What we’re really doing here is providing a very real model about what the economic incentive is to owners and tenants that will yield paybacks. Now, we need to coerce capital, in a constructive fashion, towards its own self-interest.”

Malkin said he was “thrilled that Rocky Mountain Institute is here tonight in my house.”

Since the retrofit’s completion, the building has become a worldwide model for how owners of multi-tenant commercial spaces can save money, attract and retain tenants, and create jobs. “An energy-efficiency retrofit done in New York City cannot be imported from overseas,” Malkin said.

Now, he said, the building has some of the most technologically advanced options for tenants anywhere in New York City—perhaps the world. The deep retrofit that the team undertook with Malkin ensured that the 81-year-old building remained relevant, financially viable, and desirable.

“We’re disruptively changing what the popular perception of ‘green’ is,” he continued. “We don’t need to have a conversation about carbon; if we talk about carbon we’re going to get into an argument with a lot of people. The conversation should be about focusing on using existing technology and doing the right steps in the right order. And, if we make a smart investment that delivers a solid return, the carbon comes along for free.”

The Empire State Building retrofit changed the perception of what is possible and what is a “market imperative,” said RMI Co-founder and Chief Scientist Amory Lovins. “The real estate market is now splitting into ‘green’ and ‘brown’—they have different cap rates and a different financial performance. If you have a brown building that is inefficient and not very healthy or productive to be in, it’s becoming increasingly hard to finance it, to rent it, to sell it. It won’t be worth very much.”

Malkin agreed, saying that his building’s retrofit showed that, in five years, a troubled building can be turned into a desirable property, where tenants such as Coty, Skanska, LinkedIn, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation all have offices.

“We’re shaking the game up so much that people are saying, ‘Wow, they are making money from this. We want to make money too,’” he said. “Guess what? That’s not a political issue—unless you’re politically against making money.”