Change the Empire State Building…Change the World

We’ve all heard a common myth about the Empire State Building: if someone drops a penny from the roof, and it hits someone on the ground below just right, it will split them in half.

When an audience member at the recent Aspen Business Luncheon asked ESB owner Tony Malkin to validate, he responded, “I’m in the real estate business, and we don’t have that kind of money to throw around.”

While this quip drew plenty of laughs, the broader conversation between Malkin and Rocky Mountain Institute co-founder and Chairman Amory Lovins on the recent retrofit of the Empire State Building to save 38 percent of the building’s energy and $4.4 million annually made it clear that not only making money—but making a clear statement to the rest of the country—was something they took very seriously.

Buildings are the single biggest electricity consumer in our economy. In New York specifically, buildings consume 80 percent of all energy.

“If you want a sound solution to the coal issue, you need to get serious about designing and running buildings very differently,” Lovins said. “This is not a problem of technology and economics, but of adoption. We need to take to scale what is done.”

According to Lovins, the way RMI achieves this is by seeking out powerful partners who have tough problems. Then, by learning how to solve them together, they can create teachable cases and competitive pressure for others to follow suit. The decision to reposition the world’s most famous office building as a leading example of an economically viable, energy efficient commercial retrofit was made for its potential to fundamentally disrupt the market.

“We knew that by retrofitting the Empire State Building, we would catch the world’s attention,” Malkin said. “Through this project, we set out to prove or disprove energy efficiency retrofits’ economic viability. The program is designed to be open source, free, and widely available—so please rip us off.”

View the full conversation here.