Energy Efficiency: The Sky is the Limit

The Empire State Building towers above the streets of Manhattan, representing the pinnacle of Art Deco design and a signature architectural wonder in the modern world.  It is less apparent, however, that the Empire State Building is a leading example of energy efficiency in one of the greenest cities in the United States.  Leading up the radical transformation, New York City exemplified unparalleled sustainable development, which can be attributed to carbon emissions averages that are one third below the national level.  Many argued that if the city itself was so green, why not transform the renowned landmark as well?  Consequently, in 2008 work began on green retrofits to the Empire State Building in order to significantly reduce carbon emissions and improve energy efficiency.    

The $550 million Empire State ReBuilding Program was a groundbreaking in its transparency, documentation, and application to other office buildings like it across the planet (Miller, 2009).  Previous projects were primarily completed on a much smaller scale with little planning, in which green retrofits were fixed to various parts of a building whenever deemed necessary.  The difference for the Empire State ReBuilding Program is that renovations yield much greater energy efficiency and carbon emission reduction when taking a whole-building approach.  Using $120 million of the total budget (Lockwood, 2009), the measures taken by this retrofit program resulted in a 10-20 percent reduction in energy consumption and an energy savings of roughly 40 percent (Miller, 2009).  Ultimately, this plan will result in annual utility bill savings of $4.4 million and guarantee a three year payback on initial investment, while simultaneously reducing the building’s carbon footprint.  

Retrofits throughout the building included: refurbishing the Empire State Building’s 6,514 windows regulate external climate on heating and cooling, addition of energy efficient lighting, modifications to the building’s chiller plant, improvement in insulation and air conditioning equipment, and implementation of a central energy monitoring system to educate tenants on their energy usage and how to reduce their consumption for the future (Lockwood, 2009).  In total, project developers calculated that the application of this program will reduce peak electricity demand by 3.5 megawatts and carbon dioxide by 9 percent, thus preventing the release of approximately 105,000 tons of carbon dioxide over the next 15 years (Lockwood, 2009; Miller, 2009).  Consequently, these retrofits enabled to building to achieve LEED Gold status with respect to sustainable practices in 2011 (Bloomfield and LaSelle, 2011).  LEED is the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is used around the world to determine how sustainable buildings are, and the Empire State Building achieving the second highest level proves how plausible it is for all buildings to become more sustainable.

Though the primary purpose of this rebuilding program was to improve energy efficiency of the Empire State Building, it ultimately provided a glimpse into what is possible for greening other buildings and cities across the world.  The building now stands as the standard for a sustainable transition and has laid the groundwork for other potential programs to model their process of greening after the Empire State Building.  Thus, the benefits, both environmentally and economically, of such a transformation will potentially push other buildings and cities to follow suit in the integration of environmentally friendly practices with society.   


Bloomfield, Craig & LaSelle, Jones Lang (2011, September 13). Empire State Building Achieves LEED Gold. United State Green Building Council (USGBC). Web. <;.

Lockwood, Charles, (2009, November/December). Building Retro. Urban Land. Web. <;.

Miller, Molly, (2009, April). Retrofitting America’s Favorite Skyscraper – The Empire State Building, a Leading Example of Energy Efficiency. Rocky Mountain Institute. Web. <’s+Favorite+Skyscraper&gt;.


One thought on “Energy Efficiency: The Sky is the Limit

  1. randypeppler February 19, 2017 / 7:28 pm

    Terrific real world example to start this off, and you place it into the larger context of the greening of NYC. I love your title, too – I’ve stood at the bottom of the Empire State Building and looked up – simply a marvel. This is well researched and nicely written. You needed to ask some questions related to this topic that you can answer in subsequent sections. 46 out of 50 points.


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