Going green – from the top down

While we're busy reducing domestic energy use one home at a time, one project in New York City is about to cut carbon emissions by the equivalent of 40,000 households in one swoop.

That’s right: the Empire State building is going green. Its refurbishment project, already underway, is expected to reduce the building’s energy use by almost 40%, saving $4.4m a year in energy bills. The scheme is predicted to recoup the costs of the refurbishment within three years.

The programme consists of:

• Replacing 6,500 windows
• Installing barriers behind radiators to stop heat loss
• Reducing the power of lighting
• Upgrading the building’s cooling system
• Improving the energy control system
• Raising the quality of ventilation
• Introducing a tenant energy management system.

And believe it or not, they’re doing it because it’s good business. "We're doing this not because it's the right thing to do," said Anthony Malkin, president of Malkin Holdings, quoted in the Guardian, "but because it makes business sense. If we don't reduce our energy consumption, we will lose money and be less competitive against China, India, Brazil and the other expanding economies."

This business-innovation approach is a very promising sign of things to come, and Malkin is not alone in his thinking: only two weeks ago the chairmen and CEOs of 27 major businesses – including Asda, Vodaphone and Lloyds Banking group – published a letter in the Financial Times, backing Environment minister Chris Huhne’s call to increase the UK’s carbon reduction targets from 20% to 30% by 2020.

Like Malkin, the business leaders say that raising emission reduction target is good business sense, and will save money and make the UK more competitive in a global market. According to the FT, “Companies, including household names from across Europe, applauded those views in the letter: ‘The EU’s future competitive advantage lies in encouraging and enabling its businesses to help drive the transformational change that will occur in the world economy within the next couple of decades, not to hide from it’.”

The Energy Saving Trust agrees. Not only do we have a lot of work to do if we are to meet our carbon emission reduction targets – the business side of going green will play an important part in building a really sustainable economic recovery.

In New York they see the Empire State building project as something all large buildings and major cities should be watching and learning from. Property Week quotes Malkin as saying, “If we only succeed at the Empire State Building, we have failed.”

We’ll be watching. And we hope the many thousands of Brits who visit New York each year will be inspired to emulate its most famous building when they get home. We’ll be more than happy to advise them on how to cut their emissions and their energy bills – though possibly not by $4.4million each…