Taking The LEED: Empire State Building Gets Certified After All

The Empire State Building doesn’t need a LEED plaque to be recognized. But, in an unexpected reversal, the newly retrofitted icon has decided to pursue one anyway.

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When I spoke to Tony Malkin, the head of Malkin Holdings LLC and the man behind the ultra-ambitious $550 million green retrofit at the Empire State Building, I was both impressed and unsurprised. I was talking to him because I was writing what wound up being a brief piece for the Wall Street Journal about one facet of that retrofit — the removal, on-site re-fabrication and upgrade (that is, in a workshop in the Empire State Building) and re-installation of the Empire State Building’s windows — and we spoke during what I imagined was a Town Car-ride from one meeting to another for him. The impressive part was that Malkin was clearly very smart, clearly very knowledgeable on the state of play in the world of green building and green retrofits, and clearly proud of the scope and scale of his in-progress retrofit. The not-surprising part was how Malkin expressed all this.

If the NYC real estate personality type with which most of us have the most interaction is the disconcertingly glib, full-of-it-for-a-living buyer’s agent type, Malkin represents something of a type in himself, albeit of a different kind — the intelligent and ambitious developer type, whose appreciation of his own intelligence and ambition is not-exactly-tempered by the fact that said developer type is usually hugely wealthy and, as in Malkin’s case, is the scion of a similarly self-appreciating empire-builder type. Malkin was gracious and enjoyable to talk to and clearly his own man, but he was also the aforementioned. All of which is sort of a long way of saying that it made sense when Malkin came down — repeatedly, vociferously,and publicly — against LEED back in 2010.

Which in turn is a nice way of saying that Malkin called LEED bullshit. That assessment is certainly not beyond the pale for us here at gbNYC, although we generally take more words to make the same point in a more qualified way. But it’s one thing for Stephen and me to discuss LEED’s shortcomings and Henry Gifford’s lawsuit against the USGBC and another thing entirely for the head of Malkin Holdings LLC to proclaim that he would not be pursuing LEED certification for his massive green retrofit of New York City’s most famous office building because of bullshit-related concerns. Because of the power behind it and the size of the megaphone proclaiming it, Malkin’s proclamation means more. The brisk pace with which the new green office spaces in the Empire State Building have been moving — such as the LEED-CI 42nd-floor space that Stephen wrote about back in March — seemed to suggest that Malkin’s decision not to pony up for a LEED certification plaque was reasonable enough. And, of course, plenty of New York’s greenest new commercial and residential buildings have opted out of third-party certification. But there are plenty of other buildings willing to leap through the USGBC’s hoops in pursuit of that LEED certification, if only because of the marketing benefits that certification confers — would-be tenants searching for green office space in New York City are generally (and justifiably) not unhappy about being able to show that green office space off. And now we can add another mega-developer to the list of skeptical-ish developers willing to bound through those LEED hoops. That would be Tony Malkin, whom you might remember from a couple of sentences ago, and who announced recently that he will, indeed, be pursuing LEED certification for the Empire State Building retrofit and was in line to receive his certification later this month.

“Upgrades at the 2.9 million-square-foot landmark include green features such as better-insulated windows and an upgraded air-conditioning system—changes that the management said lower energy consumption by 38%,” Crain’s Theresa Agovino writes. “[Malkin] said the changes were motivated by a desire to save energy. However, he said that once he realized the work would qualify for a certification, he opted to pursue it. ‘We did the work,’ Mr. Malkin said. ‘Why not?’ Mr. Malkin said the building would merit a gold rating.”

Were the Empire State Building’s green retrofit warrant a LEED-EB Gold certification, it would be quite an achievement. And while it would be exactly as impressive an accomplishment were that certification to go un-awarded and un-sought, it’s difficult for those of us to the left of Henry Gifford on this issue to be disappointed in Malkin’s reversal. Manhattan real estate is a business, after all — a competitive one, and one in which marketing concerns are not so much secondary as their own written-in-all-caps category. While Malkin’s 2010 Real Talk on LEED was admirable in its own way, his willingness to be equally frank about pursuing a certification in 2011 is fairly bracing, as well. We’ve said it before, and will say it again here: this guy is the sort of mega-developer we at gbNYC can get behind, and not only because he routinely provides engaging (and intermittently PG-13) copy. Or, if you’d like it shorter: why not, indeed?

About David Roth

Since September of 2009, David Roth has served as the Managing Editor of gbNYC. David lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan with his wife, and is also a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New Republic and the Wall Street Journal, among other publications. You can contact David at droth11@gmail.com.

about gbNYC

gbNYC is a multi-disciplinary consulting and real estate services firm. In addition to representing office tenants and commercial buyers in leasing and acquisitions, we also provide innovative consulting solutions from a unique, green building perspective. We advise on green building financial incentives, comment on proposed green building marketing strategies, author white papers, treatises, and market analyses, organize seminars on the LEED process and professional accreditation, and provide advice and analysis on green building risk management and the overall state of green real estate, leasing, and construction, in New York City and beyond.

Our blog, the gbNYC+ journal of real estate, law, + sustainability, delivers consistent, original content - from a New York City perspective - on how technology, data, and sustainability are changing how we interact with our built environment. Subscribe below and receive new articles as they're published or connect with our social media presence to join our ongoing conversation about real estate and sustainability, in the Big Apple and beyond. Contact us at (201) 835-8530 or info@gbNYC.com for more information about our services and to discuss how we can assist you.

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