By Jonathan Pappas
For some, it might be difficult to believe that a city as densely populated as The Big Apple with nearly one million buildings crowding the landscape is in fact one of the greenest, most energy efficient cities in the U.S.
But for political officials, New Yorkers and especially those working in the construction and development industry, it’s simple to understand why.
Under the Bloomberg administration, New York has not only seen an incredible construction boom, but also a thriving green movement.
With initiatives like PlaNYC, a long-term program aimed at making the city greener and more sustainable with the goal of reducing citywide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30 percent in the year 2030, New York has quickly blossomed into a leading pioneer in tackling global climate change.
According to Jake Goldman, Deputy Press Secretary for the Mayor, through PlaNYC’s Green Greater Building Plan (GGBP), the City adopted a local energy conservation construction code which holds all new construction and renovations to the most current energy efficiency standards.
The administration has also created a new enforcement unit at the Department of Buildings in order to meet the goals of the state’s plan to reach 90% compliance with the energy code by 2017.
Another effective measure the City has implemented is the Clean Heat program, which helps owners comply with new laws aimed at phasing out the dirtiest fuel oils by converting their fuel-oil burning equipment to cleaner fuels.
In large part due to this phase out, the City recently announced it has the cleanest air in decades.
It’s no surprise why the City has taken such aggressive actions to reduce overall energy consumption used by its buildings when taking into account the fact that 75 percent of New York City’s emissions come from its buildings. Furthermore, 80 percent of the buildings that exist today will still be standing in 2050.
So far, the City’s actions are paying off.
According to a recent report by the U.S. Green Building Council, New York City ranks first among the top U.S. cities with the most LEED project activity.
Earlier this month, the ACEEE ranked New York third highest in the country behind Massachusetts and California in its annual State Energy Efficiency Scorecard which measures a state’s policies and programs aimed at improving energy efficiency in homes, businesses, industries, and transportation systems.
While making the City a more eco-friendly place is the ethical thing to do, for owners and landlords, the ability to rent or lease space in a highly sustainable LEED-certified building is also becoming a prerequisite from tenants who practice corporate social responsibility and want to lower their overall carbon footprint.
“These days, it’s LEED and Energy Star that are selling real estate,” said Stuart Brodsky, co-chair of ULI New York’s Sustainable Building Council. “If it were 80 years ago at the Empire State Building, you’d be describing the speed of the elevators as a selling point.”
No one knows this more than the developers and brokers leading the revitalization of Downtown Manhattan, and in particular, the $20 billion redevelopment of the new World Trade Center site.
With 14 million total square feet of highly sustainable new office and retail space and each Tower guaranteed to achieve LEED Gold certification, the 16-acre complex promises to serve as a world-class model of energy efficiency and environmental sustainability.
“The WTC complex is one of the largest developments in the U.S. right now with one of the largest commitments to green architecture and planning,” said Mary Dietz, senior design manager at Silverstein Properties, one of the major developers involved in the World Trade Center rebuilding efforts.
According to Dietz, one of the most effective green features of the complex is the irrigation process that collects rain water from the flat roofs and terraces on Towers 2, 3 and 4. The collected water flows into the Towers’ water detention tanks to supply filtered water to the cooling towers and HVAC systems resulting in high efficiency heating and cooling.
The rain water is also used to irrigate all the trees on Cortlandt Way and the sidewalk trees around the three buildings – 73 trees in total. This process will save approximately 30% of domestic water usage per year.
Residential developers and hotels downtown are getting in on the green action as well.
Earlier this year, Hilton Worldwide’s Conrad New York Hotel in Battery Park City, which first opened its doors in March 2012, became the first LEED Gold new construction project in an existing building in New York.
It had previously been the site of the Embassy Suites New York before the hotel closed down in January 2011 for a 14-month long gut interior renovation, and was re-flagged as the Conrad.
According to Brodsky, the energy efficiency measures being taken today are a great step in the right direction, but they’re only the first step.
“Critical issues like energy efficiency and the long-term sustainability of a building often wax and wane in terms of being top of mind,” said Brodsky.
“Energy efficiency requires a continuous commitment, and management companies, landlords and tenants need to continue to work to ensure their buildings perform as well if not better than their initial intent.”
The real estate world will be watching closely to see if Mayor-elect de Blasio’s administration will keep up the pace.