By Al Barbarino
Rockefeller Group executives and employees gathered on the 47th floor of the Time-Life Building at 1271 6th Ave. last week to unveil a shiny new LEED plaque.
The company has, at one time or another, owned or operated nine LEED certified buildings, but this was its first LEED Silver award for a New York City building.
The building was built in 1959, more than four decades before LEED existed.
“That was a significant outcome given that the property is 52 years old, so we were proud of that one,” said Blaise Cresciullo, head of asset services at the Rockefeller Group. “Our tenants are excited about it, too.”
Indeed, Time, Inc., which occupies roughly 80 percent of the building, has embraced the certification. An optimized ventilation system keeps the temperature level; efficient lighting lifts eye strain; and dollars are shaved from the electric bill.
“Our employee population is becoming more and more concerned about the environment that they work in — especially the younger employees,” said Kenneth R. Jurgensen, Time Inc.’s director of building services. “They want to work in a space that’s LEED certified and we’ve had very, very good feedback from our employees.”
The LEED certification has been dismissed in the past as a politically correct marketing tool. The stigma arguably carries over to this day. But the environmental ramifications and energy savings are quite real, and ramping up efficiency standards can mean the difference between gaining and losing tenants, some industry professionals said.
“It’s now not just a marketing generator for a company to look better, it’s actually becoming a matter of your employee base wanting it, demanding it and living it environmentally,” said Scott Spector, a principal at Spector Group, an architectural firm that specializes both in new building design and the retrofitting of existing spaces. “They’re not only pushing it, it’s something that they think is a given.”
LEED — Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council in 2000 to encourage energy efficiency, the use of renewable materials, indoor environmental quality and other green measures. Buildings can achieve standard, silver, gold, or platinum LEED awards based on a point scale.
Spector said about half of his clients today shoot for at least some level of LEED certification. Spector Group recently completed a major LEED Gold building for Mercedes Benz, a LEED Silver project for Time Warner, and is currently designing MAN Group’s LEED Silver New York headquarters. In addition, media companies with young executives and employees are demanding LEED, Spector said.
Today’s materials are already built with efficiency in mind — from recyclable carpeting, efficient lighting fixtures, sinks and toilets, and paints that are low on harmful chemicals, so achieving the basic LEED certification is relatively easy, he said.
Silver and Gold certification require substantially greater time and money commitments. LEED Silver costs an additional two to three percent of typical construction costs (including commissioning costs through the Green Building Council), while Silver costs an added five to ten percent, Spector estimated. But, he added, “The bottom line is you can save a tremendous amount of money later on.”
Significant rebates exist for companies that pursue LEED certification, Cresciullo said. Last summer, Rockefeller Group received a check for more than $500,000 from ConEdison for equipment installed at the Time-Life Building during the retrofitting process.
But critics have said that the initial costs still aren’t worth it. A city building manager with a real estate firm that owns a dozen office buildings in New York City and Washington D.C. said his buildings are 92 percent occupied and zero percent LEED certified. Revamping energy systems is too expensive, especially given the low demand from tenants, the manager said.
“No one cares and no one is asking about it,” the manager, who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record, said. “They want their services. They don’t care where their energy comes from.”