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Green is for Profits, not Paint

By Bryan Hadick, 6 March 2017


On Tuesday, 28 February 2017, TE Greengineers attended Stop the Greenwashing and Make ‘Green Buildings’ Mean Something: A Conversation with Anthony E. Malkin, Chairman of Empire State Realty Trust, an event generously presented by the Guarini Center on Environmental, Energy, and Land-Use Law at NYU School of Law.


During this session, Mr. Malkin addressed ‘greenwashing’ as it relates to buildings, and cautioned against the limitations of promoting sustainability measures based upon images of brand association and feel-good certificates over solid financial results.  Rather than carbon and pollution, Malkin says, “we need to be talking energy efficiency and costs.  The kWh is the single most important tool for innovation, as it is universally consumed by all buildings in all countries.  Address the kWh and we will also be addressing the environment, economy, and household and business expenses.”


Malkin’s vision for targeting kWh’s relies on the concept of “negawatts” - a quantification of energy saved, which easily equates to money saved.  The negawatt can be appreciated by anyone who pays for energy, from utility suppliers to building landlords to individual tenants.  Instead of paying a premium for certificates to boost our green image, Malkin suggests, building developers and owners should simply focus on saving money.  This can be achieved by utilizing tools such as the ASHRAE 90.1 building energy standard, Energy Star appliances, and WaterSense low-flow fixtures.


With 50-60% of building energy being consumed by tenants, a building’s energy strategy needs to include tenant spaces.  The best way to accomplish this is through sub-metering and prorated billing for tenants, because when people pay for what we use, we start to pay attention and look for savings.  While there are already many opportunities for renters and tenants to reduce utility usage, Malkin has worked with the US EPA-DOE to develop a new Tenant Star program (currently being finalized) which will expand the range of successful Energy Star building criteria into leased spaces.  Under the Tenant Star program, metered individual usage, comparative benchmarking data, and lighting/fixture/appliance efficiency would combine with simple behavioral adjustments and other low/no-cost systems to provide tenants with the tools and information necessary to take control of their energy use and expenses.


Malkin’s expectation is that opportunities for energy savings could soon become an important factor in tenant building selection criteria, which would drive landlords to develop and maintain robust energy management systems to attract tenants.  The gist is that market forces can be harnessed to drive change.  Especially now, says Malkin, “we need quantitative results to support fact-based policies to continue real environmental work.  We need to emphasize ROI driven by smart, uncompromising systems.”