Bill McKibben, THE NEW YORKER
A 1999 graduate in sustainable design from the University of Virginia, Dana Robbins Schneider led sustainability efforts for many years at the commercial-real-estate giant J.L.L. As the director of sustainability at the Empire State Realty Trust, she oversaw an energy-efficiency retrofit of the iconic Manhattan skyscraper on Thirty-fourth Street, which demonstrated how landlords could save both carbon and money, and which helped pave the way for Local Law 97, the city’s effort to force large buildings to improve their energy performance. (Our interview has been edited.)
How did the Empire State Building retrofit come about? What are the bottom-line before-and-after numbers?
The Empire State Building’s ten-year energy-efficiency retrofit started as an exercise to prove—or disprove—that there could be an investment-and-return business case for deep energy retrofits. Once it was proven, it was implemented to save energy and reduce costs for both the tenants and Empire State Realty Trust. We partnered with the Clinton Climate Initiative, Rocky Mountain Institute, Johnson Controls, and J.L.L. to manage the project. Through the rebuild, we were able to cut emissions from the building by fifty-four per cent and counting, which has saved us upward of four million dollars each year, with a 3.1-year payback. We have attempted to inform policy with local, state, and federal governments to share what we’ve learned to reduce emissions—and to meet E.S.R.T.’s target for the building to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.
As a result of the retrofit, the building is in the top twenty per cent in energy efficiency among all measured buildings in the United States. E.S.R.T. is the nation’s largest user of a hundred-per-cent green power in real estate and was named Energy Star Partner of the Year in 2021.
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