Anthony Malkin Wants You to Stop the Greenwashing

The basic facts about the Empire State Building’s deep energy retrofit are well known to Urban Green’s audience. But at Stop the Greenwashing: A Conversation With Anthony E. Malkin, I learned some history and a few new unorthodox approaches to transforming commercial real estate.

Cecil Scheib and Anthony Malkin

From the beginning of the project, Malkin wanted to demonstrate a logical approach to energy savings. By avoiding the emotional appeals of "greenwashing," owners can “change the world by saving money, not paying.” So he publicized the details and process of the work, hoping to spark a similar trend among others. So far, few buildings have taken the bait. I asked him why.


One secret is tenants, which use over half of commercial building energy. Word of mouth about cost savings should have been sufficient, with a boost from tenant awards or plaques to spark competition. But as it turned out, positive reinforcement hasn’t been quite enough. “If I knew then what I know now, I might have approached it differently,” Malkin admitted. As a result, Malkin’s tenants are prodded by more than wanting to do the right thing: they are required to add energy efficiency to their fitouts. “They all complain, but once our engineers explain to them they’ll get a payback in five years or less without having to do anything, the problem goes away.”

In addition, new commercial development in Manhattan may mean more whole-building renovations across the sector. “Hudson Yards and Manhattan West availability is going to empty formerly trophy buildings. There will be competition for tenants and those that demonstrate deep energy efficiency will have an edge. Those with a new curtain wall, new HVAC, and that bring the building to state of the art, will be most attractive. If you don’t have a robust building energy management system, you won’t get the best results, and you won’t be on the tour” tenants take. The victors will be those that demonstrate more than a new lobby and elevators cabs, but a better building.

Lester Pollack Colloquium Room at NYU Law


Beyond projects undertaken by forward-thinking owners with deep pockets, Malkin believes the impetus for lowering building-wide energy consumption is the energy reporting required by NYC. New York’s Greener, Greater Buildings Plan is “fantastic,” and the city should “shine a light on energy usage, get more facts, and embarrass people into saving more.”

In fact, during the lead up to the passage of the audit and retrocommissioning requirements, Malkin was in favor of retrocommissioning every five years. “But you have to be realistic based on the lifecycle of tenant installations” and city government can’t force change to happen too quickly. In the meantime, “tenants should be required to report their energy consumption. It’s all got to be about data” to direct the most economically effective efforts.

Malkin also touched on some personal efforts to spur better retrofits around the world. “I advised the owners of the Tour Montparnasse in Paris about their retrofit. They planned to fix a leaking curtain wall, broken HVAC systems, and a failing aluminum electrical distribution system, and do energy efficiency if there was money left over. I told them that was the reverse order. They should start with the curtain wall to reduce heat-cold transfer and then reduce the size of the HVAC because there’s less load. That means a smaller electric distribution to replace because the building doesn’t use as much power. So you haven’t spent anything on energy efficiency.” Clearly, Amory Lovins got Malkin in a back room at some point!

Malkin also noted “it’s incredibly odd to me to have two men up here speaking, when in my experience the hard work of energy efficiency is being done by women. It’s logical that five years from now it will be two women up here, because guys fundamentally don’t get it.” Interest in sustainability may be as much generational as gendered, but time will tell.

Missed the event? You can watch the recording by NYU Law.