Volume 20, Number 29 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | Nov. 30 - Dec. 6, 2007

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Green buildings will put owners in the black, panel says

By Patrick Hedlund

Green building is no longer the exception in New York City — but the rule, said a group of panelists discussing the significance of going green at a forum organized by the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association and Downtown Alliance on Wednesday.

The panel’s rationale for future green building and retrofitting sought to appeal to a number of New Yorkers’ sensibilities, including moral and financial impacts on issues of health and competitiveness on the global scale.

But among the myriad reasons for green building explored at the forum, one unified message rang out from the dais: The future is now.

“I guess the ultimate lesson of green is that I think it’s increasingly not a choice,” said Liz Berger, president of the Downtown Alliance, after the forum. “It’s a requirement and a reality.”

James Cavanaugh, president of the Battery Park City Authority, which implemented green building requirements pre-9/11, moderated the forum, whose panelists represented the city and real estate industry.

Rohit Aggarwala, director of long-term planning and sustainability for the mayor’s office, explained that New York City buildings use 90 percent of the city’s electricity while contributing 79 percent to its greenhouse gas footprint.

[The City Council voted unanimously later that morning to approve the Climate Protection Act, which seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent in the city by 2030.]

Aggarwala outlined the city’s idea to create a $2.4 billion incentive pool for energy-saving retrofits over the next eight years, which would amount to a nearly 20 percent reduction in electricity costs by 2015.

“We’re never going to win any sort of long-term battle on energy-efficiency or on sustainability if we don’t address existing buildings head-on,” he said, adding retrofitting presents a much more difficult task than greening new developments.

With 950,000 buildings in New York City, Aggarwala noted, 85 percent of them will still be consuming energy by 2030 and that at some point building owners will pay penalties if they don’t get with the program.

“I think that we’re going to face a tipping point where people start assuming that you’re going to be green, and it’s not going to be a price premium you get for being green — it’s going to be a price penalty you get for not,” he added.

It helps that the public at large has become very aware of green building, especially with those under 30, said panelist Sally Wilson, global director of environmental strategy for CB Richard Ellis.

She contended greening plays a vital role in improving indoor health conditions, resulting in things like fewer sick days at the office that directly correspond to a business’ bottom line.

“Sustainability is a huge value,” Wilson said, specifically for the emerging under-30 set that would prefer green offices. “If you build it, they will come.”

The director of building services for Battery Park City’s New York Mercantile Exchange, the city’s first building to earn LEED certification after being retrofitted, said the arduous process to earn that certification last year was “worth every single penny.”

NYMEX’s Elliot Zuckerman, also the C.E.O. of Earth Management Solutions L.L.C., provided examples of how the exchange building has worked in green elements, including increased bike racks and hands-free water faucets. Many of the features came at an added cost, he acknowledged, but “money spent, is money earned.”

Even as Zuckerman explained the painstaking and expensive process for building green, he countered that the benefits will prove invaluable.

“It’s up to you and I to save the world,” he said.

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