November 2017
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The Green Opportunity in New York’s Old Buildings

empire state skyline night

This fall, the Municipal Art Society, supported by funding from the New York Community Trust, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, will launch a major campaign to promote the positive environmental benefits of preserving and improving the efficiency of New York’s historic buildings.

Yesterday, MAS staff was interviewed on NPR about the sensitive greening of the Empire State Building, currently underway, that aims to dramatically reduce the icon’s energy consumption. Improving the efficiency of the city’s buildings is a key step in tackling the climate change crisis, and Lisa Kersavage, Senior Director of Advocacy and Policy, stated that the intention of MAS’s new campaign is to change the popular misconception that the best way to do this is to demolish old buildings and erect new green ones, saying “construction-related debris accounts for 60 percent of New York City’s waste stream.”

According to PlaNYC 2030, nearly 80% of New York City’s green house gas emissions are due to the construction and operation of the city’s buildings, and the cheapest, fastest and most environmentally sensitive way to reduce these emissions is to make our existing building stock more efficient. Some studies are finding that pre-1940 buildings, those built prior to modern heating and cooling systems, may be as energy efficient as newly-constructed efficient buildings.

Preserving buildings also keeps them out of landfills. While many people are careful about recycling newspapers, plastic bags and bottles, few think of the resources and energy lost and spent by throwing away entire buildings. Accordingly, as part of its campaign, MAS will study the issue of demolition and waste stream in the city. MAS also plans to promote preservation as good for the environment, to encourage policies that deter demolition, and to produce a manual for improving the energy efficiency of historic buildings.

Although many built environment professionals are deeply concerned about climate change, they tend to see the problem in different ways, use different words to talk about it, and envision different solutions, so, this fall MAS will be bringing professionals together from a variety of disciplines, including environmentalists, architects, climate change experts, and preservationists, to engage in discussions and problem-solving about these important issues.