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Jolly Green Giant

28 July 2010
by Patrick Love

Aviation endangers biodiversity. And vice-versa in this case.

Towards the end of the 1933 King Kong movie, one of the pilots sent to kill the upwardly mobile but soon to be downwardly plummeting ape helpfully points out the target to his dimwitted gunner, who otherwise may not have recognised the world’s most famous skyscraper and the world’s most infamous monkey.

The movie has been interpreted as everything from a parable of the Great Depression to a return of the repressed, but everyone agrees that the Empire State Building, completed two years before the film, was an inspired choice for the final symbolic showdown.

The building itself embodies the rivalry between its main financer, John Jakob Raskob, creator of General Motors, and rival automaker Walter Chrysler, whose Chrysler Building had been the world’s tallest building.

But it was also intended to represent modernity, and the architects actually carried out a long-term forecasting exercise to make sure the design would meet the needs of future generations.

Today, this could no doubt be presented in terms of sustainability, as could a just-completed $20 million retrofit to make it more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. The new approach uses technology (such as better insulation and continuous monitoring and control of temperature and other conditions) as well as changes in tenants’ behaviour, such as moving desks to allow in more daylight or not over-using air conditioning.

Payback time for the retrofit is calculated at around three years and it is expected to reduce the building’s carbon footprint by 100,000 tonnes over 15 years – the equivalent of taking 20,000 cars off the road.

The “sustainability” incorporated in the original thinking was there to make sure the building remained a good business proposition for many decades to come. Likewise, the latest changes were carried out: “not because it’s the right thing to do, but because it makes business sense. If we don’t reduce our energy consumption, we will lose money and be less competitive against China, India, Brazil and the other expanding economies” according to owner Anthony Malkin, speaking to the The Guardian.

This echoes the thinking behind the OECD’s Green Growth Strategy: “Together with innovation, going green can be a long-term driver for economic growth, through, for example, investing in renewable energy and improved efficiency in the use of energy and materials”.

The green growth link will take you to a number of resources, including an interim report published in May. The Green Growth Strategy Synthesis Report to be presented to the 2011 OECD Ministerial Council Meeting will propose tools and recommendations to help governments identify the policies for the most efficient shift to greener growth.

Energy is obviously a major aspect of this, and with IEA projections  showing that cities will consume nearly 75% of world energy in 2030 compared with around 66% today, the Empire State Building’s example is worth following. The Guardian article claims that if just a fifth of the largest buildings in America replicated the Empire State Building’s performance, it would save 2.3 billion tonnes of carbon emissions, equivalent to the amount of greenhouse gas pollution produced by the whole of Russia each year.

Useful links

Interim Report of the Green Growth Strategy: Implementing our Commitment for a Sustainable Future

Declaration on Green Growth adopted at the Meeting of the Council at Ministerial Level on 25 June 2009

Green Growth: Overcoming the Crisis and Beyond

From Grim to Green – OECD Messages on Green Growth

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