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The Playbook is a framework to support the decision-making process of building owners taking meaningful action to reduce the carbon emissions of their buildings. It provides guidance based on the practical experience of building owners, experts and engineers that have developed decarbonization plans in similar buildings. This section outlines the guiding principles of this work, and explains where and how it all began.

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Why a Playbook?


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The built environment is an important sector to target to achieve deep, near-term greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions. It is responsible for roughly 40% of global annual greenhouse gas emissionsIn New York City, which has the densest population of tall buildings in the United States, two thirds of GHG emissions come from the energy used to fuel buildings. In the past, building GHG emissions reduction efforts were largely focused on energy efficiency improvements; however, energy efficiency measures alone cannot achieve the drastic reductions needed to avoid the worst outcomes described by the IPCC Special Report.

While many building sector stakeholders recognize that they must pursue more substantial decarbonization strategies that go beyond easy-to-implement energy efficiency solutions, they may not know how or where to get started. The primary goal of this playbook is to provide a clear and replicable process for building owners and their project teams to follow to achieve double-digit reductions in energy use and carbon emissions at commercially acceptable returns. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the United Nations has made reducing greenhouse gas emissions a global imperative:

"Without increased and urgent mitigation ambition in the coming years, leading to a sharp decline in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030, global warming will surpass 1.5°C in the following decades, leading to irreversible loss of the most fragile ecosystems, and crisis after crisis for the most vulnerable people and societies."   

The process described in this Playbook is applicable to different building types. It is based on insights and successes gained through case studies of existing, large and complex buildings, whose teams' insights and lessons learned were instrumental to the creation of this resource. The framework that is used takes a whole-system design approach that explores the following:  

  • The interplay between current retrofit and upgrade plans
  • Operations and maintenance practices
  • New technologies
  • Interactions across energy subsystems and system boundaries
  • The role of tenants in achieving energy and carbon reduction targets
  • The role of the electric grid in building decarbonization

This effort will require support from all stakeholders across the building industry, significant mobilization of private sector investment, and strong leadership from government agencies and industry leaders in real estate, construction and engineering.

Annual Global CO2 Emissions

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Where Did This Work Begin?


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The Empire State Building (ESB) has been leading the charge towards decarbonization for over a decade under the leadership of Chairman and CEO Anthony E. Malkin. The first decarbonization effort began in 2007 when the Empire State Building team created the Empire Standard for Sustainable Building -- a working group that included the Clinton Climate InitiativeJohnson Controls, Inc.Jones Lang LaSalle, and the Rocky Mountain Institute -- whose main task was to prove or disprove the business case for investment in deep energy retrofits. The Empire State Building achieved double digit reductions in energy and emissions by focusing on a whole-building approach.