The sustainability stories that get the most coverage and attention tend to come from new construction and the innovative material uses or strategies that come with it. It’s easy to imagine what has never been done before when you are starting with a blank sheet of paper.

But we also know that the greenest buildings are the ones that are already built. So how do we bring Abundance Thinking to existing buildings (EBs)?

Focus on what you already have

Many owners of older buildings shy away from undertaking an existing building green retrofit for fear that it will be too expensive, assuming that it’s better to tear it down and start from scratch. This is a classic scarcity approach, and with Abundance we find creative ways to work with what we’ve got, and unearth hidden potential in every project.

At Paladino we help clients to focus on want they want to achieve rather than what they want to avoid. Paladino applies Abundance Thinking to drive teams toward the highest possible project outcomes and achieve the fullest project potential. Abundant resources exist on every building and construction project, even EB projects; they simply need to be realized and harnessed.

It still begins with an Abundance Scan, and in the case of an existing building, you are beginning with a wealth of assets that new construction projects could only dream of having: access to tenants, established transportation, and surrounding business infrastructures are already there.

We see the biggest and fastest wins for existing buildings in the area of energy consumption. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “over the whole building stock, the largest portion of carbon savings by 2030 is in retrofitting existing buildings and replacing energy-using equipment.” Energy savings of 50 to 75 percent can be achieved in commercial buildings by making smart use of energy efficiency.

Beyond replacing mechanical systems, other quick green wins associated with EBs are the surrounding environmental, business, and transportation infrastructures that are already in place. The more we can leverage what we have, the lighter the footprint over the building life.

And don’t underestimate the human appeal—and marketability—of giving a green facelift to a history-rich existing building. Tenants don’t really consciously experience energy savings, LEED certifications, and energy audit scores. So they care about green features that they can see, touch, and feel every day—like fresh air, abundant sunlight, exposure to vegetation, and knowledge that existing structures and materials were not added to landfills to make way for something shiny and new. Green strategies include wellness strategies – and wellness is worth real money on the real estate market.

Green-retrofitted EBs are immensely appealing, especially to younger tenants who are eager to find palpable ways to do their part to create a sustainable future.

Introducing features such as operable windows, natural materials, wellness programs, automated lighting, and water efficient technologies, are not only quick green wins but often cost less than building green structures from scratch. Taking these strides can sometimes even let you achieve more than you originally intended. When Paladino start working with 2 Liberty Center, goals had been set to achieve LEED Silver, and after conducting the gap analysis it was revealed that the property actually had the potential to achieve a Gold certification. Many of the strategies that contribute to LEED certification were already part of owner Kodiak’s standard practices, and the firm recognized that the validation and back-check that comes with LEED certification would contribute to their commitment to the triple bottom line of People, Profit, and Planet.

The Big Apple and beyond

From the day construction commenced, the Empire State Building has been an icon of structural leadership the world over. Completed in 1931, the Empire State Building showed its resilience in 1945 when a B-25 Bomber crashed into the 79th floor, and the building was open for business just two days later.

After decades of ownership changes, on its 75th anniversary, the Empire State Building owners presented plans for a top-to-bottom green rebuild. This ground-breaking retrofit is a lesson in the economic benefits of intelligent investment in sustainability. Retrofits included installation of insulated reflective barriers on the building perimeter, introducing lighting efficiencies, upgrading the mechanical systems, and installing insulated glass—none of which changed the building’s iconic facade.

The Empire State Rebuilding program not only saw a return on investment in energy efficiency, infrastructure, public areas, and amenities, but it allowed the building to attract first-rate tenants from around the world and become one of the city’s number-one tourist attractions. This building had an abundance of history and allure – which translates to higher market rates.

If you’re an architect or developer, when a client comes you with an existing building, consider the possibilities waiting to be revealed in the original building.

Think green EB demonstration instead of demolition. Preservation and green design are increasingly going hand in hand, which is not only good for the planet but business value.

Want to learn more about how our clients have used Abundance on EBs? Here are a few more case studies to inspire:

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