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NYC saves by going green

Riverside Park

Riverside Park Credit: Riverside Park (Julienne Schaer)

The owners of the Empire State Building recently brokered a two-year deal with renewable-power retailer Green Mountain Energy - part of a rising trend in which we've seen more and more of New York City going green. And that trend has an added bonus: leaving more green in your wallet. From residential high-rises to hotels and public parks, this eco-friendly phenomenon aims to conserve natural resources, make the air cleaner, help us breathe better - and save money while doing it. Sustainable living is no longer just for seasoned environmentalists.

We spend about 90% of our day indoors, where the air quality can actually be much worse than it is outside. But all of these spaces are LEED-certified, which means they meet certain green requirements. These elements include improved indoor air quality, increased access to natural daylight, use of sustainably grown and transported reusable products, water-use and waste reduction, energy-efficient appliances, and encouragement of green practices. (Newer buildings even recycle their construction debris!)

Residential

The Albanese Organization built the first green residential building in North America in 2003 - the Solaire in Battery Park City. Their latest project, The Visionaire, also in Battery Park, now boasts the title of America's greenest high-rise.

Resource conservation is a big sell to residents like Pierre Desautels.

"My parents were the product of a depression, so they were always very careful to only use what you need," said Desautels, 58. "We barely hear street traffic because of the windows, and there is tons of natural light, even if it's overcast."

Since the building purifies and reuses water, the Visionaire uses 50% less water than a typical NYC high-rise building. A micro-turbine generates a portion of the building's electricity, and the fresh air is filtered and dehumidified.

Cost of living: A 600-square-foot studio runs about $670,000, while a three-bedroom goes for close to $2 million.

The Edge, a green residential building in Williamsburg, features energy-efficient windows and walls, water-efficient toilets, Energy Star appliances and occupancy sensors for lighting in common areas. The homes are also sealed against odor leakage from surrounding apartments. (Cooked cabbage, anyone?)

Cost of living: Apartments, ranging from studios to three bedrooms, start at $450,000.

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Public spaces

Skanska USA, the largest builder in the New York area, is responsible for taking care of all the ground-up rock (or "muck," as the tunnel diggers call it) from the construction of the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, Second Avenue Subway and other city construction projects. Skanska brings it in to recycling yards to use in other places - most recently for the new Brooklyn Bridge Park.

The park collects and recirculates rainwater and uses it to irrigate thousands of shrubs and trees in the park's many gardens, as well as for the entire Pier 1 landscape. The park's electric maintenance vehicles - which were built with recycled wood, granite and filler - are powered by a solar charging station. The park also features a green roof.

Riverside Park extends along four miles of Manhattan's shoreline. Now, the Riverside Park Fund and the Riverside Clay Tennis Association are launching a _$6 million capital campaign to transform an abandoned parking lot south of 96th Street into a landscaped Hudson River overlook with a wildflower meadow, _a sustainable park-maintenance building and a carbon-neutral public restroom. They plan to use compost toilet technologies, green roofs, solar energy, rainwater and recycled materials. The complex will replace the current portable toilets and leaking shipping containers.

Also, Cook + Fox Architects and Green Outlook are working on a project that will feature a rain garden functioning as a storm-water management tool.

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Commercial

International engineering firm WSP Flack + Kurtz has recently worked on the New York Times Building, both the Hearst and Goldman Sachs headquarters, and the Plaza Hotel, which have all become increasingly energy-efficient in order to meet the rising demand for existing and projected buildings to meet LEED certification.

"We've gone from a practice that had [been] a specialty to [serving] an entire market," said Dan Nall, senior vice president and director of sustainability at WSP Flack + Kurtz. "Most buildings we do in NYC have some aspiration to achieve some form of LEED rating."

The firm offers a range of building services, everything from water-efficient plumbing to sustainable heating, which make any office building more valuable.

"A multi-tenant office building is more attractive if it has sustainability credentials - as a testimony to the company's social responsibility and their dedication to employee welfare," Nall said. "Now, a quality piece of real estate in New York City has to have some sort of substantiality credential, especially if it's new."

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Upcoming projects

The Hegeman Residence, constructed by Cook + Fox, will be a residential community comprising 161 studio apartments in Brownsville that provide housing and on-site services for low-income and formerly homeless people. Developed under the Common Ground Community's Green Design Campaign, it will feature a restorative and biophilic design, enforce "best practices" to save tenants money on their energy bills, and provide a green roof. Individual units are finished with durable, nontoxic materials and are designed to conserve energy and water.

Solar 1 is responsible for an ultra-futuristic-looking building at 545 Madison Ave. that features floor-to-ceiling glass walls. Its filters bring in 30% more fresh air (dehumidified and tempered) than the certification mandates. The building keeps 170 tons of chilled water on hand to cool the air as needed by tenants, and it features water-conserving bathrooms and 93% sunlight/daylight illumination. Building materials include wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, as well as post-industrial and post-consumer recycled steel, metal, carpeting, aluminum and insulation.

Solar 1 is currently fundraising for Solar 2, a new building that will dedicate 13,000 square feet to community and education programs, such as a Green Workshop Training Program that will instruct prospective employees in green career fields.

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