At Inhabitat, we love shiny new green buildings just as much as the next guy, but we're also firm believers that you don't always have to start completely from scratch to achieve optimal energy efficiency. In fact, the opposite is often true - and we recently had the privilege to speak with someone who knows quite a bit about that: co-founder of CodeGreen Solutions, Stephen Rizzo. Unlike many other companies, CodeGreen specializes in retrofitting and greening existing buildings, which - if you think about the saved construction costs and energy compared to building a completely new structure - makes a lot of sense. Read on for our full interview with Stephen, where he shares his thoughts on the future of green buildings and how his company has already managed the LEED certification of over 14 million square feet nation wide - including CodeGreen's own LEED-CI headquarters in NYC!
INHABITAT: Can you tell us a little bit about CodeGreen and what it does?
Stephen: CodeGreen finds solutions for bringing sustainability and efficiency to existing buildings. We essentially review a building’s goals and figure out the best way to implement them. For some owners its lighting upgrades, others its photovoltaic, i.e. solar panels. Whatever the goal is, CodeGreen’s experience is in allowing an existing building to achieve that goal. There is a misconception that only new designed buildings can be efficient.
INHABITAT:CodeGreen is often considered a pioneer in the LEED Existing Buildings game in NYC. What prompted you to focus on that area when so many others were still fixated on new buildings?
Stephen: New buildings get the headlines. But, the numbers speak for themselves. Buildings dominate NYC’s carbon footprint. Approximately 75% of NYC’s carbon emissions stem from energy used in buildings and today’s existing buildings will make up 85% of all real estate in 2030. You’re talking of tens of thousands of buildings that have never had basic energy audits or “tune ups”. The payback on improving these buildings is typically 2 to 3 years. Besides that, I think everyone at CodeGreen is a bit contrarian! You tell us there’s no solution to something or it’s too tough to modify an existing building, and we’ll work and work to prove the naysayers wrong.
The NY headquarters of CodeGreen clients DemocracyNow!, which also achieved LEED Platinum-CI
INHABITAT:It may seem like common sense, but in most cases, are the sustainability benefits of retrofitting an existing building greater than just building a new building?
Stephen: A tremendous amount of GHGs are produced constructing a building. From making concrete, to transporting supplies. Without a doubt there are times when a new building is the best solution for a site. Look at the AOL Time Warner Building versus the old convention center previously at that site. Clearly, the project developer created tremendous value here. However, we also have such a bounty of relevant existing buildings in NYC. We need to make sure that we’re not tearing down some of these gems. Look at all the conversions and how prices of warehouse buildings skyrocket as they are converted to residential, or commercial. NYC’s meatpacking district is a great example of this. We simply can’t rebuild some of the things built seventy-five years ago.
INHABITAT:When it comes to energy efficiency, what are the most common problems you see in NY buildings?
Stephen: Basically, most buildings don’t even look at full energy consumption. This includes both base building, but also tenant consumption. Tenants consume well over sixty percent of the energy used in a building. We have to start looking at ways to make the users more efficient too.
INHABITAT:Do you have any easy tips for New Yorkers who want to make their homes and offices more efficient?
Stephen: The biggest tip is not to move! To start businesses here and live in “Green New York City”. 82% of New Yorkers travel to work on public transit, by bicycle or foot. That’s ten times the rate for the US in general. New Yorkers use the least amount of energy per square foot than any other area in the US. But there’s always room for improvement. Basically, everyone should do these five things. They will save you money in one year. 1) Install efficient lighting. 2) Turn off or shut down computers or flat screens every day. 3) Don’t leave the AC or office HVAC on 24/7. 4) Compost organic waste. It’s easier than you think, plus you can sell it or use it, and 5) Recycle all plastics, metals and glassware. It’s easy, and not doing so is simply littering.
INHABITAT:What is your favorite NYC building that you’ve worked on thus far and why?
INHABITAT:What do you think the future of sustainable buildings in NYC looks like?
Stephen: The Mayor’s 2030 plan is a terrific paradigm for NYC and all cities nationwide though I’d like to see more emphasis given to onsite renewables. Again, the naysayers claim NYC does not have enough roof space. They say NYC is all shadows. I know this is just dead wrong. For starters, efficiencies of each solar panel are climbing as prices for the panels are dropping. However, the price of energy that office buildings have to pay in NYC is sky high. Therefore, we are in a market where solar energy price per kilowatt/hr is very competitive. In addition, you get these great boosters like the fact that solar is most favorable during those high peak hot summer days when “the grid” is most overloaded.
INHABITAT:Unlike some other companies in this economy, the CG team is growing. Do you have any tips for college grads or other professionals hoping to be hired by sustainable companies like yours?
Stephen: Everything you read about the new “Green Economy” is true. It is happening now, and everyone with the right training can enter. Entire industries from real estate to automobile, or even the restaurant industry is changing. We have hybrid cars, Whole Foods, and LEED buildings. So the point is, that we really want to encourage everyone to participate in this progress. If you feel you don’t have the right training, then don’t waste time, and get it. Take classes and begin to participate. I’ll tell you 100% that every retro commissioning professional is employed right now. Every good lighting designer is as well. All of these firms need financing, marketing, legal services, which even further expands this segment. So I guess my advice is “show up” to this exciting field, and you will be rewarded.