The Greenest Man in NYC

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Today, Bisnow NY launches a series of stories catching up with the heads of NYC commercial real estate associations. We start with Urban Green Council, the unsung advocacy hero that is the NYC chapter of the US Green Building Council.

UGC exec director Russell Unger wants to drive the conversation about sustainability, so the organization has taken a proactive bent since he took the helm seven years ago. If UGC can figure out sustainability in NYC, which spans suburban homes and high-rise offices, it can be useful elsewhere, he says. The attorney has worked for Mayor Bloomberg and for the city council. We snapped him and Arnold in his 20 Broad St office yesterday. Fun fact about the poster: he tells us it’s something he made with a friend when running the McGill student environmental group in the 1990s and ultimately ended up all over Cal EPA’s HQ when Schwarzenegger was governor.
CohnReznick (Field) MNY

The org’s three-legged stool is advocacy (achieve legislation that lifts the floor for efficiency of all buildings), education (figure out how to make the best buildings to raise the ceiling), and research. The non-profit has a staff of 17 (and we’re talking technical folks like engineers, architects, and planners) like Richard Leigh, Cecil Scheib, and Jamie Kleinberg (above) and 900 members, which UGC uses as experts, a pro bono army (not to be confused with a pro Bono army, which likes green things, if it’s a Joshua Tree). Half the recommendations it made in its Green Codes and Building Resiliency task forces have become law—from Local Law 84 (energy- and water-use benchmarking) to the requirement for multifamily buildings taller than five floors to have a drinking water faucet in a common area within eight years.

Russell’s favorite topic, though, is building envelopes. He gave us a sneak preview of a study to be released this summer showing that if ventilation, plug loads, and lighting continue their efficiency-improvement trajectories, building envelopes will be responsible for 40% of high-rise resi energy use by 2050. That’s up from 25% now. In commercial high-rises, the figure will rise from 15% to 25%. UGC’s photographic survey of 55 high-rise glass residential buildings also shows that two-thirds of the windows are shielded by blinds. So while glass buildings sell and lease super fast, residents aren’t enjoying the view but rather closing themselves off, either to gain some privacy or to get away from the sun.


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