Susan Kaplan is the director of sustainability at the BPCA
In its 40 years of existence, Battery Park City is perhaps the greenest 92 acres in New York, and not just because 35 percent of it is parkland. Home to the first LEED-certified building, the Solaire, the neighborhood has pioneered standards and guidelines for environmental construction and daily life -- which have now influenced green building across the city and the country.
Susan Kaplan is the director of sustainability at the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA), where she’s worked for two decades. She is an accredited professional of LEED, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Designs rating system, making her the local go-to expert on green building. Her visionary work has introduced innovative approaches to the ways BPC and its residents conserve energy, recycle water, store power, manage waste, and use sustainable building materials.
With the help of her leadership, the neighborhood is home to several of the city’s most energy-efficient towers, including the Solaire (20 River Terrace), the Verdesian (211 North End Ave.), and the Visionaire (70 Little West St.). We asked Ms. Kaplan three questions about the progress BPCA has made in the greening of Lower Manhattan.
How did Battery Park City arrive at the high level of sustainable development we see today?
Ms. Kaplan: Originally we were building mostly parks, because there wasn’t that much interest from developers for high-rises. So when we, the Battery Park City Authority itself, decided to build a building, we took the site that we thought would be least able to get developer interest -- the site of P.S./I.S. 89 -- and we built a residential tower over the school. We then built Stuyvesant High School in 1992, and then we built the parks -- Rockefeller Park, the North Esplanade, originally South Park now Wagner Park -- so there was a lot of public work going on. We became known for the parks, and that’s what we’ve tried to do is build the park first, because that creates the neighborhood. A developer can see that anchor of a real neighborhood, and that’s worked since the beginning.
I think that’s most exciting part of how we started, the parkland. We’ve run them organically since the late 80s. We make our own compost -- get old produce from grocery stores, people drop off their coffee grinds -- and we make a compost tea instead of throwing on nitrogen. The compost is incorporated into the soil by nematodes and microorganisms, and they create their own nitrogen. We use indigenous or native plants that don’t need a lot of water, we use things like ladybugs and horticultural soaps that are natural, we collect rainwater. So we were already thinking efficiently.
In 1999 we had a new president come in, Tim Carey, who saw what was being done and he was a very much involved environmentally. We also had Governor [George] Pataki involved, and he was very interested in the environmental side. So it all kind of came together. Tim Carey said, “Were going to do green buildings” -- and there was his joke that people would say “We’re going to paint the bricks green?” No one knew what he was talking about back then.
We already had design guidelines that every building here has to follow. There has to be a strong stone base for two stories, there has to be articulation zones, there are guidelines for fenestration versus mass -- so we already expect high standards from developers.
So we looked at LEED guidelines. We thought of using them, but its mechanism then was for suburban office buildings, and BPCA projects didn’t fit that well into their model because ours were residential. So we decided to make our own green guidelines. Rather than LEED, which is kind of like a salad bar -- there are a few things you have to do, but the rest are credits you to select -- we felt we should create a list of requirements so a private developer would know exactly what is expected, and they can price it out and do their projections. This was in the year 2000. We were a little nervous for developing the first site, and we thought we may just be ignored. But we got eight responses from serious developers, each meeting all of these the guidelines and our criteria.
We really had to determine which one understood best what we were trying to do, because no one had done it before. No one had put in a blackwater-treatment facility in a residential building; no one had done a central air-filtration system like this; no one had put photovoltaic panels on a family, residential building. Albanese was the developer that understood it the best -- they knew what it would take and they understood the ramifications. So they built our first LEED building, the Solaire, which earned Platinum certification. And they went on to develop the site across the park, the Verdesian, and also the site on the south end, the Visionaire -- both LEED Gold. And there are several more by other developer, like Tribeca Green, the Millennium Towers, Riverhouse, and the new Site 23/24 -- they’re all LEED Gold or better.
What’s on the horizon for BPCA’s sustainable development plans?
The Site 23/24 buildings are underway now and will be finished later this year. In their shared basement, we (BPCA) are building a community center that will have a pool, auditorium, weight room, gym, and dance studios -- all of that will be LEED Platinum. We also are finishing up one of the first indoor maintenance facilities for our Parks Conservancy, also going for LEED Platinum. There we’ve worked on something called ‘passive circulation’. We’re using Big Ass Fans -- that’s really the brand name of them -- and we’ve done a lot of modeling of the space so we can see how the air is moving and try to use louvers to minimize the amount of air conditioning needed. We also put some radiant heating in the floors so we can use the geothermal well to get most of our heating and cooling.
We’re also now in midst of restoring Pier A for the city. It actually belongs to EDC (Economic Development Corporation), but we’ve taken on the redevelopment. So we’re now in the structural work, and we’re about start the core and shell work, and we’re working on finding tenants. We’ve got a good response, so that’s very exciting. At Pier A we’re doing a kind of a geothermal closed-loop system under the building, to use the constant temperature of the river water for heating and cooling. That project will probably be LEED Silver.
At P.S./I.S. 276 (at 55 Battery Place), the SCA (School Construction Authority) has green guidelines but we felt they could do more, so we’re working with them to make this new school greener. We’re helping them put up a photovoltaic-panel array, install green signage so the kids start seeing what makes this building different, and other benefits.
We are really trying to do every project we touch, wherever we can -- green. And now the big question is, What do we do with the old buildings? We have 22 residential buildings built before our guidelines came into effect, so they have no reason to go green in terms of lease requirements or mandates. So we’re trying to encourage them to go green, to work with NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) to conduct energy audits and make other upgrades.
There are about 950,000 existing buildings in New York City, and it’s very different for them to get the impetus make green changes, especially if the building is already running well.
What are some of the green guidelines you’ve set for BPC developments?
We established five categories similar to LEED: energy, air, water, operations and maintenance (which LEED doesn’t have), and materials. On the energy side, we keep ratcheting it up. Every time we released another site for development, we went back to the guidelines to see what we could add. So the energy savings we started with were about 20 percent, while the most recent building, the Visionaire, was 35 percent energy savings over the baseline (which is 2002 code), and significantly more during peak power demands.
PVs (photovoltaic solar panels) provide about five percent of the base building load, so we are usually getting 25 to 30 kilowatts for each building. The Solaire has them on the roof and on the façade. They’re very cool looking, and they’re made from rejected Intel chips -- so we get the recycled content as well. Microturbines are now in all of the green buildings, the blackwater-treatment plant collects all the water for toilets and the cooling tower, we use some of it for irrigation in Teardrop Park. In Riverhouse we’re going to be using some of the blackwater for the central laundry.
All of the buildings have green roofs and they all collect storm water. Really about half of the water stays on the roof, taken back up by the plants. But it’s great for sewer-overflow issues.
On air quality, we require that all units have central fresh air filtered as it comes into each apartment and filtered as it is circulating inside. And of course the VOCs -- the volatile organic compounds -- every paint that comes in, every carpet, all wall coverings are looked at to see what chemicals are in them; how local it is, if the materials come from within 500 miles (we have a percentage that it must); and we’re getting about 80 percent construction waste recycled.
Residents are able to use washer/dryers in their apartments, and they’re duct-less. They reuse the heat from the dryer to continue the drying process, and they’re condensate dryers so the water goes into the blackwater-treatment plant.
All the common spaces have occupancy sensors, so between 6 a.m. and midnight the lights go to a minimum or half, and once the door opens or the elevator opens, it goes up.
The building operators make the biggest difference; you need people with knowledge, and that actually is one of our requirements. We cross-train every single building worker on everything operates here. They know how to make the adjustments when needed. If we use more energy than usual, we are notified.
But really it’s about the people who live here. We see it every day: They’re making choices. They see the benefit, and that’s the goal.