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Earth Day 2021: Related underscores its commitment to design and investment in sustainable building

By Elissaveta M. Brandon

When Super Storm Sandy hit the coast of New York in 2012, Related was days away from completing the design of Hunter's Point South Crossing and Commons—a two-building, rent regulated development in Queens, at the edge of the East River. Working with the City, as well as Ismael Leyva Architects and SHoP Architects, Related went back to the drawing board and redesigned the building to meet the moment. Critical infrastructure was raised above the Sandy flood plain, forming a bathtub around the ground floor retail. Backup power capacity was provided through a mix of energy efficient cogeneration and natural gas generators. And DHW heaters and pumps for hot showers and operable toilets were planned in case of another grid outage. When the complex opened in 2015, each of the two buildings received, respectively, a LEED Gold certification a LEED Silver certification—and Hunter's Point South went on to be named the ULI Development of the Year.  

“Climate change is the defining issue of our time and it is our collective responsibility to do everything we can to turn the tide,” says Related’s Chairman and Founder Stephen Ross, who is also a director of the World Resources Institute—a non-profit organization that supports environmental sustainability and seeks to address climate change.

With over 37 LEED Silver, Gold and Platinum-certified properties ranging from retail to hotels and luxury to affordable housing, Related’s developments reflect a deep commitment to sustainable design and environmentally conscious real estate.

The company’s latest ESG Report highlights over 45 years of design and investment in sustainable communities and infrastructure. “We promote density to create the critical mass necessary to support public infrastructure and transportation, culture and the arts, retail and restaurants—the amenities that underpin social exchange and interaction,” the company says. “But we are also careful to balance density with areas for escape, reflection and relaxation and the infrastructure necessary to manage traffic, emissions, storm water, waste and noise.

In 2004, Related completed one of the first green residential high-rise buildings in the nation. Designed by renowned architect Robert A. M. Stern, in response to an ambitious set of new guidelines for green architecture developed by the Battery Park City Authority, Tribeca Green features an in-building “blackwater” reuse system that collects wastewater from the building’s plumbing system, treats it to potable standards, and reuses it for toilet flushing, laundry and mechanical systems. “We are achieving both a 55% reduction in municipal water use and a 65% sewer discharge reduction," the report says. Tribeca Green was certified LEED Gold.

In 2008, Related pledged that every building it developers in the United States would be certified LEED Silver or higher. LEED provides an impartial review of sustainable design achievement and is the most comprehensive green building rating system on the market: requiring energy and water use savings, waste reduction practices, indoor environmental quality improvements and site design sensitivity. To attain various levels of LEED certification, a building has to earn a certain number of points that are collected from various categories like the use of green materials to energy-efficient systems. The highest certification is LEED Platinum with a score of 80 points and above, followed by LEED Gold, and LEED Silver. To earn a basic LEED certification, a building must score over 40 points.

At the southwest corner of Central Park, the mixed-use Deutsche Center (formerly known as Time Warner Center), designed by Skidmore Owings & Merrill, brings a retail mall, restaurants, concert hall, a large Whole Foods Market, a 250-room luxury hotel, 190 condominium apartments, and offices—all under one roof. To handle the high volumes and diverse streams of waste flowing through such a mammoth operation, waste diversion guidelines and comprehensive signage were developed for the facility and the loading dock was designed to include storage space and four compactor containers including one for composting of restaurant and grocery organic waste. As the report states, Related’s success working on reducing waste and recycling contamination led to a BOMA TOBY (The Office Building of the Year) Award and inclusion as a case study in the New York City AIA’s Zero Waste Design Guidelines.

On Roosevelt Island, Related built the country's tallest Passive House building, following an energy certification program widely considered to be one of the world's most stringent. Part of Cornell Tech—the 2.1 million square foot technology campus—The House is a 352-unit, 26-floor student and faculty housing building designed by Handel Architects. The project was designed to reduce energy use by 70% relative to code. The only fossil fuel used is to make hot water, "and that is only because the technology to efficiently generate hot water at scale with electricity doesn't yet exist," the report says.

Related has over 25 additional projects working toward certification, including three neighborhood developments. At 10 Hudson Yards, a KPF-designed tower that opened in 2019 as part of the 28-acre, mixed-use development on Manhattan's far West Side, Related developed the world's largest Platinum-certified LEED-CS v2009 development.

Hudson Yards as a whole is the first neighborhood in Manhattan to receive a LEED Neighborhood Development Gold certification. The development's stormwater harvesting system is estimated to reuse close to 10 million gallons per year: rainfall is collected from rooftops and plaza and redistributed to irrigate over 200 mature trees and 28,000 plants in the public park over at the heart of Hudson Yards. "Nearly a mile of garden seating walls invite New Yorkers to gather outside and provide an urban oasis for over 225 types of bees, butterflies and other pollinators threatened by habitat loss and climate change," the report says.

Related’s commitment to renewable energy and green building extends to affordable housing developments, too, like Hunter’s Point South on the East River. In 2009, Manhattan Plaza in midtown Manhattan was one of the first affordable housing projects in the city to incorporate cogeneration for energy savings. And in 2012, Vintage Crossings became the first LEED Platinum-rated affordable housing in Anaheim, CA.

“Sustainable development is at the core of the fight against the climate crisis,” says Stephen Ross. According to the United Nations Environment Program, buildings and the way they are built together account for 38 percent of global energy use. The first step then, is to reduce consumption through energy efficient design. The next is to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy. But ultimately, what we need is policy at all levels of government.

As Ross says: “The actions we take as a company are making measurable impacts in cities and communities around the world.” In the fight against climate change, then, everyone—from architects, to developers, to legislators—must play their part.