The world's premier performing arts center, whose stately travertine-clad halls have housed artistic greats from Balanchine to Bernstein, also offers an oasis outdoors. Beautiful grounds with stretches of greenery accommodate picnicking and children at play. Sun-drenched seats are perfect for an afternoon respite, with benches to lounge upon in the cooling shade of trees.

But while on Lincoln Center's campus, visitors may not be aware that the greenery they are enjoying is also capital-G "Green." In the past decade, Lincoln Center has made pioneering efforts to protect the environment, in alignment with New York City's greater sustainability goals.

In the current climate, many individuals have shouldered the responsibility to protect our natural world by changing quotidian habits. Lincoln Center has participated in its own way, bringing environmental awareness and personal accountability centerstage. A well-known nonprofit, Lincoln Center is a veritable New York landmark—not just for what it represents artistically but for the physical space it inhabits in the city. Its 16-plus acres, home to 11 resident organizations and 30 indoor and outdoor facilities, take up a significant amount of space in our urban metropolis.

Peter L. Malkin, co-chair of Lincoln Center's Directors Emeriti Council, explains, "Lincoln Center has always had a responsibility beyond the basics in the field of the arts and now has a greater responsibility to contribute to the sustainability of the environment and is doing so through its extensive planning and execution."

Lincoln Center is compliant with New York City's Greener, Greater Buildings Plan, designed to meet the city's ambitious sustainability goals. NYC.gov proclaims that "New York City needs to do more than improve... It has to proactively address energy waste in its existing structures." As such, Lincoln Center is not only working toward adopting all the tenets of this extensive plan but taking sustainability at a large arts organization to the next level.

For example, Lincoln Center purchases 21,000,000 kilowatt hours a year—used to power the lights above its stages and concert halls—from certified renewable resources. Moreover, during times of peak electricity demands (such as on very hot days or during an emergency), Lincoln Center sheds electrical load by turning off nonessential equipment and lighting, raising thermostats, and running back-up generators, thus helping to prevent citywide blackouts or brownouts.

Pronounced upgrades to the campus's Central Mechanical Plant have also lowered usage and improved output. Even the famed Revson Fountain is turned off as the grid hits peak capacity. So if you come to the plaza and the fountain is at rest, it's simply Lincoln Center's way of contributing to the city's overall sustainability efforts.

Some of Lincoln Center's most notable innovations can be spotted from a bird's-eye view. The Samuel B. and David Rose Building (one of the organization's main office spaces, located on West 65th Street) has been partially powered by the sun since the 2014 installation of solar panels. A total of 36 panels are strategically placed on the 900 square-foot roof to receive the most sunlight possible and convert it to electrical current.

Meanwhile, thanks to the cooperation of resident organizations, many of the buildings on campus, including the Metropolitan Opera House and David H. Koch Theater, are equipped with white roofs. The reflective white coating painted on the surface reflects up to 90 percent of sunlight and considerably cools the building. A typical black roof absorbs heat, much like wearing all black on a summer day, only reflecting 20 percent of sunlight and requiring more cooling and thus electricity expended. This can have a significant accumulated impact, especially in a city where the heat-island effect (elevated temperatures found in urban areas in relation to surrounding rural areas) is already cause for real concern.
 

The Greenest Pastures
Photo by Iñaki Vinaixa
The Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Lawn

According to the EPA, the annual mean air temperature of a city with a population of one million or more (New York City boasted 8.5 million people in 2016) can be 1.8 to 5.4°F warmer than its surrounding areas. The rising mercury can further increase summertime peak energy demand, air-conditioning costs, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions, among other detrimental effects.

Another way to combat the heat-island effect is to introduce more green spaces to an urban environment. Reducing the amount of surface paved with concrete and introducing more vegetation brings shade, moisture, and therefore cooler temperatures. Enter the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Lawn. Unveiled in 2010 atop the sloped roof of Lincoln Ristorante, the 7,203-square-foot plot of grass is truly emblematic of reimagining Lincoln Center as a sustainably minded public space on par with the lawns in Central Park. Not only does it provide ample room for picnickers and sunbathers, it directly addresses the unique challenges of maintaining and developing New York—how can we strategically implement patches of green space in our densely populated brick-and-mortar city?

The vegetation lawn on top of the Claire Tow Theater similarly thwarts the escalation of city temperatures. Trees on Hearst Plaza and Barclays Capital Grove naturally fulfill the need for more passive green space, providing shade for audience members who flock to Lincoln Center Out of Doors, a free festival of music, dance, and spoken-word, much of which takes place beneath these very trees.

With so many patrons gracing the campus during the bustling festivals, it's expected that trash will accumulate. Fortunately, recycling at Lincoln Center is a simple and streamlined process. There are clear bags designated for metal, glass, plastic, paper, and cardboard, and black bags for food waste and other nonrecyclables. In addition, Lincoln Center's waste management partner sorts everything through a single-stream process, including organic materials for composting. This way, zero percent of the trash Lincoln Center sends out ends up in a landfill.

While Green is the goal, there is another benefit to Lincoln Center's robust sustainability initiatives. Money saved from the city's incentivized programs is channeled back into programming to bring the best of the performing arts to an ever-expanding audience. Every kilowatt saved and plastic water bottle recycled frees up resources that would otherwise be used to heat and cool. Great art is truly in tune with economical choices and sustainability.


Kaitlyn Zafonte is associate editor at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

For more information, visit LincolnCenter.org/Sustainability.