When he moved into his Tribeca condominium in 2014, Adam Zurofsky had done his due diligence – and discovered some serious problems. Board meetings and annual meetings were sporadic at best. The seven-story, 12-unit property at 169 Hudson St. – which was built as a warehouse in 1893 – had not been maintained and was regularly failing inspections.
“There was a need for new energy and focus,” says Zurofsky, who recruited a few other disgruntled unit-owners and led the charge to replace the five-member board. Zurofsky, then a corporate attorney, had no designs to become board president. “But we did rock-paper-scissors, and I lost,” he says with a chuckle. “I ended up serving for nearly three years.”
After hiring a new management company, the Andrews Organization, and instituting regular shareholder meetings and elections, Zurofsky turned his attention to bringing the aging structure – known as the Roebling Building, after the famed engineers of the Brooklyn Bridge – up to code and securing a permanent Certificate of Occupancy, which it had not previously been able to do.
Improving the condo’s energy efficiency, however, was going to be a challenge. When the building was converted in 2000, a gas boiler had been installed in each apartment, and the HVAC system was haphazardly customized to each unit. The rooftop water-cooling tower was also nearing the end of its useful life. “Putting in a centralized, air-sourced system would require drilling into everybody’s apartment to redo the duct system, and the work would have to be done without altering the facade, since the building is landmarked,” Zurofsky explains. “The cost estimates were through the roof.”
As it turned out, Zurofsky would prove to be exactly the right person to help the Roebling find a green solution. In 2020, after leaving his law career for a stint at the governor’s office in Albany, Zurofsky, 49, became executive director of the nonprofit Rewiring America, a coalition of engineers, entrepreneurs and volunteers focused on helping households shift away from fossil fuels to clean electricity – and save money in the process. “I’ve always felt a sense of social responsibility, and this job is the perfect intersection of my interests,” he says. How did he get to that intersection? “It’s one of those funny stories where your life just morphs over time, and you never know which way it’s going to go.”
Doing Well By Doing Good
A native New Yorker, Zurofsky moved from the Upper East Side to the New Jersey suburbs to attend school before heading to Stanford University. “I fell in love with political philosophy and the ways one could structure governments in line with morality,” he says of his undergraduate years. “But there’s not much of a career in that, so the closest thing was the law.”
After graduating from Harvard Law School, Zurofsky ended up at Cahill Gordon & Reindel, where he eventually became a partner specializing in corporate governance, working with companies dealing with the fallout from the 2008 global financial crisis.
But his social conscience was nagging at him. In 2015, Zurofsky began teaching a class at Fordham University, Doing Well by Doing Good, which posed the fundamental question of whether corporations are morally obligated to address such social issues as income inequality and climate change, in addition to simply pursuing profits.
Then came Donald J. Trump’s election as president in 2016. “It was a spur for me to get more directly involved,” Zurofsky says. “A friend of mine had recently joined the governor’s office and suggested I look at working for New York State as a way to express that interest.”
That led to a position as deputy secretary of energy and finance, overseeing banking, taxes and consumer protection, as well as climate policy. “It’s fair to say that when I took over the energy portfolio I had a hard time articulating the difference between a DC current and Washington, D.C.,” Zurofsky says with a laugh. “But it turned out to be the thing that caught my attention and held it.”
After Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act in 2019 to reduce carbon emissions in New York State by 80% by 2050, Rewiring America asked Zurofsky to come on board. He and his wife Ariel, a former schoolteacher, have three young children, and after his years in the “very intense” orbit of Andrew Cuomo, Zurofsky decided it was an offer he couldn’t refuse.
By the time the condo board at the Roebling began tackling its energy-efficiency problems, Zurofsky was an expert on the subject. Board members were leaning toward replacing the old cooling tower, but Zurofsky argued that that would lock them into the same inefficient system for another 20 years. “A lot of people left the building during the pandemic,” he says, “which allowed us to get another year out of the old tower, and in the meantime I urged them to have a broader study done to analyze other options.”
That yielded a solution: replacing the old tower with a new electronic technology known as variant refrigerant flow, which will provide heat to radiators in each apartment at an efficiency level that far exceeds conventional water-source heat pump systems. “We’re in the process of installing it now, and unit-owners will have to replace their existing boilers when they end their useful lives with new radiators that connect to the new water tower to make the system electric.”
Helping his building go greener is immensely satisfying for Zurofsky. “It’s hard to ignore that with climate change, there’s this flashing neon sign saying we’re now entering into a critical point in history,” he says. “It’s important for everyone to think about their role and what they are going to do about it.”