I-Team: Big Name Eco-friendly NYC Stores Waste Air Conditioning Despite Law

Dozens of retailers that purport high environmental standards, including some big name fashion chains, are wasting air conditioning by propping doors open on hot summer days -- a tactic often used to lure in overheated window shoppers, an I-Team investigation has found.

Since 2008, it has been against the law in New York City for stores over 4,000 square feet to keep doors open while they have air conditioners on. But the I-Team caught many stores flagrantly blowing air onto the sidewalk, including ones that emphasize their environmental consciousness.

On its website, American Apparel says it has “a smaller carbon footprint than our competitors.” Despite the retailer’s environmental commitment, the I-Team found doors open and air conditioners on at three New York City American Apparel stores – one in SoHo, one in NoHo and one on the Upper West Side. American Apparel did not return calls and emails seeking comment.

Abercrombie & Fitch also has a website touting environmentally sensitive practices, including the setting of “tighter thermostat set points” in stores to “continuously reduce energy usage.” But the I-Team found the Abercrombie branch in the South Street Seaport propping doors open and blasting the air conditioning on a hot day two weeks ago.

A company spokesperson for Abercrombie & Fitch declined comment.

The I-Team found a SoHo Victoria’s Secret store keeping front doors open and air conditioning blowing, even though the lingerie chain’s parent company writes on its website there has been an effort to “reduce air conditioning use” since at least 2010.

Victoria’s Secret representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

“Air conditioning the sidewalk is not good for the environment,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who sponsored the original law requiring stores have doors closed when the air conditioning is on when she was a City Council member.

The law requires inspectors to issue warnings for first violations, $200 fines for second violations, and $400 fines for any subsequent violations.

Enforcement has ticked up this summer, with 10 fines issued in a few months.

In recent history, though, the city has issued few financial penalties for air conditioning violators. Although there were a total of 102 warnings issued between 2013 and 2014, there were no fines.

Between 2009 and 2012, inspectors issued 387 warnings and 32 fines to businesses accused of wasting air conditioning.

Julie Menin, commissioner of the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, said she planned to send dozens of volunteers this week to educate retailers in all five boroughs about the ordinance.

"Even if one business keeps their door closed in the summer months, that saves five barrels of oil and prevents the unnecessary release of 2.5 tons of carbon dioxide," Menin said. "The Department of Consumer Affairs, this summer, will be doing more enforcement than ever since this law has been in effect."

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