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Environment & Energy

Phipps Production Greenhouse Attains LEED Platinum

Pittsburgh is home to what may be the world's greenest greenhouse. The production greenhouse facility at Phipps Conservatory has received a first-of-its-kind Platinum certification under the LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance program.

"We believe they're the first greenhouses ever to be certified under this program, which is pretty exciting," Executive Director Piacentini said, "and not only did we get them certified, but we got the absolute highest category that you can get."

The U.S. Green Building Council awarded the Phipps' production greenhouses 62 out of a possible 92 points for meeting benchmarks in energy efficiency, water usage, temperature control, and pest management. The Phipps campus in Schenley Park now hosts one of fewer than two dozen buildings of any kind in the nation to achieve LEED Platinum status.

Much of the facility's energy efficiency can be credited to passive heating and cooling techniques, according to Piacentini. Solar radiation keeps the interior warm during cold weather. In summertime, "there's actually no greenhouse effect" in the greenhouse, PIacentini said. Thanks to the building's open-roof design, "it never gets hotter inside than outside."

Though largely outside of public view, the production greenhouses account for approximately one third of Phipps's energy usage. "We have almost as much greenhouse space behind the scenes that visitors don't get to see when they come to the conservatory as actual conservatory space," Piacentini said. "They're not normally open to the public, so people don't realize we have them, but they're a very important part of our operation."

The Platinum designation comes more than five years after the new buildings were opened. Phipps did not pursue certification at that time because it was thought that energy and water usage typically associated with greenhouse design would put the strict LEED standards out of reach, but the recent successes have led Phipps to set more ambitious goals, including better energy efficiency at the original 1893 conservatory building.

"It won't be easy, because there's a lot of historical restrictions on what we can and cannot do with the building," Piacentini said, "but we do have some ideas."