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Pittsburgh Buildings On Track To Reach Sustainability Goals Early

Daniel X. O'Neil
Pittsburgh's City County Building is among the properties participating in the Pittsburgh 2030 District initiative. Despite its age, the nearly 100-year-old building is fairing well in energy savings by comparison to its newer, Downtown neighbors.

Building owners in downtown Pittsburgh and Oakland are ahead of sustainability goals set as part of the Pittsburgh 2030 District initiative.

Eighty-five building owners and tenants have signed on to reduce emissions, water and energy usage by 50 percent by 2030.

The city's goal for 2016 was a 10 percent reduction in each category. According to the Green Building Alliance, organizations within the 2030 District have already seen a 12.5 percent reduction in energy usage, 10.3 percent drop in water usage and transportation emissions are down 24.2 percent.

Anna Siefken, vice president of strategic engagement with the Green Building Alliance and director of the initiative, said the alliance helps businesses and nonprofits identify opportunities for improving sustainability so they can spend more money and energy on fulfilling their missions.

Partners come together at monthly meetings to share ideas and strategies, she said.

“A person will stand up and start talking about the electricity saved by an elevator retrofit or the water saved by installing aerators and low-flow projects,” Siefken said. “Suddenly, a bunch of those projects start popping up all over the city.”

Christine Kirby, director of development for Downtown-based nonprofit law firm Neighborhood Legal Services Association, and said the organization, which owns its Penn Avenue building, has replaced its HVAC system, started using LED light bulbs and is working toward going completely paperless.

“When you think of lawyers, you think of filings and you think of a lot of paper,” she said. “We also have a plan to do an online intake system, so we’re looking at everything from electricity to paper.”

Kirby said cutting energy costs has allowed the organization to put more resources toward its mission of providing legal services to low income individuals.

Credit Green Building Alliance
85 buildings and 62.5 million square feet of floor space are included Pittsburgh's 2030 District.

Drew Chidester, senior director of energy and environmental engineering and affairs at UPMC, said hospitals use a large amount of energy and water per square foot. 

“Our square-footage intensity is very high. It’s one of the highest in commercial buildings,” he said.

“The other difficulty is that we function 24/7," Chidester said. "We never shut down.”

UPMC facilities have cut energy usage by about 10 percent through changes to lighting and HVAC systems, Chidester said.

A few individual buildings are still struggling to reach their 10 percent reduction goals for 2016, Siefken said, but some are already approaching their 2030 goal.

“What we’re doing is encouraging everyone to steer the ship in the same direction," she said. "We think that’s the best thing for us to do for Pittsburgh and the region.”

Pittsburgh is the first of 12 North American cities to announce it met and exceeded its 2016 benchmark. It is also the largest 2030 district with more than 68.2 million square feet space included.

Other participating cities include Seattle, Toronto, Albuquerque, Cleveland, Dallas and others.

Liz Reid oversees newsroom operations at WESA. She began working at WESA in 2013 as a general assignment reporter and weekend host. Since then, she’s worked as the Morning Edition producer, health & science reporter and as an editor. You can reach her at
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