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Green Building

Rebecca L. Flora
Executive Director
Green Building Alliance

Pittsburgh has gained international recognition for the successful transformation from the smoky city to a renaissance city. For obvious reasons, a majority of its environmental legacy has been focused on the cleanup of the natural environment in the areas of air, water, soil, and the creation of public spaces. This focus, however, has addressed only half of the environmental problems which society currently faces.

The indoor environment where we spend 80-90% of our lives also has a direct impact on the health of our natural and human environments. Health impacts of the built environment, while less visible today than the smoke of 100 years ago, are perhaps a more urgent concern. For example, the occurrence of asthma cases is on the rise. Between 1980 and 1994, the incidence of asthma in the U.S. has risen 75%, episodes of which can be triggered by poor indoor air quality, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA has also determined that indoor air quality is four to five times worse than outdoor air quality. This is cause for even broader health and economic concern. In addition to its effect on occupant health, the building industry accounts for 30-40% of municipal solid waste, 30-40% of wood and raw material use, 30%-40% of total energy use and 25% of water use.

In just one decade, Pittsburgh has become a national leader in solving the other half of the environmental equation - our built environment.

As home of the world's first green convention center, and host to 5,000 people for the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) national Greenbuild conference in 2003, Pittsburgh is recognized as a leader in the global green building movement. The David L. Lawrence Convention Center, the world's largest green building, appropriately serves as the storefront window for the Pittsburgh region to showcase the largest and most diverse collection of green buildings in the country. The Pittsburgh region contains 40 buildings, totaling approximately five million square feet, which are either certified or registered under the USGBC's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design( (LEED) rating system. And Pittsburgh's green building explosion has happened in only four years since the creation of LEED!

Pittsburgh's green building leadership was the result of the investment of local foundations, the formation of a nonprofit organization dedicated solely to growing green building in the region, a strong academic community engaged in building research and education, a network of progressive building professionals, the leadership of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and a dedicated grassroots network that provides activism and support for environmental issues. Finally, local champions took risks and pioneered a new approach to local development.

Pittsburgh's 10-year leadership resulted in a collection of buildings, many of which are built on brownfields and save an average 30-60% in energy use, 20-50% in water use, and recycle up to 90% of construction waste. These buildings exhibit increased employee retention and satisfaction with decreased sickness and absence while displaying a superior corporate image.

While significant progress has been made over the last decade, city government has yet to fully embrace or offer incentives for green buildings in Pittsburgh. This is about to change as Pittsburgh City Council is expected to introduce legislation that would grant increased density bonuses to LEED certified buildings. In addition, data is needed to further document the economic value and superior performance of local buildings that have completed construction and begun operations. There are also several code and policy barriers which hinder the implementation of some green building technologies and strategies. Finally, real and perceived cost issues continue to slow market demand for green buildings. The GBA has undertaken several initiatives to address these issues in partnership with local universities, governmental agencies, and private entities.

Green building is another chapter in Pittsburgh's green story. It is one that addresses the impact of our built environment on our natural and human environments.

Rebecca Flora, AICP, LEED AP, is the Executive Director of the Green Building Alliance. She can be reached at



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