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