Pittsburgh’s Green Initiative Starts With LED Lighting and Renewable Energy Sources

For a city once known for its pollution, Pittsburgh has made great strides in becoming a green hotspot. Pittsburgh has undertaken two objectives in recent years, first to limit waste and improve efficiency and second to implement sustainable energy sources such as sunlight, wind, water and geothermal heat.

Renewable Energy Sources being held in hands

To understand how much waste is being produced in the municipality, a greenhouse gas inventory was conducted in 2006. This inventory measures the amount of heat-trapping gases are being released by the city and from what sources. The city is able, using this data, to identify problem areas and address them. Inefficient Buildings, incandescent bulbs in street lamps, water and waste systems and public transportation tend to be among the highest contributors to these gases in cities and Pittsburgh is no different. Pittsburgh Climate Protection Initiative (PCPI) was formed to help implement a plan of action, drawing data from the 2006 inventory and the follow-up in 2008.

The PCPI prioritized many areas for improvement, but none received more attention than the number of aging and inefficient structures. The finished product is labeled a “green building,” one that has been made to minimize the consumption of resources as well as the amount of waste produced to lessen the negative effects on the environment and human health. Health is an important factor because humans spend most of their time indoors and conventional building materials can contain toxic materials such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and asbestos.

In fact, it is important to consider every step of a building’s lifespan, from design to removal, to truly ensure that a structure can be called a green building. Each stage of life accounts for 65% of electrical consumption, 30% of greenhouse gas emissions and 30% raw material use.

Each green building must also meet the requirements established by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) before it receives LEED certification. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification rates a structure in a number of categories, including water use, toxicity, air quality, sustainability, and energy efficiency. Most green buildings also met the guidelines developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) National Energy Performance Rating System for Energy Star certification. A building that has met these standards has minimized its energy use and will see improvements both in functionality and finance. In general, a LEED building may use 25-30% less energy than the national average.

Western Pennsylvania features fifty-nine LEED certified structures, of which thirty-nine are located in Pittsburgh. One of the thirty-nine is the David Lawrence Convention Center, the first ever LEED certified convention center. With its location on the waterfront of the Allegheny River, the center makes use of the river to promote a green aesthetic. The design makes use of natural daylight and natural ventilation to provide light and heat to the building. The remainder of lighting takes advantage of light-emitting diode, or LED lighting and its improved efficiency. The convention center was the only building of its type to receive a gold LEED certificate in new construction.

To reduce potable water use the convention center operates a water reclamation project on site. Because Pittsburgh is a city settled on the banks of three rivers, water treatment and ecology are priorities. Compounding the problems to be addressed is the fact that the storm system and the sanitary sewer system share pipelines. In the event of flooding, these pipes can be overcome with runoff and untreated sewage can overflow into rivers and creeks. A pressing problem in the city is storm water overflow and natural land space and vegetated areas are used to control this. Assisting this, as well as helping water conservation, there are many rain barrels and rain gardens to be found throughout the municipality.

Another prime example of innovative green buildings, the Phipps Conservatory Welcome Center treats and reuses all of the water captured on site.

Pittsburgh is also addressing the way that transportation is influencing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. This is being done through providing sustainable transportation which reduces or eliminates personal vehicles through methods such as ride-sharing, carpooling, and using public transportation. Taking the reduction of gases to an extreme, biking or cycling and walking are extremely helpful in promoting a green city. “Bicycle Friendly Community” status was awarded to Pittsburgh by the League of American Bicyclists in 2010 as a result of their efforts.

For city-owned vehicles like police cars, cleaner fuel sources such as bio fuel, natural gas and hydrogen have been suggested. For instance, Pittsburgh uses B20 biodiesel made from a local processor. The benefits also result in financial savings because it saves costs on having to import petroleum. Waste hauling vehicles have also been retrofitted to reduce particulates in the diesel exhaust through the installation of particulate filters. Similarly, hybrid and electric-powered vehicles are being encouraged to help create a more sustainable environmental standing. With fewer cars on the road from efforts like the car-sharing service Zipcar, parking lots and motor pools become less necessary and their space can be re-purposed

Pittsburgh does still purchase energy from outside sources when necessary but tries to make decisions that will benefit environmentally and financially. The city purchases up to 25% of its energy from renewable sources, in efforts to reduce the city’s environmental footprint. The effort to change Pittsburgh’s reputation as well as provide a better home for its citizens is an extensive effort and will seem to only grow from this point.