Pittsburgh: The New Global Green Machine

When most think of sustainable design, a chromed out futuristic Jetson style city comes to mind, but Pittsburgh is working hard to change that though a wide variety of green innovation.

According to Green Building Alliance project manager Angelica Cirvanni, making the decision to transform spaces into environmentally conscious buildings does not necessarily always have to come with cutting edge technology and a lofty price tag. It can start with residents making their homes more passive meaning better insulation or simply updating things like windows. Even older buildings like the iconic U.S steel building are implementing small changes that are beginning to add up.

In 2010, with the help of the buildings tenants and evolveEA, a local sustainable design and consulting firm the U.S steel building made the switch to low-flush toilets, LED lighting and elevator cabinets that adjust ventilation and lighting when not in use. Although, this does not seem glamorous, these types of transitions beginning to add up especially in the tallest skyscraper between Philadelphia and Chicago.


What launched Pittsburgh into a green design chapter was the city’s decision to take part in the District 2030 Challenge. The District 2030 Challenge is a national commitment that commercial buildings from cities all across the country are taking to cut their electricity and water use in half by 2030. Pittsburgh alone makes up a quarter of the commercial building space that are participating in the challenge with 78.7 million square feet of real estate that is committed to the goal.

Monthly meet ups are required for the businesses involved, this is where innovation comes to life because each group is able to offer different approaches that they have implemented.

Partners of the challenge include PNC and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The PNC building is committed to recycling their rain water and utilizing climate control in their offices. While the Pittsburgh Penguins built the PPG Paints Arena to utilize natural light, with highly efficient ventilation systems. Furthermore, the arena is the first sports facility in the country with a gold LEED certification.

Other innovations across the city include the new Children’s Museum’s museum lab that is being constructed in the Northside neighborhood in a 100-year-old library. By using plaster comprised of ground cork and a sustainable insulation workers are able to transition a building historic to the area into the 21st century.

On a more residential scale, New York designer Nathan St. Germain made Pittsburgh is home base for his design firm, Studio St Germain that specializes in green innovation. St. Germain is also one of the founders of Passive House Western PA, whose visions align with the Design 2030 Challenge.

Overall, Pittsburgh is a key player in sustainable efforts globally which creates a precedent for other growing cities to follow suit but change does not end there. We must keep working toward higher standards. unfortunately, developers and property managers still equate sustainability with expensive. Through education and hopefully Pittsburgh’s involvement in the District 2030 Challenge will help shift these mindsets so we can work toward making all infrastructure in the city sustainable.

For more information about the District 2030 Challenge and other groups mentioned please visit

District 2030: https://architecture2030.org/programs/2030-districts/

The Green Building Alliance: https://www.go-gba.org


Studio St. Germain: http://www.studiostgermain.com

3 Comments Add yours

  1. callie.oliver says:

    It’s encouraging and somewhat exciting to see how new buildings are meeting sustainability standards and how people are trying to turn older buildings into a more efficient and sustainable property without losing the history. Have you heard of the “breathing” building downtown? Also, I did not know that about PPG! How cool!

  2. holly.taylor says:

    Callie, I have not heard of a breathing building. You should do a post about it! Are there any here in Pittsburgh?

    1. callie.oliver says:

      Yes, there’s one in Pittsburgh! Check this out: breathing building in Pittsburgh It’s soooooo freaking cool. I used to bus downtown daily to commute to CCAC South’s campus, and I watched it being built day-by-day. I could probably do a quick-hit post about it! Thank you for suggesting. 🙂

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