Pittsburgh skyline
Pittsburgh skyline. Photo by TH Carlisle.

Pittsburgh is the North American leader in terms of size out of 22 international 2030 Districts — a voluntary effort to get property owners to commit to reducing energy use, water consumption and emissions usage by 50% by 2030. In addition, new construction and major renovation projects have committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2030 as part of the effort.

Pittsburgh has more than 86 million square feet of property dedicated to the 2030 District, encompassing 556 buildings. (New York City has so far committed only 21 million square feet of buildings). The world-renowned South Side-based Green Building Alliance, which has been spearheading the effort since 2012, calculates that this has meant savings of $205.8 million in energy and water costs, and 1.85 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions avoided since 2012. Pittsburgh is also the first 2030 District to collect data on indoor air quality.

In 2020 alone, the Pittsburgh 2030 District reduced energy use 28.9% below the baseline. The District avoided 304,132 metric tons of CO2. There was also a 42% reduction in water usage (compared to 19.8% in 2019). The impact of Covid was the most significant factor affecting performance in 2020.

“Our buildings, as you know, are 80% of our greenhouse gas emissions,” says Pittsburgh Chief Resilience Officer Grant Ervin, who co-presented the GBA’s annual 2030 District progress report on May 20. “Every building provides an opportunity for us to reduce emissions, build resilience and create a healthier environment for everyone.”

Working with the Green Building Alliance and 2030 District goals, the City of Pittsburgh has had an outsized impact on the region’s sustainability goals.

“Last year, for the first time, we were able to hit one of our critical milestones of our Climate Action Plan of achieving 100% renewable electricity being purchased for our members of the Western Pennsylvania Energy Consortium,” says Ervin. “Which not only hit our target with regards to renewable energy but also yielded $700,000 in savings for local governments around the region.”

Properties participating in Pittsburgh’s 2030 District. Image courtesy of the Green Building Alliance.
Properties participating in Pittsburgh’s 2030 District. Image courtesy of the Green Building Alliance.

The 2030 District is a voluntary program that is free to join. The Green Building Alliance collects data and tracks the performance of buildings in Pittsburgh, benchmarking those numbers against similar buildings — hospitals and labs have different power needs than storage warehouses and theaters — and develops a baseline for those buildings to track progress.

Setting goals for energy-efficient buildings has other benefits; Allegheny County has 12,000 green jobs now, more than any other county in Pennsylvania, notes Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

Major solar power installations in the past year have included arrays at Mill 19 at Hazelwood Green, Community College of Allegheny County and Global Links, as well as a giant 3-megawatt array at Pittsburgh International Airport. In February, Allegheny County entered a power purchase agreement for clean hydroelectric energy from a new facility at the Emsworth Dam. PNC Financial Services renewed its commitment to purchase 100% of its electrical power from renewables by 2025, and to provide funding for solar and wind projects.

Small victories for 2030 District members were perhaps just as important. CCAC found that putting its computers to sleep through a network-wide power management system dropped the school’s energy consumption by 74%, saving $66,000 to $75,000 annually.

Even city parks are going carbon “net-zero,” Fitzgerald says. “That will mean they’ll actually be producing more energy through solar and wind, than they will be taking out of the grid.”

There was an additional focus on air quality in 2020, which became extremely important because of the pandemic.

“The reason that we selected indoor air quality and bundled it with the 2030 Challenge is because the property owners and facilities managers are in the best position to influence the indoor air quality in their building,” says Chris Cieslak, 2030 District senior director for the Green Building Alliance. “The work that they do with the energy and the water and indoor air quality also relates to the health and performance of the building.”

Ventilation is the key.

“Our facilities managers and our property owners need to start looking at on-demand or demand-controlled ventilation, which would basically just bring the additional air into the building when you actually have people in the building,” says Cieslak. “Many of our property partners have already added occupancy sensors and motion detectors, but maybe we could do more of that.”

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.