Pittsburgh has played a big part in the green building revolution, since before that was even a term. For almost 25 years, the Green Building Alliance has been pushing for local developers and companies to shoot for rigorous green building standards (like the now-commonplace LEED)—and helped many of them see the value in it long before it became standard practice.

Pittsburgh even has a few buildings that attained (or are in the process of attaining) the most rigorous green building standard of all—the Living Building Challenge—like the Frick Environmental Center and the Center for Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps Conservatory.

Living Buildings are structures that are “regenerative, that produce more energy than they use, recycle all their water, and rely only on water that falls on their roof, and non-toxic materials,” explains James Connelly, Director of the Living Product Challenge for the International Living Future Institute (ILFI).

When making Living Buildings, it stands to reason that you need Living Products, created along similarly sustainable lines. However, at the moment, the closest maker of certified-Living Building products is Owens Corning in Toledo.

That’s about to change. A partnership between the Green Building Alliance and the Seattle-based ILFI is just getting started, with the goal of making Pittsburgh a Living Products Hub for the building materials industry.

“We just created an advisory panel with leaders from academia and business and city government and leading foundations,” says Connelly. “They’re helping us shape this outreach effort to be as effective as possible.”

An event at Phipps Conservatory on April 18 is the official kickoff for the Living Product Hub which will be located at the Green Building Alliance’s headquarters on the South Side.

“We can actually create demand through the Living Building Challenge, because we have this requirement that materials be free of toxic chemicals,” says Connelly.

“LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), a certification of the U.S. Green Building Council, is also on board, notes Connelly. So Living Products will help builders attain those certifications as well.

“If you think about a building, there are any number of products—carpet, coatings, glass, ductwork, wood, specialty electronics, lighting, you name it,” explains Aurora Sharrard, executive director of the Green Building Alliance. “There are manufacturers in Pennsylvania and adjacent areas that make and distribute a lot of these products. Our goal is to work with those manufacturers directly, with transparency, and get those products into local buildings that are setting a high bar for performance.”

“The ILFI has two years of funding from the [Pennsylvania] Department of Community and Economic Development to put together the Pittsburgh Living Product Hub. The focus is on connecting innovating building projects to the supply chain, who are making innovative green products.”

Pittsburgh has some built-in advantages for a project like this.

“Metals, and interesting paints and coatings and innovative chemistry from companies like PPG and Covestro and Braskem—there’s sort of a history of steel manufacturing and really cool innovative companies doing some of the leading chemistry work in the world,” says Connelly. “We’re excited to be located in the heart of all that activity.”

Another Pittsburgh connection is the Executive Director of Phipps Conservatory, Richard Piacentini, who’s on the board of ILFI.

“He built a living building,” explains Connelly.

Long-term, the plan is to create a complete ecosystem of Living Product makers in Western Pennsylvania.

“I anticipate . . . working with existing manufacturers and researchers, universities and startups trying to make technologies and products of the future,” says Sharrard.

Michael Machosky

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.