Pittsburgh 2030 District. Image courtesy of Green Building Alliance.

Pittsburgh has the largest 2030 District in North America — a commitment by the owners of 560 buildings, representing 86.6 million square feet, in Downtown, Oakland, the North Side and Strip District to reduce their energy usage by 50% by 2030.

As of 2021, participating Pittsburgh buildings had cut their energy usage by 34.9%. But it’s not enough.

According to last year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in Glasgow (COP26), for the world to limit global warming to the 1.5° Celsius target set forth in the 2015 Paris Agreement, countries must reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the built environment by 50% to 65% by 2030 and reach zero carbon emissions by 2040.

So the 2030 District, an initiative of Pittsburgh’s Green Building Alliance, is shifting its goals from reducing energy usage to cutting carbon emissions in half by 2030 and down to zero by 2040.

Pittsburgh is more than halfway there. Last year, Pittsburgh 2030 District partners reduced energy use to 34.9% below the baseline, compared to 28.9% in 2020. This has avoided putting 382,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air.

Downtown Pittsburgh
Photo by Jennifer Baron.

The Pittsburgh 2030 District includes 130 property partners, including office towers, hospitals, hotels, multifamily residential buildings, universities, professional sports facilities and museums.

Annual performance reports will assess each participating building’s carbon emissions. Carbon emissions calculations take into account the carbon intensity of the fuel source type — with nuclear, solar, wind and hydroelectric being emissions-free, while grid electricity, natural gas, district steam and chilled water have varying emissions.

“Accelerating to zero carbon will require changes that include migrating to full-building electrification, increasing renewable energy, and advocating for more stringent building codes and energy-related policies and incentives,” says Chris Cieslak, who manages the Pittsburgh and Erie 2030 Districts. “It is a big challenge, but our district partners have shown remarkable dedication, ingenuity and commitment over the past 10 years, and that is a testament to their success up to this point.”

Future district meetings will include education, training and guidance about conducting deep carbon retrofits on existing buildings to improve efficiency, building electrification to eliminate fossil fuel use (including replacing furnaces and boilers that run on natural gas with ground- or air-source heat pumps), thermal energy storage and on-site renewable energy.

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.