Power Shift: Downtown Pittsburgh To Halve Energy Consumption by 2030

Anyone who has ever worked in an office knows this simple truth: these buildings use a lot of energy. Between the twenty-four hour lobby lights, the never ending use of paper, and the blasting heat or air conditioning, it probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise that according to the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan, in 2011, commercial buildings consumed 19 percent of the country’s energy. When combined with residential buildings, that number jumps to more than 50 percent.

“So,” says Sean Luther, Director of the Green Building Alliance’s Pittsburgh 2030 District, “to address energy consumption and efficiency we have to focus on the building sector, both existing buildings and new construction.” That's precisely the goal of the new Pittsburgh 2030 District, an initiative rolled out in August by the Green Building Alliance, aiming to reduce downtown Pittsburgh’s energy, water, and transportation consumption by 50 percent by 2030.

It’s success thus far is nothing short of stunning: in just a few short months, thirty-one property owners representing almost 28 million square feet of downtown Pittsburgh and making up more than half of the defined “district,” have voluntarily committed themselves to the above goal, with Heinz Field, U.S. Steel Tower, properties of Point Park University and the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh being the most recent to hop on the efficiency bandwagon.

The 2030 District program began in Seattle in September 2011 when, according to Luther, the architects, engineers, and other environmentally conscious building professionals at the Green Building Alliance decided “to take the 2030 Challenge concept out of the intellectual design community and actually apply it to a geographical area.” Since then, 2030 Districts have launched with widespread support in Cleveland and Los Angeles.

Pittsburgh, however, offers a unique opportunity for the 2030 Challenge. While LEED certifications and sustainable design and architecture are usually associated with new buildings, the Pittsburgh 2030 District allows the Green Building Alliance to showcase the potential for upgrading efficiencies in existing buildings. “Downtown Pittsburgh was built in two large waves,” Luther says. “Immediately post-World War II and then again in the late seventies and early eighties. We realized that while we’ve been promoting LEED, a lot of our existing buildings haven’t really approached the LEED concept.” By focusing on existing—not just newly constructed—buildings in Pittsburgh, the Green Building Alliance hopes to change that perception.

Buildings interested in becoming District Property Partners can receive a no-cost, no-obligation energy audit identifying “cost effective and high impact energy efficiency opportunities.” If they choose to proceed, they will receive a customized plan for moving forward, complete with financing options and sustainability metrics to assess the building’s success.

And while some politicians and think tanks argue that environmental responsibility and economic growth are mutually exclusive, Luther begs to differ. He notes that cutting energy and water consumption also cuts operating costs, making it not just more profitable, but also more economically competitive in our increasingly global economy.

This month, challenge a neighbor to GOOD's energy smackdown. Find a neighbor with a household of roughly the same square footage and see who can trim their power bill the most. Throughout February, we'll share ideas and resources for shrinking your household carbon footprint, so join the conversation at


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