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The Pittsburgh 2030 District Leads the Country in Green Innovation

August 18, 2016

By Meg Hogan

Being “green” means being environmentally friendly and, increasingly, impacting the bottom line for many businesses. Being green in Pittsburgh means contributing to being a better city so that our local economy is stronger, our power grids aren’t as strained and our people know how to lessen their consumption of resources.

One of the larger sustainability initiatives is within the Green Building Alliance (GBA) with a project called Pittsburgh 2030 District. The project’s goal is to hit 50-percent reductions in usage of energy and water by 2030. Thirteen other cities also work every day to hit that same goal.

And Pittsburgh can add one more example of championship to its long list: Out of the 13 Districts, it’s number one out of all of these cities in terms of scale and size. 

Anna Siefken, GBA’s vice president of strategic engagement and Pittsburgh 2030 district director, tells the story of how it started.

1993: GBA is Founded

GBA launched in 1993, which was also the time when the national group, the United States Green Building Council, was founded. The GBA launched with the idea that Pittsburgh’s old buildings, with their beautiful facades and deep history, could be more efficient with their resources with the help of incremental improvements to existing equipment, and more efficient new systems as purchases are made.

We were in the leadership position, all of southwest Pennsylvania was really ahead of the curve,” says Siefken.

When I was taking a course to study for my LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] credentials, they showed the David Lawrence Convention Center because it’s the greenest convention center in the world,” she recalls.

#LEED #architecture

A photo posted by Logan Wilson (@lw_40) on

We have a long history of working with buildings even before there was LEED certification to really understand what it means to be a green building.”


Architect Edward Mazria calls out the building industry for being incredibly wasteful when it comes to resources. He initiates the 2030 Challenge. “He issued a challenge in Metropolis that basically says that buildings are the worst,” Siefken explains.

They’re the center of so much resource depletion that’s happening. If we just started working on those from a capital investment perspective, we could start moving the needle.”

The concept seems simple enough, as Siefken explains, “Buildings are interested in saving money, and saving utilities can equal saving money, so why not marry those two things together?

The challenge seeks to reduce the consumption of energy and water in existing buildings and to make new buildings carbon neutral by 2030. Mazria heads the nonprofit Architecture 2030 as the founder and CEO.

Using Seattle as the first district, the organizers drew a boundary around their downtown center with all the biggest buildings as targets for locations that could be the first ones to join the 2030 movement.

2012: Downtown Pittsburgh is Targeted as a 2030 District

Taking a cue from Seattle, in 2012 a map is drawn for Downtown, indicating the goal area for which buildings could integrate better energy, water and transportation practices.

We said, ‘Let’s go door-to-door, talking with these individuals, and find out who would commit to these challenge goals with us if we helped provide the inspiration and equipped them with the new knowledge that they need,’” says Siefken.

The work being done, and the cost savings of the efforts, soon became a hot topic of conversation among Downtown business leaders. One of the first organizations to jump on board was the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. Since then more than 80 other property partners have joined the efforts.

The program provides the goals, which are a 50 percent reduction [of utilities] over time. It takes a building and figures out where it is because most buildings have no idea where they are,” Siefken explains.

Questions many property owners ask are:

  • Am I using a lot of electricity?
  • Am I using a lot of water in comparison to other buildings?
  • How do I know?

The GBA said, ‘Look, commit to these goals, and we’ll help you along the way,’” Siefken says about the role of the GBA and the Pittsburgh 2030 District.

At private meetings, the property partners get together to talk about what they’ve done and upcoming projects to continue to reduce resource consumption and ultimately, reduce costs. The GBA provides aggregate data to demonstrate context for progress as a whole.

2014: Oakland is Added as a 2030 District

With support from local foundations such as the Heinz Endowments, the Richard King Mellon Foundation, the Pittsburgh Foundation, and the Kresge Foundation, the GBA was able to expand to Oakland. With the addition of this section of the city, the 2030 District in Pittsburgh totals more than 74.5 million square feet and 44 community and resource partners.

Property partners vary in size and stature. “With 470 buildings, the smallest are kiosks in Schenley Plaza and the largest is the U.S. Steel Tower,” says Siefken. “They all have the same pain when they pay more for larger utilities bills.

The power of the Pittsburgh 2030 District and Siefken’s work, in partnership with her colleagues, including Pittsburgh 2030 District team members Isaac Smith and Quinn Zeagler, is in the dots that are connected. “We bring people together and we figure out what needs to be done and then how to do it,” Siefken explains.

2016: The 2030 District Expands to the North Side

The sports stadiums and other buildings on the North Side are added as part of the Pittsburgh 2030 District. For the stadiums in particular, these cost savings mean more events can be hosted at the stadiums and it’s actually financially viable. The costs of keeping the lights on and running more electricity during concerts can be offset by the energy efficient projects the GBA and 2030 District helps move along.

PGH 2030 District 4-20-16

The map of the Pittsburgh 2030 District. Image courtesy of 2030districts.org.


As Siefken explains, the GBA’s job is to open doors for sustainable opportunities. The group continues to innovate and seek solutions for cities like Pittsburgh. With the 100 to 120 events they host every year, the group is sure to provide new ideas, make new connections and lead other cities to be better and greener than ever before.

Green innovation is happening all over the ‘Burgh. Check out what’s going on over at Construction Junction.