Pittsburgh's Downtown Office Buildings Take On 2030 District Efficiency Challenge

  • 2030 District partners tour 11 Stanwix in Pittsburgh's Downtown. The heating and cooling system has been renovated, helping the building meet energy reduction targets. Photo: Kara Holsopple

August 9, 2013

People who take shorter showers at home, or keep heating and cooling to a minimum, often notice a big difference in their household budgets.  Applying this idea to huge office buildings and Downtown high rises is the goal of the Pittsburgh 2030 District.  This collaborative initiative to reduce energy and water use could make green practices more central to commercial real estate in the region.

Chris Pinelli, the building manager of 11 Stanwix in Downtown Pittsburgh, recently gave a tour other partners in the Pittsburgh 2030 District.  They were downtown building owners, managers and organizations committed to reducing water, energy and transportation emissions by the year 2030.  They meet periodically to learn about best practices and how other participants are working towards the targets, like a 50 percent reduction in water use set for the district. 

The 2030 District has only been in place for a year, but Pinelli has already seen results as he works towards the targets.  In 2011, the building’s utilities cost $1.2 million.  Now their cost is under $900,000. 

That’s good news for Sean Luther, too.  Luther is with the Green Building Alliance, and is director of the Pittsburgh 2030 District, which includes big name partners like Highmark and the Pittsburgh Pirates.  He says that although the 2030 program is a national model, with programs in other cities, including Cleveland and Seattle, there’s a reason why it’s been so successful in Pittsburgh.  55 percent of the square footage of office space in Downtown is committed to the district targets.

"The real estate market is very locally oriented, our management companies are local, many of our buildings are still locally owned, and in some cases family owned.  The 2030 district is voluntary, grassroots, community oriented, and that’s a really good fit for Pittsburgh," says Luther. 

He says the district is one part of an overall bigger plan to address the region’s climate impact, but it’s also a way to reduce dollars spent on energy use so the region is more competitive.

"So it really all boils down to capitalism.  This is a tight real estate community, they’re talking to each other, they know what the competition’s doing, and so we really created a community that’s accountable to itself," he says.

Luther says potential new lease holders in these buildings are going to be asking how energy and resources will impact their finances.  And he says the building themselves are going to start advertising about their energy efficiency.  He hopes that kind of enthusiasm will catch on in other parts of the region

The next step is funding through public and private partnerships.  Luther says a pool of funds could help bring smaller commercial buildings into the 2030 District. They don’t have the resources of buildings like 11 Stanwix to make these improvements on their own. But these smaller buildings make up about 60percent of the buildings in Pittsburgh’s Downtown.

The Green Building Alliance hosts the first national 2030 District Summit in Pittsburgh on August 12, with a public keynote address.