Downtown Pittsburgh owners vow to go green

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One by one, they stepped to the microphone Tuesday to pledge some of Downtown's most celebrated properties -- from One Oxford Centre to PNC Park -- to going greener.

During the course of 45 minutes, owners of 61 properties representing 23.3 million square feet of space Downtown and on the North Shore publicly committed to cutting energy, water and transportation consumption by 50 percent over the next 18 years as part of a national campaign.

Among those making the pledges were Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, both of whom committed various city and county buildings to the cause, including the historic county courthouse, and Gary Saulson, director of corporate real estate for PNC Financial Services Group, which is building what it says will be the world's greenest skyscraper on Wood Street.

Other properties that are part of the pledge include BNY Mellon Center, Fifth Avenue Place, the One, Two and Three PNC Plaza buildings, Benedum Center, Consol Energy Center, Alcoa Corporate Center, the O'Reilly Theater, K&L Gates Center, and the county jail.

In all, about 38 percent of the properties in the Downtown business district have committed to the national challenge launched by Architecture 2030, a non-profit organization seeking to curb greenhouse gas emissions from the global building sector.

Michael J. Schiller, executive director of the Green Building Alliance, which is spearheading the local effort, said he's "thrilled" to have 38 percent of the properties committed to the cause and expects to get more in the weeks and months ahead. He said it took Seattle two years to get about the same amount in pledges that Pittsburgh got in two to three months.

"It exceeded my expectations," he said. "I think it really speaks to how progressive and how aware the property owners and the community partners are in Pittsburgh."

The first part of the going greener effort will involve establishing baselines for consumption in office buildings, parking garages, and other properties. Owners then will start to look for ways to reduce usage to the target level over the course of almost two decades.

"This is the celebration," Mr. Schiller told those who gathered at the Benedum Tuesday to make pledges. "The work starts after this."

He noted that there are various ways property owners can cut consumption without breaking the bank, from replacing light bulbs or fixtures with more efficient versions to putting sensors in offices to turn off lights when a room is not in use.

Another strategy could be to switch to cleaning offices during the day, eliminating the need to keep lights on for crews after hours.

More expensive options include replacing windows or heating and air conditioning systems and switching to low flow water faucets. The Empire State Building recently paid $13 million to replace all 6,514 double hung, dual pane windows and make other improvements to cut energy consumption and save about $4.4 million a year.

Mr. Saulson said PNC, which has been a leader locally in green construction and practices, has spent $16 million installing new lights in various buildings throughout its system and will get a payback in less than three years.

"With that kind of payback, the savings for the shareholder is tremendous," he said. "And as we look at a portfolio of 32 million square feet, the upside potential is really great. So we really can save a lot of energy and a lot of money."

He applauded the new initiative to cut consumption Downtown.

"I hope more and more building owners step up and join in because I think it's a really good idea. I think the upside potential for companies to save money is tremendous," he said.

Pittsburgh is one of three cities to sign up for the challenge so far. Seattle and Cleveland are the others.

Of course, if building owners Downtown get really serious about cutting energy, there could be some unintended consequences. For one, the city skyline might not be so bright at night.

Mr. Schiller acknowledged as much. Not that he seemed to mind, though he professed to be a big fan of Light-Up Night.

"Some other time, I want to shut all the lights off in the entire city just to prove we can do it," he said.

businessnews - environment

Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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