30 Years: Pittsburgh's black-and-gold blood goes green

Part of the 30 Years, 30 Changes series on the Pittsburgh region

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Thirty years ago, green was simply a color. But as the Earth-friendly movement grew in the early 1990s, it became "green" -- shorthand for environmentally sustainable construction, products and strategies.

In 1998, the U.S. Green Building Council created a system of standards called Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED). Independent evaluators use a point system to compare how buildings and communities are designed, constructed, maintained and operated. Platinum is the highest level of certification.

Green construction often costs more in the short term but saves money and resources in the long run. Corporations and government entities were among the first to embrace LEED and in 2003, the David L. Lawrence Convention Center reopened Downtown as the greenest convention center in the world.

Designed by architect Rafael Vinoly, its distinctive curved roof uses winds from the adjacent Allegheny River as part of its ventilation system. The naturally lit building also has its own graywater reclamation facility and uses aquifer water in a water feature and mechanical systems.

In April, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens opened its Center for Sustainable Landscapes, a Platinum-rated building that includes active and passive solar, geothermal heating and cooling, a wind turbine, rooftop energy recovery unit and green roof.

Many builders have also gone green, creating houses and apartment buildings that are better-insulated, more energy-efficient and healthier to live in. In December 2012, Sota Construction Services opened a headquarters in Avalon that's as green as its projects. It has geothermal and radiant heating and cooling systems, straw bale and cob wall construction, solar panels and rainwater harvesting.

Kevin Kirkland: 412-263-1978 or kkirkland@post-gazette.com. First Published October 27, 2013 12:00 AM

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