Green buildings grow downtown

Pittsburgh’s gray skies cannot hide the fact that Carnegie Mellon is looking green these days. And it is not just our university’s campus — green buildings are turning Pittsburgh into one of the greenest cities in the country.

Higher energy efficiency, better workplaces, and lower maintenance costs are the main benefits of going green.

The Green Building Alliance (GBA) is a nonprofit agency that integrates building design with environmental responsibility. The GBA is leading a nationwide notion to rethink building design.

Buildings in the United States are responsible for about one-third of the nation’s total energy use. Yet, commercial buildings waste $42 billion in energy each year.

To help make Pittsburgh “The Green Capital of the World,” the GBA promotes education and research in green building design.

GBA Executive Director Rebecca Flora told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “We did some analysis early on and found [the alliance] is really the only organization of its kind in the country trying to determine how to best impact and transform the market.”

Green buildings differ from regular buildings in their construction. They are designed to minimize environmental harm and maximize energy efficiency. No two green buildings are identical, but there are common strategies to achieving green status.

The GBA recommends that buildings use natural light and ventilation rather than mechanical sources of energy. Additionally, the GBA encourages builders to recycle construction materials rather than disposing of them in landfills.

With increased energy efficiency and less material waste, buildings are less expensive to maintain.
The David L. Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh attests to these benefits. The convention center is the largest green building in the world and one of eight certified green buildings in Pittsburgh.

The convention center has a water-recycling system that reduces potable water use by 60 percent. Additionally, daylight sensors and natural ventilation and light sources reduce energy consumption by 35 percent.

Carnegie Mellon is following suit with these green practices by setting out to make all on-campus buildings meet the silver standards of LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED provides a rating system for certifying green buildings.

New House is the first dormitory at Carnegie Mellon to meet LEED’s silver standards. Henderson House, the Posner Center, and the Collaborative Innovation Center are designed to meet these standards as well.

“It’s a big step in the right direction for us,” said Alexa Huth, public relations intern for Carnegie Mellon Green Practices.

“All of Carnegie Mellon is trying to become more green.”

Research is another important step in getting the campus to go green. The Carnegie Mellon Center for Building Permanence and Diagnostics (CBPD) researches high-performance building design.

“Our goals are to provide the highest quality of work environment,” said architecture professor and CPBD research faculty member Vivian Loftness. These goals include the use of natural ventilation, views, break spaces, and daylight.

Loftness said that CPBD is also trying to turn buildings into better energy sources. For example, the center developed a solar thermal system that collects solar energy and outputs high-temperature water to power an air conditioner.

“Green design is a much bigger term than energy,” Loftness said. She said that “green” includes such practices as recycling water and using renewable materials in building design.

Loftness said that she would like to see both students and faculty become more environmentally conscientious.

“I think we really do need to crank up the awareness so that everyone becomes an environmentalist.”

Loftness said that there are no federal agencies focused solely on building research.

“There’s just a tremendous amount of innovation that could occur,” Loftness said.

Another on-campus organization devoted to going green is Carnegie Mellon Green Practices. The Green Practices committee focuses on conserving the campus’s natural resources and improving environmental quality.

Huth said that the organization’s biggest challenge is raising awareness. “We have to get our name out there ... That’s the first step to getting [people] involved.”

Carnegie Mellon outputs approximately 25,000 pounds of greenhouse gases per student per year. In 2002, five cents of every tuition dollar in revenue went toward energy expense.

Huth said that people can help in a number of ways, from recycling and turning off the lights to serving as an intern for Green Practices.

“We would like people to help in any way possible.”

From innovations in technology to conventional conservation of water, going green is shaping Pittsburgh into a comfortable and environmentally-responsible area to live.