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Pittsburgh 2030 District Helps Create a More Sustainable City

May 17, 2018

Learn how Pittsburgh, a city with an aging building stock, shows how cities can change their environmental impact with its 2030 District plan.


The international community has committed to carbon neutrality, and Pittsburgh has responded. Long before the Paris Climate Accord proposed net-zero greenhouse gas emission, Pittsburgh had published two Climate Action plans, started a greenhouse gas inventory and adopted a citywide sustainability rubric. The city’s vision was sustainability for all, and officials had clearly defined its goals – 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.

Downtown Pittsburgh under a warm sunset. The nonprofit Green Building Alliance founded the Pittsburgh 2030 District to create a more sustainable city.

See Pittsburgh's dedication to lessening their carbon footprint:

After joining more than 175 national governments in the agreement, the question remains: How can a city drastically change its environmental impact?

For Pittsburgh, the answer lies in the boundary of the 2030 District.

The 2030 District Model

In deciding how to create a more sustainable city, the nonprofit Green Building Alliance (GBA) founded the Pittsburgh 2030 District. The model’s based on the 2030 Challenge for Planning, in which buildings voluntarily commit to performance-based reductions in energy, water and transportation emissions. The challenge creates separate goals for new construction and existing buildings, with incremental goals until 2030.

New construction and major renovation projects commit to carbon neutrality by 2030, while existing buildings pursue 50% reductions in energy use (below national baselines). Both new and existing buildings commit to 50% reductions in water use and transportation emissions (below regional baselines).

The Pittsburgh 2030 District represents more than 500 buildings committed to rigorous reductions, leading all 19 international 2030 Districts with 81.7 million square feet committed. For the 2017 performance year, committed properties reduced energy use by 12%, while water consumption fell by 14.5%. Since 2012, the Pittsburgh 2030 District has collectively saved $85.4 million in energy and water costs, while avoiding 434,400 metric tons of CO2e.

Sustainable NHL Facilities (includes Pittsburgh Penguins)

For a city with an aging building stock, the 2030 District encourages every building to make improvements, even if larger third-party certifications aren’t financially feasible. The emphasis on measured performance is particularly important to the model’s effectiveness.

Property Partners are a business or building that’s signed the commitment pledge to the 2030 Challenge Goals and is within the 2030 District Boundary. They’re able to advocate for efficiency upgrades with verified data, while policymakers can create frameworks based on calculated environmental impacts. The 2030 District model also encourages participants to envision the impact of their collective actions.

Property Partners build a robust peer network that cultivates collaboration across diverse sectors of influence, including private owners, government officials, community organizations, utilities, institutions, designers and technology providers.

A Peer-to-Peer Network

Though benchmarking legislation has become a standard policy mechanism for climate response, the Pittsburgh 2030 District represents a broader movement for change. Pittsburgh and more than 22 other cities have mandated that non-residential properties disclose their annual utility consumption data, increasing tenant transparency to incentivize sustainability upgrades. Disclosure doesn’t improve upon building owners and operators’ sustainability expertise, nor does it inherently advocate for more stringent policy.

Partnered with over 100 owners, the Pittsburgh 2030 District brings unprecedented connectivity to the city’s most influential sectors. Partners convene monthly in closed-door workshops with technical experts, service providers and building owners. The more-than 30 lectures provide space for peer inquiry and analysis, allowing partners to share challenges with market competitors.

Beyond peer collaboration, Pittsburgh 2030 District Property Partners receive a confidential, individualized annual performance report analyzing their progress toward 2030 Challenge goals. Where possible, reports compare a building’s performance to similar, anonymized local buildings, and provide specific opportunities and investments critical to achieving their reductions.

Jumpstart Your Progress to 2030 with these 3 steps:
1. Use the EPA’s ENERGYSTAR Portfolio Manager Tool to track your building's energy and water performance.
2. Engage your team – engineers, custodians, contractors and tenants – to commit to the 2030 Challenge goals.
3. Advance their knowledge with the Urban Green Council’s GPRO (Green Building Professional) certification.

Quantifying New Impact

The Pittsburgh 2030 District has created several new environmental impact measurements:

Transportation: In 2015, the District led the region’s first multi-neighborhood commuter survey. The Make My Trip Count survey generated 20,710 responses and provided each building with its tenants’ mobility choices. The survey also informed regional transportation decisions, including multimodal mobility plans, parking requirement reductions and future transit expansions. 

Indoor air quality: With Pittsburgh having notoriously poor air quality, the District’s also developing a scalable protocol to quantify IAQ. In partnership with the University of Pittsburgh’s Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, eight buildings participated in a three-year IAQ pilot modeled on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Building Assessment Survey and Evaluation. The study included on-site testing, HVAC equipment evaluation and improvement recommendations.

Findings from the initial and post-intervention analyses, together with best practices from third-party rating systems such as LEED and WELL, informed the creation of the Pittsburgh 2030 District’s first IAQ survey for the 2017 performance year.

Related: Planning for Sustainability

As of publication, representatives of more than 300 buildings took the District’s survey, covering considerations of design, construction, operations and maintenance. Survey results will generate a Pittsburgh 2030 District Indoor Air Quality baseline and a corresponding reporting mechanism to track annual performance.

A Movement for Change

With five years of measurable success, the Pittsburgh 2030 District has built a diverse advocacy network with considerable influence. In 2016, Pittsburgh’s first sustainable development rubric, the p4 Performance Measures, built its Energy Measure on the 2030 Challenge goals. In p4’s first policy application, two zoning overlays specifically reference the Energy Measure in their development incentives. The Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan 3.0 (anticipated later in 2018) adopts 2030 Challenge goals as the city’s guiding objectives.

The Pittsburgh 2030 District also directly partners with local government to bring energy-saving technologies to public facilities. In collaboration with the City of Pittsburgh and three of its authorities, GBA launched the Pittsburgh Green Garage Initiative (PGGI) in 2014, upgrading lighting and controls in nine parking garages over three years. The project resulted in average energy reductions of 52% and over $300,000 in savings for 2017 alone. PGGI partners are expanding the approach to more garages and considering future innovations in renewables and efficiency.

 Angelica Ciranni
Pittsburgh 2030 District Senior Director

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