Blog: Pittsburgh Green Building Firsts


The City of Pittsburgh has undergone one of the most dramatic environmental revolutions in the world. In the past half-century, the Pittsburgh region has undertaken the most extraordinary urban environmental transformation in modern history. The “Smoky City,” now considered America’s “Most Livable City”, ranks among the top cities in the United States for sustainably certified building space.

Pittsburgh played an important role in the United States’ steel industry which began revving up in the mid-to-late 1800s and came to an abrupt halt in the 1980s. Though it has been nearly 40 years since the closure of the steel mills, thanks to the conservation efforts of Rivers of Steel Heritage Corporation, people can visit Carrie Furnaces, Homestead Works, and other historic sites to learn more about what made Pittsburgh so important during this period.

During the colloquially dubbed “Third Renaissance”, Pittsburgh changed from a city suffering the damages wrought by the collapse of its steel industry to a vibrant, active place known as a center for finance, education, healthcare, technology, energy, and sustainability. Pittsburgh has set an example by renewing, reclaiming, and redeveloping its environment through a series of lasting public-private partnerships going back more than 70 years – from the first air quality legislation to robust reclamation of brownfield sites and river cleanups during the past 25 years.

Pittsburgh and the Western Pennsylvania region is proud to be home to more than 347 LEED certified projects, totaling more than 35 million square feet. In addition to LEED, the Pittsburgh region also boasts buildings with Passive House, WELL Building, Living Building Challenge, and Green Globes certifications, as well as over 6,100 ENERGY STAR homes. This is a direct result of this region’s green agenda and strong commitment to environmental stewardship.

Pittsburgh is home to many green building firsts, such as:

 Building Year Certified Rating Level First Details
Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank 2000 Silver

Food Bank in US

  • Former Duquesne Works Steel Mill, Brownfield Site
  • Also PGH’s first LEED Building
  • “Car-Free Fridays”, employees use alternative means

PNC Firstside

2000 Silver

Financial Institution

  • Built with 90% post-consumer recycled steel
  • Former Urban Rail Yard, Brownfield
  • 33% of the exterior is passively shaded from the sun
  • Subsurface irrigation reduces water use by 50%

CMU – Stever House

2003 Silver

University Dorm Building in US

  • White roof to reduce heat island reduction
  • No potable water is used to landscaping
  • All major building materials were extracted and purchased locally

David L. Lawrence Convention Center

2003, 2012 Gold, Platinum

Convention Center in the World

  • Double LEED certified
  • Graywater system (with other tech, saves 6.4 mil gals/year)
  • Taps into PGH’s “fourth river”, an aquifer running under downtown for refrigeration
  • Exhibition halls can be lit entirely through windows and skylights
  • Saves enough energy to power 1900 PGH homes

Heinz Regional History Center: Smithsonian Wing

2005 Silver

Smithsonian Property

  • On a 40 acre Brownfield site
  • Lighting is efficient, but also optimized to minimize aging and decaying of artwork

Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh

2006 Silver

Children’s Museum

  • New “lantern” is the joining of two historic structures: the 1897 Allegheny Post Office and the 1939 Buhl Planetarium
  • Purchase wind energy and have rooftop PVs
  • Has dual flush toilets and zero-irrigation landscaping
  • “Skin” of the building, Articulated Cloud, is made of 43k translucent flaps that act as sunscreen and an art piece

Phipps Visitor Center

2006 Silver

Welcome Center in a Public Garden

  • Glass dome to maximize interior daylighting
  • Front lawn has drought resistant turf. No irrigation
  • Green roof manages storm water and reducing A/C needs by 10%

Pittsburgh Glass Center

2006 Gold

Public Arts Facility

  • Schools, studio and galley for creating and displaying glass
  • Heat recovery system that warms the building using heat created by the glassmaking process


2006 Silver

Radio Station
in US

  • Reflective roof to minimize heat island reduction
  • Waterless urinals
  • Close to busways, promotes alt. trans, has bike + shower facilities

Point Park University Dance Complex



University Dance Studio

  • Unlike office spaces or residences, this space requires additional ventilation because of the activities that take place here

The Western Pennsylvania region is fortunate to have a strong base of environmental non-profits, including the Green Building Alliance, that are advancing healthy, high performing, and green places. Pittsburgh’s sustainable and progressive redevelopment of buildings and brownfields have grown its reputation as a green building leader.

There are many different approaches to creating high performing green buildings. As professionals in the green building industry for many years, the 3R Sustainability team has evaluated projects to a variety of green building standards and can help you navigate your options. 3R is uniquely qualified to integrate its building design consulting with broader environmental and energy management consulting to deliver total 360-degree solutions.