June 24, 2021

Sustainable Initiatives Making Pittsburgh a Greener Place

Image courtesy of Penn State News.

While well-known as the Steel City, Pittsburgh’s reputation as the center of the steel industry has recently been eclipsed by its striking shift towards preserving the city’s outdoor spaces through the implementation of sustainability initiatives.

Phipps Conservatory has led the way in sustainable public gardens, with their energy sources deriving 100% from either wind or solar energy, or other renewable resources. Image courtesy of Paul G. Wiegman.

What are Sustainable Initiatives?

What sustainability initiatives look like in the Pittsburgh community

Sustainability and sustainable initiatives are umbrella terms that encompass the efforts of companies to implement practices that help to lower their environmental impact on the world, as well as set up a greener future for those to follow. Sustainability can be practiced by both the individual and large corporations, as it involves making a variety of changes to the way things run in order to lessen overall environmental impact.

For companies and corporations specifically, the past decade has seen a push towards the enactment of new policies and business models that promote sustainability. This can look like companies choosing to use or create environmentally-friendly packaging products, supporting campaigns that promote ending climate change, and reducing their water and overall material usage. While these are just some examples of the things that businesses can do to lessen their carbon footprint and positively contribute to a greener society, there is an endless list of practices companies can take up in order to improve the environment, and society as a result.

In Pittsburgh specifically, many of the corporations and businesses deemed as environmentally conscious have adopted a handful of these practices and have received a LEED certification. The LEED certification is a rating system that is awarded to buildings that actively attempt to lessen energy usage and improve their surrounding environment. This certification is used across the country, but it is especially emergent in the Pittsburgh community.


Carnegie Science Center building
While the beloved Carnegie Science Center was created in 1991, the PPG Science Pavilion was introduced to the public very recently in the summer of 2018. Image courtesy of Turner Construction.

Sustainable Initiatives in Pittsburgh

Some of the newest and most well-known attempts at making Pittsburgh a greener community

While Pittsburgh is viewed by some as a polluted and industrialized metropolis, the strides made by companies and businesses in the community to promote sustainability through their practices is quickly turning the reputation of the city around. Here are some of the most impactful sustainable initiatives created by companies in the Pittsburgh area:

Opening in the late 19th century amidst the height of Pittsburgh’s industrial revolution, Phipps initially acted as an oasis among the industrialized city. Home to the country’s first LEED certified visitor center for a public garden and their more recently created LEED approved production greenhouse, the botanical gardens is well-known for its various attempts at improving the greenery of Pittsburgh. In addition to their LEED certified buildings, Phipps includes a Center for Sustainable Landscapes which is a facility that specializes in “dynamic education, research and administrative” to promote sustainability.

Phipps makes their environmental quest clear through their stance on climate change, citing that climate change was the root cause of their transition to sustainable architecture and practices within the gardens. They claim that the goal of their work at the conservatory and in their research centers is to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions” and “address climate change through [their] operations” while informing the community on how they can contribute to improving the environment through small lifestyle changes.

For more information about Phipps’ extensive mission statement and future plans to help improve the Pittsburgh environment, check out their website.

The PPG Science Pavilion, located in North Shore and created as an extension of the Carnegie Science Center, was opened in 2018 with the purpose of introducing state-of-the-art STEM experiences to the community while also functioning in a sustainable manner. The pavilion is highly efficient in its energy usage and was LEED certified gold due to its environmentally conscious design.

Additionally, the construction of the PPG Pavilion involved the use of PPG brand materials like paint and epoxy, further adding to its status as a certifiably sustainable facility.

This Energy Innovation Center, formerly known and used as the Connelly Trade School in the early and mid 20th century, stands in the Hill District and serves to “engage corporate and community leaders...develop and demonstrate technology, and incubate businesses” to create a greener Pittsburgh. The center has received the highest LEED Certification, a platinum certification, for its efficient and sustainable use of energy and innovation with their green technologies.

The building has elements that contribute to its energy efficiency and lessen their use of materials, including the use of tree wells around the building that redirect stormwater to water the plants and trees, a wind turbine that generates energy and offsets their greenhouse gas significantly, and electric vehicles throughout the parking lot to encourage and positively reinforce the use of electric and hybrid vehicles.

The University of Pittsburgh has launched multiple sustainable initiatives in the past couple of decades to reduce their carbon footprint and set their students up for a greener future. The university has created over ten projects that aim to not only improve the lives of their students and the community, but also do so in an environment-conscious and safe way.

Some of the projects that Pitt Sustainability has developed include the University of Thriftsburgh store which is a thrift store that is student-run and encourages the community to be more conscious about their consumption, their Dining Hall Waste Reduction program which encourages students to reduce their use of waste products and food, and their Solar Photovoltaic Installations which are solar panels that were added to university buildings to supplement energy usage in the buildings. These programs, while also serving as an amazing opportunity for students to experience hands-on learning opportunities about sustainable living and architecture, are making great strides in increasing the efficiency of the large university.

Pitt plans to continue to evolve its sustainability initiatives for the foreseeable future, setting goals to decrease their carbon footprint as time goes on. To read more about Pitt Sustainability, check out their website outlining each program.

View of the Cathedral of Learning from Heinz Chapel
One of Pitt’s sustainability initiatives includes their implementation of rain gardens around campus that allow plants to soak up excess rainwater. Flowers and plants around the Cathedral of Learning and the Petersen Event Center are just a few places these rain gardens can be found. Image courtesy of Dave Dicello.


Despite Pittsburgh’s long history as the Steel City, beloved for its many bridges and highly industrialized downtown, the city is actively blossoming into a greener, more environmentally sustainable city. While it might be a while before all parts of Pittsburgh become energy efficient, the progress that many companies, buildings, and universities have made so far shows the potential for a greener future.