Sustainable Power, Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from JeffRz’s photostream

Pittsburgh’s Green Building Alliance was the beginning of a revolution for our city. The first affiliate of the U.S. Green Building Council to be created in the country, the Pittsburgh Green Building Alliance opened its doors in 1993 and has transformed the way we think about the built environment. It’s no accident that Pittsburgh has the most green buildings per capita in the United States, it is due to the tireless work of the Green Building Alliance and their partners across the private, nonprofit, and public sectors. I have had the privilege to work closely with the Green Building Alliance over my years on City Council, including partnering with them and with our business community, universities, and other nonprofits to create the city’s first sustainability plan. The private sector is doing a great job of adopting green building techniques and forging ahead as leaders in creating a more sustainable Pittsburgh but there are some key ways that city government can help support the transformation and bring new resources to the city.

1. CleanTech Investment Fund

One of the key challenges private developers face in green building is pulling together the upfront capital needed to make investments in clean technologies. Though these investments pay dividends over time they can often represent a significant front-loaded expense and it can be difficult to convince developers of the long-term benefits. I have been able to work with coalitions of labor, environmental, and faith-based groups to pass legislation in City Council to tie public funding of developments to the implementation of green building techniques but not every developer receives public money and those who do often need guidance on how best to incorporate sustainable design into their buildings. One way that other cities have approached this problem is to create a capital investment fund targeted specifically to helping developers deal with the upfront costs of green building. I would like to see such a fund developed in Pittsburgh to help us significantly ramp up green building and, in the process, clean our air and water and reduce our energy consumption.

The United States Department of Energy, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Utilities Commission all offer grants to fund the development of greener building sectors. I would like to work with the public, nonprofit, and private sectors to take advantage of these programs and create a CleanTech Investment Fund in Pittsburgh – a green bank for a greener Pittsburgh. New York and Chicago have both successfully capitalized green investment funds and Philadelphia is on the way to creating their own. Pittsburgh shouldn’t miss out on the state and federal resources these other cities are getting.