In 2002, Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services Group became the first major U.S. bank to pledge that it would apply green building standards to all of its newly constructed or renovated offices. The company already had an impressive record, opening the nation’s largest corporate green building its 650,000-square-foot Firstside Center in 2000.

Today, Pittsburgh’s Three PNC Plaza is one of the largest environmentally friendly mixed-use buildings in the United States, and construction is about to begin on the Tower at PNC Plaza, the world’s largest green skyrise. PNC has more newly constructed Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified buildings than any other company in the world. As PNC Vice President and Energy Manager Nana Wilberforce (known by those within PNC as the company’s “Energy Czar”) recently told the Energy to the Power of Pittsburgh (E2P) public awareness campaign, the company has turned doing what’s good for the environment into doing what’s also good for the bottom line.

PNC "Energy Czar" Nana Wilberforce

E2P: What’s an Energy Czar? And why does a financial services company like PNC —  which isn’t consuming energy the way a heavy industrial manufacturers might — need one?

NW: My job at PNC is to make sure we use energy in the most efficient way, and my duties break down to three parts. The first is to make sure that the rates we pay for the utilities we use – water, gas and electric – are as competitive as possible. Second is making sure that the resources we consume are used as efficiently as possible. The third part is making sure that whatever resources we use have the least-possible impact on the environment.

When you look at any company’s expenses – whether it’s a financial services company or a major manufacturer – you find that one of the highest expenses next to payroll is real estate and facilities management. Under that umbrella energy is among the highest expenditures. Now, energy costs tend to increase by almost five percent to seven percent annually. If you look at a period of 15 or 20 years at a company that isn’t aggressively working to control its energy costs, you’re looking at higher and higher energy costs every year. It’s unsustainable for any business. My role at PNC is to help make sure we’re keeping our energy costs down, and we do that in part by making sure that our properties are as energy efficient as they can be.

E2P: It’s interesting that a Pittsburgh-based company has become such a leader in green building and energy conservation given the region’s history, and while becoming one of the largest banks in the country.

NW: It is interesting, and it’s fitting. Look at the transformation of the region — from its industrial roots through dramatically reducing pollution and reclaiming old brownfields to where it stands today.  You can observe a real shift from the days when Pittsburgh was known as a part of the Rust Belt to now, when we’re defining what could one day be known as America’s Green Belt. Considering the footprint of PNC in this region, it makes perfect sense that we’re doing all we can to contribute to the greening of this community even as we expand.

E2P: PNC seems to have found a formula that works not only for the environment and for the shareholders. How important has the business case been to PNC’s commitment to the green effort?

NW: We made our commitment to green building and to having as little environmental impact as possible because it was the right thing to do. We looked at our energy consumption and thought about the fact that our natural resources are not limitless, and we made a decision to begin investing with more discipline in materials, processes and construction or renovation that would use less natural resources and have less effect on the environment. As we’ve monitored the results we’ve found that energy consumption of a typical green building is about 20 percent less than a non-green building. Interestingly, we also noticed that the number of financial deposits we’ve seen at green branches are higher than at non-green branches. As you dig into that fact, you find studies, conducted primarily in Canada, that indicate that the attitudes of employees and customers in green buildings are more positive, meaning higher employee morale and higher customer satisfaction. This is a terrific example of doing what’s right is good not only for the environment but also for business.

E2P: Still, there are those who assume that green building isn’t cost-effective. How do you answer those folks?

NW: Maybe 15 years or even 10 years ago the attitude was that the whole green movement was a non-starter for business and that it was crazy to invest in green building materials and technologies. That was kind of the default attitude even among people who had never been involved in a green building project or energy efficiency initiative. But there were some companies – PNC included – that took a chance because it was the right thing to do, and we’ve found that virtually all of our green building projects have come in at or under budget. What’s more, the long-term payoff in terms of our dramatically reduced energy costs have more than made up for any cost difference in construction costs between green buildings and non-green buildings. PNC was something of an earlier adopter of green practices, but I think we’re now seeing a shift culturally to people being more aware of the reasons for going green and better understanding the benefits.  This makes them much more supportive today than they might have been a decade or so ago.

Click here to read part two of of this Q&A with PNC’s Nana Wilberforce at ImaginePittsburghNow.com.

Phil Cynar

This week, 16 domestic and international journalists and writers were in Pittsburgh for a “Green Pittsburgh” media study tour, organized by the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance in cooperation with VisitPittsburgh. At the heart of the tour was the grand opening of Pittsburgh’s first — and one of the world’s only — “living buildings,”  the Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL), at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden. The CSL is the latest example of our region’s leadership in energy and sustainability and a unique model of green Pittsburgh under one roof.

“Green Pittsburgh” tour participant Jim Motavalli at Phipps Conservatory’s Center for Sustainable Landscapes

The journalists represented media outlets including Forbes.com, Grist, Environment & Energy Publishing, Architectural Record/GreenSource and Mother Nature Network, and they came from as far away as Germany and Spain – established and emerging markets, respectively, for our region.

The group also visited the Center for Energy at the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and Aquion Energy (a company that’s developing and commercializing safe, reliable and affordable batteries as energy storage solutions for the 21st century). Alongside the CSL at Phipps, all are impactful examples of why Pittsburgh is the new center of American energy.

The first article from the study tour, written by The New York Times contributor and tour participant Jim Motavalli, was just published. It focuses on transportation innovation at CMU with its Charge Car – another aspect of the multi-faceted energy and sustainability leadership coming out of Pittsburgh’s universities and companies. It was published today on Mother Nature Network, but the article has been quickly picked up by Forbes.com and the Huffington Post, helping to further cascade Pittsburgh’s story to a national audience of individuals who are energy- and environment-minded. The prolific Motavalli also posted this piece mentioning Aquion late Friday on Mother Nature Network.

Click here to read more of ImaginePittsburghNow.com’s coverage of Phipps Conservatory and its Center for Sustainable Landscapes.

May 23 marked a reception and ribbon cutting for the much-anticipated opening of the new Center for Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Phipps is already known as the world’s first LEED certified public garden. Today Phipps takes intelligent building beyond the gold and platinum standard to a whole new level: a facility that will generate all its own energy with renewable resources, capture and treat all of its water on-site, and use resources efficiently and for maximum beauty.

Molly Steinwald is Phipps’ director for science education. Following a presentation about Pittsburgh’s green building leadership at last week’s Intel International Science & Engineering Fair (ISEF), Steinwald spoke briefly with ImaginePittsburghNow.com about the educational opportunities available to students and the public at the center. You can hear her comments in the video below.


You can also watch Phipps’ own 10-minute video about the center here.

Pittsburgh is the new center of American energy, with expertise, innovation and thousands of jobs across a portfolio of resources. Learn more at PowerOfPittsburgh.com.

Bill Flanagan

I recently caught up with Gary Saulson, executive vice president and director of corporate real estate for The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc., as the company was clearing the site at Wood Street between Fifth and Forbes avenues for what is expected to be the world’s most environmentally friendly highrise.

The 33-story glass Tower at PNC Plaza will rely heavily on natural light and ventilation, feature high-efficiency heating and cooling system, as well as green rooftops to improve insulation and channel rainwater for re-use. The design team is exploring the use of fuel cells, solar panels, geothermal systems and other alternative power generation sources to reduce carbon emissions.

As Saulson explains in the video clip below, the green philosophy even applies to the demolition … er, “deconstruction” of the buildings that occupied the site. As much as 95 percent of the steel, wood and other salvageable materials in the previous structures will be re-used or recycled. The non-profit building material reuse retailer Construction Junction in Point Breeze is assisting with those efforts.

You can read more about the building — expected to be open for business in 2015 — here.

Bill Flanagan

More than a century ago, Pittsburgh Plate Glass figured out the first commercially viable way to manufacture flat glass. In the years since, it’s evolved into a global coatings company called PPG Industries that remains on the cutting edge of glass as well. Most of its global R&D happens here in the Pittsburgh region and will be an integral part of what’s billed as the world’s largest living building.

 PPG’s first glass plant at Creighton, Pa., along the Allegheny River, pioneered the process of manufacturing glass using the plate process. Photo Copyright PPG Industries, Inc.

It’s the new Center for Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, a place already known as the “greenest” glass house in the world. The new structure takes intelligent building beyond the gold and platinum standard to a whole new level: a facility that generates all its own energy with renewable resources, captures and treats all of its water on-site, and uses resources efficiently and for maximum beauty. There are only three such structures in the world, and Phipps is getting ready to cut the ribbon the biggest one.

In a living demonstration of the power of Pittsburgh, to collaborate and develop new energy-related solutions, a number of regional companies are contributing technology to the new living building. PPG’s contribution includes two types of triple-glazed insulating glass units. Phipps specified PPG glass, says Richard Piacentini, executive director, “because we wanted a low-e (low emissivity), high performing glass that provides state-of-the-art solar and thermal control and energy efficiency, while admitting maximum daylight.”

The people who invented the glass technology work at the PPG Glass Business and Discovery Center in Harmar, about 15 miles up the Allegheny River from the company’s headquarters in downtown Pittsburgh. It’s also not far from Springdale, where native daughter Rachel Carson grew up. Fifty years ago this year, Carson jump-started the modern environmental movement with the publication of Silent Spring. She’d probably be pleased to know that not too far from the Rachel Carson Homestead researchers have had a hand in building one of the greenest buildings in the world.

Phipps plans to cut the ribbon on the Center for Sustainable Landscapes in May. You can learn more about the glass PPG’s innovative glass all of this by clicking here. You can also watch a video about Phipps’ Center for Sustainable Landscapes here.

 

Bonnie Pfister

Fifty-year-old Jim Kistler gave up what he called a dead-end job in exchange for three weeks of training through ShaleNET, a program that helps to prepare and train people for in-demand jobs across the natural gas industry and its supply chain in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

Based at community colleges and technical schools across the Marcellus Shale footprint, ShaleNET has helped nearly 900 people find jobs since its founding in 2010.

Kistler, of Dumont, Westmoreland County, is among them. This former diesel mechanic is now in charge of a fleet of more than 70 vehicles and pieces of heavy equipment for Horizontal Wireline Services in Irwin. Check out the video below to hear Kistler tell more.

ShaleNET links industry, workforce investment boards and training providers to ensure local worker placement in six entry-level, family sustaining positions that have been identified as high-priority occupations  by the Pennsylvania Workforce Development, a program of the state’s Department of Labor & Industry. To learn more or register to receive the ShaleNET newsletter, go to www.shalenet.org.