Phil Cynar

Green News Update Editor and Publisher Roberta Faul-Zeitler has been paying attention to – and writing about – green practices since 2004. Her keen interest in sustainability as “a path, not a destination” (as her newly designed e-newsletter masthead proclaims) put her on a path to Pittsburgh this May. Here she explored the inordinately large number of green and sustainability assets in a place once considered to be among the most environmentally compromised of destinations.

Pittsburgh, a new kind of “Emerald City,” has put green (with regard to R&D and investment dollars) into cleaning up – both the natural environment (including its signature three rivers and waterfronts) and its built environment. Pittsburgh is a globally recognized green building leader and an innovator and manufacturer of materials and other components that make existing and new construction energy efficient and environmentally friendly. Pittsburgh registered three of the first 12 LEED structures in the U.S. more than a decade ago, according to the Green Building Alliance. There are more than 83 LEED certified buildings in the city now, and approximately 75 percent of new buildings in Pittsburgh are pursuing LEED certification.

Some are going the extra green mile, including Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, which this year opened its Living Building, the Center for Sustainable Landscapes, a net-zero water and energy facility that will be among the greenest structures on the planet.

Eden Hall Field Lab / Rendering Courtesy of Chatham University

Another green masterpiece in the works is Chatham University’s Eden Hall Campus, located in about 25 miles from downtown Pittsburgh in northern Allegheny County. Ground was broken this fall for this ultra-green campus – the first academic community in the world built from the ground up for sustainable development, living and learning, Chatham officials say.

While in town this May to participate in a “green Pittsburgh” media study tour organized by the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance (PRA) and VisitPittsburgh – a tour with the grand opening of Phipps’ Center for Sustainable Landscapes as a focal point – Faul-Zeitler visited Chatham (where environmentalist and Silent Spring author Rachel Carson was an alumna) to learn more about the next major green project on the horizon for the region.

She dedicated space to Chatham’s visionary plan in a feature – “Greenest Campus in the U.S.” – in her Dec. 5, 2012 Green News Update. Read it here, and keep your eyes on the newsletter, which will be following the project.

The Allegheny Conference’s weekly business affairs TV show, Our Region’s Business, recently featured Chatham officials talking about plans for Eden Hall. Watch the interview here or below.


Click here to check out other stories that resulted from the the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance/VisitPittsburgh “Green Pittsburgh” media study tour. That May 2012 initiative brought 16 journalists from around the country and the world to learn about the Pittsburgh region’s energy leadership.

Phil Cynar
Nobel Laureate (and Pitt grad) Maathai Wangari

Pittsburgh has inspired and enabled great achievements by pioneers in environmental justice, medicine, art and sports. You can learn more here, but a sampling is below.

Kenya-born Wangari Maathai was a global leader on environmental and anti-poverty issues. She earned a master’s degree in biology from the University of Pittsburgh and received the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize.

A native of Springdale, a community along the Allegheny River just 18 miles northeast of the City of Pittsburgh and a 1929 alumna of Pittsburgh’s Chatham University, Rachel Carson was a marine biologist, conservationist and author. Her book, Silent Spring, is credited with advancing the global environmental movement. 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of its publication.

University of Pittsburgh researcher and professor Dr. Jonas Salk developed the first vaccine for polio – one of America’s most frightening public health crises – on March 26, 1953 in Pittsburgh. Widespread use of his vaccine is expected to globally eradicate this crippling disease.

Pittsburgh Pirates Right Fielder Roberto Clemente‘s breathtaking skills as a hitter helped the Pirates win two World Series. A native of Puerto Rico, Clemente was the first Latino in U.S. baseball to receive Most Valuable Player and World Series MVP awards and to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The Pittsburgh-born leader of the pop-art movement beginning in the 1960s, Andy Warhol blurred the lines between art and life, commerce, film and celebrity. “The pop idea was that anybody could do anything.” Warhol is also often remembered for his quip, “everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Pittsburgh is home to The Andy Warhol Museum, the largest museum in the U.S. dedicated to one artist.

Born on Pittsburgh’s North Side in a neighborhood now called Allegheny West, Gertrude Stein was a writer, poet, art collector and feminist. She spent most of her life in Paris, nurturing such now-famous avant-garde artists as Matisse and Picasso, and expatriate American writers during the first half of the 20th century.

A native of Guatemala, Luis Von Ahn is a Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor and MacArthur “Genius” grant winner. He pioneered crowd-sourcing and the reCAPTCHA software used to digitize books and other printed text. His latest venture is Duolingo, a free language-learning website and crowd-sourced text translation platform.

Born to Portuguese parents in Mozambique, Teresa Heinz is an American businesswoman and philanthropist. She chairs The Heinz Endowments and Heinz Family Philanthropies, which help the Pittsburgh region thrive economically, ecologically, educationally and culturally.

Called “the father of modern transplantation,” Dr. Thomas Starzl, was the first to perform human liver transplants. A physician, researcher and organ transplant expert, Dr. Starzl has called Pittsburgh his home since 1981.

An American entrepreneur and engineer, George Westinghouse is the inventor of the railway air brake. This device enabled trains to be stopped – for the first time – with fail-safe accuracy by locomotive engineers and was eventually adopted on the majority of the world’s railroads. Westinghouse was also a pioneer of the electrical industry and one of Thomas Edison’s main rivals. A transplant to the Pittsburgh region from his native New York state, Westinghouse and his wife, made their first home in Pittsburgh in 1868.


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.


Phil Cynar

Last week, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra gave Silent Spring – a new composition for orchestra inspired by the book of the same name – its world premiere at Heinz Hall.  This weekend, the PSO takes Silent Spring to Lincoln Center for a special matinee performance in the Big Apple.

Commissioned by the PSO and the Rachel Carson Institute, the composition is a part of a year-long celebration of the golden anniversary of the publication of the bestseller by Springdale native (and Chatham University alumna) Rachel Carson. Her writings are credited with setting the stage for the environmental movement in the U.S. and around the globe.

We recently featured a blog post about the world premiere and a video interview with Steven Stucky, the composer of the piece as well as the PSO’s Composer of the Year.  Revisit it here.

Phil Cynar
Rachel Carson

The book that launched an era of environmental awareness and action around the world has also inspired an orchestral composition by the same name – and both are uniquely tied to Pittsburgh.

The book was Silent Spring – a runaway bestseller by marine biologist, Springdale native and  1929 Chatham College alumna Rachel Carson. Sounding an alarm about polluting the environment and the resulting ecological degradation, Silent Spring has been regarded as one of the most influential books of the 20th century. This year marks the 50th anniversary of its publication.

A new composition – Silent Spring (2011) for Orchestra – has been commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Rachel Carson Institute to celebrate the milestone of this literary opus’s publication. The composer of the musical tribute is Pulitzer Prize Winner Steven Stucky. Born in Kansas, and raised there, as well as in Texas, Stucky is the PSO’s 2011-2012 season “Composer of the Year.”

It seems fitting that Silent Spring for Orchestra will have its world premiere on Feb. 17 in Pittsburgh. The region Carson once called home has also achieved a dramatic environmental renaissance, which saw the region’s air and water reclaimed from the ravages of heavy industry from the post-World War II period through today.

Stucky reflected – in his program notes for Silent Spring – that he was delighted, yet also perplexed, when asked to create the musical tribute. “[How do you] make a connection between science and music, or more to the point between her sciene and my music?  I reread Silent Spring … and reveled again in the distinctive mixture of hard science and eloquent lyricism that defines her voice. But how to make music about that?  I didn’t try to.”

Instead, Stucky fashioned a tone poem (an orchestral work based on literature ) that’s one movement with four sections. Each of the four sections is inspired by the titles of four of Carson’s writings:  The Sea Around Us, The Lost Wood and Rivers of Death (both are chapter titles in Carson’s work), and – of course, Silent Spring itself.

Stucky hopes the work allows listeners to reflect on the delicate balance between people and the planet. As Stucky said, “[Her writing] gave us the heart to change some of our habits.”   Pittsburgh is proof positive that habit changes can be transformative.

Watch the PSO video below to hear Composer-of-the-Year Stucky speak with WQED-FM’s Jim Cunningham.

Meet Stucky in person at Chatham University from 6:30 – 9:00 p.m. on Feb. 15 where he’ll give a talk about the connections to Carson and the role of her writing in the themes of his music. Learn more about this opportunity and other Chatham University events to celebrate Alumna Rachel Carson and the 50th anniversary of Silent Spring’s publication.

Visit the PSO website for ticket information for the Feb. 17 PSO concert, featuring the world premiere of Silent Spring.

Amanda Sennert

Colleges and universities are increasingly looking for ways to increase their sustainability in all aspects — from curriculum to food service to building operations. Sharing best practices and talking through challenges was the focus at the recent national conference in Pittsburgh of the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, known as AASHE. I was glad to have an opportunity to attend.

The conference began with a student summit featuring prominent environmentalist and popular author on climate change, Bill McKibben, the founder of the, a grassroots environmental movement that has organized demonstrations in nearly every country around the world.

Many schools are making huge changes in response to the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, which hundreds of colleges and universities around the countries have signed on to in order to reduce their impact on climate change through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, energy conservation and other sustainable practices. In some cases, participating schools have funded a complete redesign of their energy system in order to meet the goals of the ACUPCC.  Butte College in California is one such example, and is now the nation’s first grid positive college receiving all of their energy from solar and geothermal power.

But smaller changes can also make a big difference. The conference highlighted changes students, staff and faculty members can make in their daily lives that can have a significant environmental impact, and save money.

One of our local institutions, Chatham University, has been working diligently with both faculty and staff to develop a program that will address its campus environmental sustainability. Through a partnership with faculty and staff, they conducted campus-wide studies to understand the beliefs that students, faculty and staff hold regarding sustainability and their place and ability to effect change. Those findings have lead to efforts to leverage that knowledge to create effective programs.

So far they have found that undergraduates feel they don’t have enough information to make a change. In response, Chatham’s sustainability team created a game called “What Would Rachel Do?” distributing environmental information and facts through trivia inspired by the mother of the modern environmental movement and Chatham alumna Rachel Carson.

Our other local universities aren’t lagging in the sustainability department either. I spoke with a representative from the University of Pittsburgh, who mentioned they have 12 projects in development for LEED certification, including the extension to the Graduate School of Public Health. Carnegie Mellon University also recently made public their plans for the campus over the next decade, which include numerous building upgrades, making their corridor of Forbes Avenue  more pedestrian- and bike-friendly and creating a meaningful public space for the school’s community.

David Orr, a world-renowned environmentalist and proponent of ecological design from Ohio’s Oberlin College, explained in his keynote speech that energy conservation is the fastest and easiest way to save energy, and is something that can be done even for those lacking the budget to make the large infrastructure changes needed to reduce fossil fuel consumption and thus reduce their carbon footprint. This is true not just for higher education but for everyone, and is something Sustainable Pittsburgh is promoting through the Pittsburgh Green Workplace Challenge. Our staff at the Allegheny Conference will be participating as observers in the challenge, and I will be sure to share the best practices learned from AASHE with my colleagues here as we begin to roll out this effort.