The Pittsburgh 2030 District, which aims to have 100 percent of downtown Pittsburgh property owners commit to reducing their water and energy use and transportation emissions by 50 percent by 2030, is halfway to its signatory goal. On Feb. 1, the nonprofit organization Green Building Alliance (GBA), which is spearheading the initiative, announced that 31 property owners representing nearly 28 million square feet—half of the square footage in the designated 2030 District—have committed to the voluntary program. The achievement comes eight months earlier than anticipate and less than six months after the District’s official launch.

To get the scoop, we checked in with Aurora Sharrard, PhD, vice president of innovation for GBA, about the District’s goals, the means of participation, the measures of enforcement, and the program's next steps.

ECOBUILDING Pulse: What is the Pittsburgh 2030 District size?
We approximated it through several different sources of private and public data. It’s approximately 600 buildings and 55 million square feet.

It’s basically Pittsburgh’s downtown core?
Yes, which people here call the Golden Triangle, plus the north shore where a lot of the stadiums are, and a partial area called the Lower Hill redevelopment site. 

This is a very community-based effort. The goal is that you get property owners talking to each other and learning from each other. They have common issues within the district, so it becomes a powerful place for them to learn from one another and work together toward other issues.

What does participation entail? Is it solely property owners who are participating?
We have property partners who are committed to reaching district goals–the 50 percent reduction numbers in energy, water and transportation emissions. We also have community and resource partners who are generally nonprofit and professional organizations. They are bringing services and opportunities to bear for the property owners. A good example is the local BOMA [Building Owners and Managers Association International] chapter and the local IFMA [International Facility Management Association] chapter. They are community partners. It’s organizations that are already engaged at one level or another. It’s an interesting collaboration. We’ve worked with a lot of these groups separately but having them all work together and focus on the properties as common goods has helped them to find other synergies with each other.

For the property partners who are signing on to participate, what does that mean?
All partners, whether they’re property, community or resource partners, sign a commitment pledge (download all three pledges here) and they’re not counted as a partner until that document is signed. 
The commitment pledge for a property owner specifically says they will work toward the goals of the Pittsburgh 2030 District. They also commit to annual reporting on energy, water and transportation emissions to GBA. They also commit to a leap of faith with us as to how we will address indoor air quality as that is a measure we’re also committed to figuring out for our 2030 District.
 
Partners commit to engaging in the process, in whatever form that means to them. It includes every other month partner meetings. We’ve generally had 75 attendees at the three meetings so far. As the local USGBC chapter, we at Green Building Alliance have a host of education events and more of those are shifting to focus on 2030-type topics. We’re informing the 2030 partners about how to figure out where they are in terms of their performance, as well as how to think about where they’re going to be tomorrow and how they will get there.

So is there a benchmarking element?
All measurements are set on baselines. The energy baseline is based on the 2003 Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS). We’re in the process of creating the water baseline with the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, although we already have building reporting their water consumption to us. We’re working on the transportation baseline with Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, which is our regional planning organization. We have to figure out how we track against that baseline. 

If participation is voluntary, how will each signatory’s progress and participation be tracked? It seems you are setting the metrics, but it’s up to them to report it?
It’s up to them to officially report and we’ll report their information in aggregate. Two questions we often get in trying to get a property to commit to the district goals is “Are you going to share my information?” and “What’s my baseline?” The answer to the second is that it depends on your occupancy, square footage, and usage. What I tell them is that it’s hard to figure out where you’re going if you don’t know where you are. You have to figure out where you are first. You may be part of the way toward your goal or you may be on the other side of the national average and have more than a 50 percent reduction ahead of you.

What are the next steps?
We’ve set our next internal goal as 65 percent participation. We have not set a date on when we’d like to get to 100 percent. We have about 550 buildings in the geographic district boundary and even with 50 percent of the square footage, that’s about 92 buildings. We have a lot of larger buildings and a lot of property owners with multiple properties on board. The next 50 percent—and even the next 15—becomes harder because you have to reach out to more people.