Pittsburgh’s Green Building Alliance

by Richard T. Stuebi

A few weeks ago, a group of us from Cleveland made the two-hour drive down the Turnpike to Pittsburgh in order to learn more about the Green Building Alliance and to meet its leader, Rebecca Flora.

Founded in the mid-1990’s, the Green Building Alliance is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to promote green-building principles and activity in the Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania area.

Unlike most other environmentally-oriented not-for-profits, the Green Building Alliance is exceptionally market-oriented. They tout financially-grounded value propositions to customers — in their case, primarily real estate developers — rather than promoting green buildings as “the right thing to do” to save the environment. They serve capitalists, instead of posing as tree-huggers.

Also unlike most other environmentally-oriented not-for-profits, they are having significant and seemingly-scalable impact. Though a mid-market city, Pittsburgh is frequently recognized as a hot-bed of green building activity, a leader among U.S. cities, ranking alongside San Francisco, Seattle and Portland. (Yes, Pittsburgh!) And, from an economic development perspective, this activity is generating a cluster of product and services businesses specializing in green buildings, with revenue opportunities far beyond the Pittsburgh region.

I speculate that their uncommon impact is highly correlated with their uncommon focus on customer needs. It’s perhaps a good case study for other environmental not-for-profits to understand.

Congratulations to the Pittsburgh community for their achievements so far in revitalizing themselves economically and environmentally through an increasing commitment to sustainable buildings — and to the Green Building Alliance for playing such a vital role in catalyzing this regeneration.

Of course, much of the success of the Green Building Alliance owes to the dynamic leadership of Ms. Flora, and to sustained financial support from the local philanthropic sector, particularly The Heinz Endowments. Kudos to them. Such boldness is rare, but hopefully their encouraging example will inspire many others to follow.

Richard Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

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