The Group of 20 Summit is being held in Pittsburgh starting on September 24th (Photo source: HoboJones at Wikimedia Commons)
Leaders of the world’s richest
countries are in Pittsburgh for
the G-20 Summit. Thousands of
environmental and economic protesters
are there, too, and the dissenters
aren’t happy with how police are
treating them. Jennifer Szweda Jordan reports:
Leaders of the world’s richest
countries are in Pittsburgh for
the G-20 Summit. Thousands of
environmental and economic protesters
are there, too, and the dissenters
aren’t happy with how police are
treating them. Jennifer Szweda Jordan reports:
Protesters claim Pittsburgh police are cracking down on them before the international economic gathering begins.
The 3 Rivers Climate Convergence says the police have illegally search and impounded a bus supplying food for protesters.
Lisa Stolarski of 3 Rivers Climate Convergence, says officers have sought out environmental groups to hassle.
“I feel like the police are cracking down on green voices. I feel that we are being especially mistreated in Pittsburgh.”
While police crackdowns are typical around international summits, protesters say they had hoped that the city’s signage stating “Pittsburgh Welcomes the World,” also applied to them.
For The Environment Report, I’m Jennifer Szweda Jordan.
Colin Horwitz is a researcher at Carnegie Mellon. He's working on a chemical that will break down pollution released by pulp and paper mills.
(Photo by Reid Frazier)
Green chemistry looks a lot like the kind of chemistry most of us learned in high school. This is an experiment on a pollution-eating catalyst being conducted by a grad student at Carnegie Mellon’s Green Oxidation Lab.
(Photo by Reid Frazier)
Modern chemistry is everywhere – the paint on our walls, the ink on the morning newspaper, and the plastics in our computers.
Problem is – the chemicals are also in our air, water, and food. Reid Frazier visited a chemist who is trying to re-think how chemicals are made:
Modern chemistry is everywhere: the paint on our walls, the ink on the
morning newspaper, and the plastics in our computers. Problem is – the
chemicals are also in our air, water, and food. The Environment
Report’s Reid Frazier visited a chemist who is trying to re-think how
chemicals are made:
This room looks and sounds like a chemical lab anywhere in the world.
Trays full of vials sit atop machines with blinking lights. Notebooks
filled with hand-written numbers sit next to computer screens. But this
isn’t a typical chemistry lab.
Evan Beach is a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University in
Pittsburgh. He works at the Institute for Green Oxidation Chemistry, or
Green Ox. Beach is analyzing wastewater from a pulp and paper mill:
“We try and work with as close to the real pollution as we can. We
actually have the paper mill ship the stuff to us.”
Beach is working on a chemical that he hopes will clean up the
wastewater before it hits rivers and streams.
The Green Ox lab is run by Terry Collins. His career as a green chemist
started as a college student in his native New Zealand. He worked
during summers at a plant that made refrigerators. One summer, he
discovered that workers using a cleaning agent were all getting sick.
“Just in lunch with them I’d hear about their headaches and their blood
noses and I realized, my goodness, they’re using an awful lot of these
organic solvents, and if there’s any benzene there, these are signature
benzene intoxication conditions, early stage.”
Collins calculated the workers were getting slowly poisoned by benzene,
a chemical that’s known to cause cancer. He told company officials
about it and they promised to replace it.
“So I went a way, nine months later, I felt an obligation I went back
and checked they had made no change so I went and I got every paper I
could and I took it and dropped it on the chief chemist and I can still
remember his jaw hitting the floor when I opened the door and gave it
to him, I then tried to get the institute of chemistry to help and they
told me not to even bother going to the health department, that they
wouldn’t help, and they were probably right, and I just felt immensely
frustrated by the situation.”
After this experience, Collins decided to focus his research on
reducing the harm caused by modern chemicals. He started designing a
chemical catalyst in the 1980s. When combined with hydrogen peroxide,
the catalyst eats through long chains of harmful chemicals. It could
potentially clean up the paper, textile, and plastics industries. It
could also curb pollution found in almost every home in America: The
water coming out of your tap.
“If you have a glass of water in most American cities you get some
Prozac and you get many other things as well that come from the
The drugs can be found in trace amounts in tapwater. Their effect on
human health is still unknown. But these drugs are being flushed into
the environment and they don’t break down easily. Once they enter
rivers and streams, these chemicals can last for decades. Scientists
believe they might be affecting fertility in some animals. Collins and
his colleagues believe the catalyst they’re developing could break down
these drugs once they hit the environment.
Some believe all chemists should take a more holistic look at the
compounds they make. Sasha Ryabov is a physical chemist who works in
Collins’ lab. He worked as a traditional chemist at Moscow State
University in his native Russia. Ryabov converted to green chemistry
when he came to Green Ox. Since he’s made the switch, he thinks that
all chemists should consider themselves green:
“It’s not the future field… It’s a natural part that cannot be
separated. The green chemistry we are thinking should be part of
chemistry as a whole.”
While academics like Collins are forging new grounds in their field,
some big companies have started to follow suit by using more
environmentally-friendly products. One hitch is that the federal
government provides little funding for research in the field. A bill
before congress could boost funding for green chemistry. Regardless of
funding, Collins says all chemists must do their part to address some
of the problems their discipline has helped create:
“If you’re a chemist, and you have this information, it’s a burden to
carry. But we have to deal with it, we have no choice; we have to look
after the children of future generations.”
For the sake of those future generations, Collins hopes more chemists
see the value of taking the long view when they’re in the laboratory.
Super Rachel confronts Chemical Man before they duel. (Photo courtesy of the Shakespeare in the Schools Program at the University of Pittsburgh)
Eleina Block as Super Rachel. (Photo courtesy of the Shakespeare in the Schools Program at the University of Pittsburgh)
In a play designed to help children learn about environmental issues and leadership, Rachel Carson is portrayed as a superhero fighting against the evils of DDT. (Photo courtesy of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences)
Drama is a unique way to connect children with their textbooks. That’s why a play on the achievements of Rachel Carson might be coming to a classroom near you. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lisa Ann Pinkerton reports on how the life of one prominent environmentalist is teaching students about
Drama is a unique way to connect children with their textbooks.
That’s why a play on the achievements of Rachel Carson might be coming to
classroom near you. The Great Lake Radio Consortium’s Lisa Ann Pinkerton
reports on how the life of one prominent environmentalist is teaching
students about science:
The office of Professor Buck Favorini is in a tall gothic tower. It was the inspiration for Gotham City in the first Batman movie. Inside his tower at the University of Pittsburgh, Professor Favorini has his own superhero story. His children’s play, Rachel Carson Saves the Day, is a science lesson in the language of children.
“We have used the sort of idiom of superheroes in the play, because it’s a way of teaching kids about science that they can understand simply by looking keenly at the world around them.”
Favorini says if Rachel Carson hadn’t been smart, bold, and risky, pesticides like DDT might still be in wide use. Some people honored her for her book Silent Spring. Others saw her as a reckless, unpredictable scientist threatening their chemical superhero.
“People made some of the worst chemicals in the world launched a very expensive campaign to undermine Rachel Carson’s scientific abilities partly based on the fact that she was a woman.”
Perched on a hill, overlooking another part of Pittsburgh, is Spring Hill Elementary.
LOUDSPEAKER: “Third, fourth, and fifth grade teachers, we’ll call you to the
assembly as soon as the staff sets up in the auditorium. Thanks.”
The staff is actor Elena Block and stage manager Josh Futrell. They hustle to assemble silver pipes of scaffolding and hang two white screens.
“There are two DVD players that do these great images that do these scenes from science and pictures of Rachel Carson. Sort of become this floating back drop.”
While Block is on stage as Rachel Carson, Futrell controls the images, music, and the voice of “Little Rachel’s” Mother.
FICTIONAL MOTHER: “Alice in Wonderland is your breakfast companion again.”
FICTIONAL RACHEL: “Oh Mama, I love this book, and so does Candy when I read it to her.”
(Sound of barking)
The play begins with Rachel as a young girl. She grows up quickly to become a marine biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Her scientific observations reveal chemicals like DDT are contaminating waterways and silently creeping up the food chain.
FICTIONAL RACHEL: “This is the bird. The bird that ate the clam, that ate the
plankton, that swam in the ocean, fed by the stream, that carried the
(Sound of clock ticking)
FICTIONAL RACHEL: “I’m in the late afternoon of my life and I am so angry. The next book I right is going to make a lot of noise.”
(Sound of “Mighty Mouse” theme)
To write Silent Spring, the passionate scientist/writer rips away her dress
to reveal a green superhero suit. Quickly Super Rachel is attacked by a man who’s face is hidden behind a long
(Sound of fighting)
The Chemical industry attacks Rachel for her ideas. Images of nature and chemical compounds flash on the screens behind them. Super Rachel uses cartwheels and karate chops to over power Chemical Man.
(Sound of hip hop battle)
CHEMICAL MAN: “The bugs are buggin’ me.”
FICTIONAL RACHEL: “The chemicals are killin’ me.”
CHEMICAL MAN: “We’re gonna hit ’em from the air.”
FICTIONAL RACHEL: “How can you not care?”
Super Rachel prevails and DDT is officially banned in 1972.
(Sound of applause)
After the play, it’s clear the students of Spring Hill Elementary were paying attention.
GIRL: “She was trying to think of better ways to kill the insects instead of just polluting them.”
BOY: “I think she thought it was really important about the environment, and I think that’s good, because most people don’t.”
Not everyone agrees with the conclusions of Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring. Some scientists say Carson misrepresented existing 1950’s data on bird reproduction, and others say the very threat of malaria in developing countries should trump possible environmental threats of DDT. Actress Elena Block thinks despite these criticisms, Rachel Carson’s story has much to offer children.
“If they can sort of come away the idea with the idea that you can exact change being yourself from the place that you’re from. I think that’s pretty good, don’t you?”
Rachel Carson Saves the Day starts its second year of touring this fall, and perhaps it’s fun, multimedia look at environmental protection will inspire America’s next generation of intrepid scientists.
Maria Graziani (in green) teaches neighborhood kids about farming. (Photo by Lisa Ann Pinkerton)
Zucchini and corn from the Healcrest Urban Community farm. (Photo by Lisa Ann Pinkerton)
An abandoned garage still sits on the property where Maria Graziani and other members of Healcrest are trying to redevelop the land. (Photo by Lisa Ann Pinkerton)
It can take years for city government to demolish or develop abandoned property. In one urban neighborhood, a group of neighbors has found a new way to reclaim land that has been left behind. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lisa Ann Pinkerton has their story:
It can take years for city government to demolish or develop
abandoned property. In one urban neighborhood, a group of neighbors has
found a new way to reclaim land that has been left behind. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Lisa Ann Pinkerton has their story:
Maria Graziani’s house was built on a hillside. At the top of the hill, people have dumped old refrigerators, broken air conditioners, dried up paint cans, worn out tires… lots and lots of junk on the abandoned property. Last year she brought her neighbors and the city together to clean up the mess. This year, she’s farming it.
(Sound of rusty metal squeaking)
On her front porch, she lifts a manual reel mower onto her shoulder to carry to the top of the hill. She’s made this trip so many times before, she’s carved a path through the weeds. On her way, she has to step over and around various pieces of rusted junk.
“There’s like a wooded area that’s owned by the city that, I guess, used to be people’s backyards because there’s trash and cars up here.”
Graziani’s not your typical urban developer. Her orange knitted headband keeps her brown dreadlocks at bay, her paint-splattered overalls are ripped, and her pockets are stuffed with tools. At the top of the hill, she leans on her knees to catch her breath. Ahead of her, is a field covered by invasive knotweed.
“This is where the farm property starts.”
Despite field’s condition, it has a breathtaking view. Nearly the entire Pittsburgh skyline is framed by trees and lit by a gold setting sun.
“It’s one point seven acres, nineteen lots that the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the city own.”
Graziani formed a non-profit organization to get foundation money to pay for the block and the back taxes. In five years, it will all belong to The Healcreast Urban Community Farm.
The farm doesn’t have a lot of rules. If you help out, you can have some food.
If you’re needy, there’s food available for the asking. Besides the theft of the farm’s tomato plants, Graziani says it works pretty well.
As the sun falls and the evening cools off, another workday begins.
Volunteers trudge up the hill from every conceivable direction.
(Sound of shovels, talking)
The volunteers say once they heard about the urban farm they wanted to help. Even if they weren’t sure how.
VOLUNTEER 1: “I know close to nothing about farming, so I just need to learn – I need to dig in and learn how to do it.”
VOLUNTEER 2: “I work for the Bloomfield Garfield Corporation So that’s how I learned about this; it’s a small office.”
VOLUNTEER 3: “It seemed fairly absurd at first, but it makes a whole lot of sense when you think about it, with all the vacant spaces in town that aren’t being used.”
Everyone picks a spot and starts digging. Immediately they’ve got a problem: they’ve hit concrete. It’s the foundation of a demolished house. That’s only one of the obstacles the Healcrest farmers have faced. The volunteers had an easy time with their first garden. Not much junk was dumped in that area. But the rest of the property is contaminated with arsenic and lead, but Graziani has a plan.
“I would like to till it and put in some dwarf sunflowers. Which I want to use for phyto-remediation.”
The sunflowers will draw up the contaminants into their roots. In the fall, farmers will pull up the plants – roots and all – and dump them at a hazardous waste facility.
(Sound of rain)
Two days later it’s another workday. And it’s raining. But the Healcreast farmers hardly notice.
Because they uncovered the foundation of an old house, they’ve decided to build raised beds.
They layer peat moss, compost, and topsoil into mounds. And even though it’s raining the sun breaks through for a moment.
“And I think that I see it; it’s right there! So we’ve got a rainbow, just kind of right over the hill, it’s quite gorgeous.”
As summer has progressed, all kinds of vegetables are growing strong: peppers, collard greens, corn, squash. With a grant from the Health Department, Graziani can pay junior high school students a little bit of cash to help her once a week. They’re kids from the neighborhood, who’ve only known the hilltop as a dump. Soon, Graziani, the kids, and the volunteers, will have a harvest on the hilltop.
A street in Havana, Cuba. After more than 40 years of a U.S. economic embargo and more than a decade after the loss of their Soviet trading partners, Cubans have learned to improvise and make do with old stuff - cars, machines, and even medical equipment. (Photo by Ann Murray)
Tons of medical materials that normally would end up in U.S. landfills are being rescued, repackaged and sent to other countries. An aid group is working with local hospitals and volunteers to get surplus medical supplies to Latin America and the Caribbean. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ann Murray takes us on the trip from salvage to salvation:
Tons of medical materials that normally would end up in U.S.
landfills are being rescued, repackaged and sent to other countries.
An aid group is working with local hospitals and volunteers to get
surplus medical supplies to Latin America and the Caribbean. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ann Murray takes us on the trip from
salvage to salvation.
(Sound of warehouse activities)
In a warehouse near Pittsburgh, Global Links staffers are preparing to load a shipment of medical aid into a forty-foot container bound for Cuba. Workers haul pallets of dialysis kits, mattresses, waiting room chairs and gurneys to the loading dock. Everything here has been carefully sorted, evaluated, and matched with requests from the Cuban Ministry of Health.
Kathleen Hower founded Global Links with two friends back in 1989. It used to operate out of their houses. Since then, Global Links has sent $110 million worth of medical aid, all of it requested by the receiving countries. About two-thirds of that has gone to Cuba.
“Cuba’s unique in so many ways; they’re very advanced medically, they do transplant surgery, they have a lot of doctors. There’s no shortage of physicians there. They’re very different than other countries.”
What Cuba shares with other developing countries is critical shortages of equipment and supplies.
(Sound of busy street)
Here in Havana, the streets are filled with Eisenhower-era cars and lined with shops that repair everything from pots to paperbacks. After more than forty years of a U.S. economic embargo and more than a decade after the loss of their Soviet trading partners, Cubans are masters of improvisation.
The same is true for the island’s medical community, says Sebastion Pererra, the former director of Cuba’s Center for Electromedicine.
PERERRA/TRANSLATOR: “The embargo has been like a school for us. It taught us how to keep working with the same machines and not have the identical parts to replace them.”
Pererra says parts and technical information from Global Links have helped keep old medical equipment going. They’ve also supported new programs in breast cancer screening and dialysis research.
MURRAY: “Has the equipment that Global Links sent to you saved lives?”
PERERRA/TRANSLATOR: “It is undeniable.”
Global Links sends materials to Cuba that other countries can’t use. That’s because medical care is not as advanced in many other developing countries.
Doctor Armando Pancorbo uses the salvaged equipment for minimally invasive surgery at the aging hospital where he works. He and his team have done nearly four thousand operations, using equipment and supplies that were thrown out by U.S. hospitals.
This morning, the O.R. is busy. Anesthesiologists prepare a middle-aged patient for gallbladder surgery while nurses set up sterilized instruments.
Back in Global Links’ Pittsburgh office, volunteers help with the labor-intensive job of packing supplies for shipping. Kristin Carreira says this work is helpful on two fronts.
“Our mission here is both humanitarian and environmental. Environmental because all of our medical supplies that we’re working on would have been put in an incinerator or landfill and so we’re really recycling in that sense.”
The American Hospital Association estimates that U.S. hospitals produce about three million tons of waste every year and they pay about three billion dollars to dispose of it. Many of the supplies that end up in the trash are opened but unused. Worries about liability, changes in technology, and a rash of government regulations account for much of the still-useful materials being thrown out.
Vicky Carse is a nurse who traveled to Cuba as a volunteer.
“Seeing people re-washing gloves where we just would open gloves and throw them away, drapes that we just open up and throw away. To see these people harbor these items, re-wash them and re-wash them because they don’t have supplies, just makes you value what you have.”
The medical community is beginning to take notice. More and more US hospitals are contacting aid organizations. Laura Brannen directs a joint environmental program for the American Hospital Association and the U.S. EPA. She says Global Links and similar groups offer hospitals much needed guidance.
“They provide the infrastructure around what can be used around the world. And without those guidelines, hospitals would be tossing this kind of materials because they don’t know where else to send it.”
Global Links founder Kathleen Hower is happy to set up the guide posts. She says we have to realize that we are all members of a much broader community – one that could use our help, even when it’s a matter of just sharing stuff we’d normally throw away.
Proposals to build greenways in Detroit are raising interest, hopes, and concerns. (Photo by Val Head)
Many cities looking to revitalize their urban centers
have turned to greenways to spur economic development. Greenways are pedestrian or bike paths that typically run between parks, museums, or shopping districts. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sarah Hulett reports on hopes that greenways will breathe new life into one of America’s most blighted urban landscapes:
Many cities looking to reviatlize their urban centers have turned to greenways to spur economic development. Greenways are pedestrian or bike paths that typically run between parks, museums, or shopping districts. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sarah Hulett reports on hopes that greenways will breathe new life into one of America’s most blighted urban landscapes:
This abandoned rail line twenty-five feet below street level might not be many peoples’ first choice for a walk or a bike ride. But Tom Woiwode thinks soon it might be. Woiwode is the director of the GreenWays Initiative for all of Southeast Michigan. When he takes a look down this former Grand Trunk Western Rairoad line in Detroit, he doesn’t see the fast food wrappers, tires, and crashed and rusting shopping carts. He sees trees and grass and benches. And more importantly, he sees people, and places for people to spend their money.
“So maybe a bike repair shop, restaurants, some opportunities for music venues and those sorts of things, so people can ride their bike on down to the riverfront and along the way either stay here for lunch, or along the way stop and rest and enjoy the ambiance, or take their food and go on down to the riverfront where they can enjoy the extraordinary natural resources of the river as well.”
We’re standing near the city’s sprawling open-air produce market. It’s one of the most popular draws for people from inside and outside the city limits. When it’s complete, the greenway will link the market to Detroit’s greatest natural asset: the Detroit River. Greenways are a new redevelopment concept in Detroit. But elsewhere, Woiwode says, they’ve proven a well-tested urban redevelopment tool.
“In fact, back in the late 90’s, the mayors of Pittsburgh and Denver – two municipalities that are roughly similar in size to Detroit – both characterized their greenways programs as the most important economic development programs they had within the city.”
Minneapolis is another city that’s had success with greenways. In fact, backers of the greenway plan in downtown Detroit say they were inspired by a similar project there. Last month, Minneapolis completed the second phase of what will eventually be a five-mile greenway along an abandoned rail line much like the one in Detroit. It’s called the Midtown Greenway. And it’ll eventually link the Chain of Lakes to the Mississippi River thruogh neighborhoods on the city’s south side.
Eric Hart is a Minneapolis Midtown Greenway Coalition board member. He says even the greenway’s most avid supporters joked that people might continue to use it as a dumping ground for abandoned shopping carts like they did when it was just a trench.
“Since then, since it was done in 2000, there’s been a lot of interest in the development community to put high-density residential structures right along the edge of the greenway. And it’s viewed more like a park now.”
Since the first phase was completed in 2000, one affordable housing development and a 72-unit market-rate loft project have been completed. And five more housing developments – mostly condos – are in the planning stages. Hart says people use the greenway for recreation and for commuting by bicycle to their jobs.
Colin Hubbell is a developer in Detroit. He says he’s all for greenways, as long as they’re not competing for dollars with more pressing needs in a city like Detroit: good schools, for example. Or safe neighborhoods. Hubbell says the question needs to be asked: If you build it, will they come?
“I’m not sure. I’m not sure, if, given the perception problem that we have as a city, how many people on bikes are going to go down in an old railroad right away, I’m not sure even if that’s the right thing to do, given the fact that – I mean, we have a street system. And just because there’s a greenway doesn’t mean if somebody’s on Rollerblades or a bicycle that they’re not going to stay on a greenway.”
Hubbell says Detroit already has a lot of streets and not much traffic – leaving plenty of room for bicyclists. Hubbell says it might be cheaper to paint some bike lanes, and put up signs. But he says connecting the city’s cultural and educational institutions, the river, and commercial districts with greenways is a good idea – as long as they’re running through areas where people will use them.
Kelli Kavanaugh says that’s exactly what’s happening with greenway plans in the city. Kavanaugh is with the Greater Corktown Economic Development Corporation in southwest Detroit.
“You can’t just stick a greenway in the middle of a barren, abandoned neighborhood and expect use. But when you put one into a growing neighborhood, a stabilizing neighborhood, it really works as another piece of the quality of life puzzle to kind of support existing residents, but also attract new residents to the area. It’s another amenity.”
Greenway backers say for a city struggling just to maintain its population, Detroit can only benefit from safe, pleasant places to walk and bike. And if other cities are any indication, they say greenways should also help bring another kind of green into Detroit.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Sarah Hulett.
Principles of sustainable design, or “green building” have been around for years. These are designs that, among other things, reduce energy use and create more comfortable working environments. Yet they are often dismissed as costly, impractical, and experimental. But green design has come a long way in recent years. The construction cost of an environmentally-friendly office building today is comparable with the cost of more traditional methods, and the maintenance costs are often much lower. Architects and builders across Pennsylvania have learned that, and the result has been a major shift in how buildings are constructed. And the lessons learned there could eventually make their way across the entire Great Lakes region. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Brad Linder reports:
Principles of sustainable design, or “green building” have been around for years. These are designs that, among other things, reduce energy use and create more comfortable working environments. Yet they are often dismissed as costly, impractical, and experimental. But green design has come a long way in recent years. The construction cost of an environmentally friendly office building today is comparable with the cost of more traditional methods, and the maintenance costs are often much lower. Architects and builders across Pennsylvania have learned that, and the result has been a major shift in how buildings are constructed. And the lessons learned there could eventually make their way across the entire Great Lakes region. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Brad Linder reports:
The Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum Marsh lies just around the corner from the Philadelphia International Airport. The refuge is also home to the Cusano Environmental Education Center, celebrating its first anniversary as what many consider to be the city’s greenest building.
The Center’s heating and cooling relies on a geothermal system. About five hundred feet below the Cusano Center, the temperature remains near 50 degrees all year round. Deep wells reach into the ground to borrow heat in the winter, and cool air in the summer.
(Natural sound marsh machine)
The Center also makes use of a “marsh machine,” to clean and recycle wastewater. Refuge Manager Dick Nugent says the machine uses natural processes to filter water through a “constructed wetland” of PVC pipes, gravel, and marsh plants. Nugent says the city water department delivers drinking water, but the marsh machine has a more important use.
“We wanted this here as an environmental education tool. It isn’t as if we needed it for the functionality of this building. The message to take home is that marshes serve a very important function.”
Cyrus Baym is a volunteer coordinator at the Cusano Center. He says people come expecting to learn about nature, but wind up getting something special out of the building.
“The people that are coming in, they see this fabulous building, a lot of space, a lot of glass, and then when you start explaining along with the exhibits the sustainable design features, the use of recycled materials, passive solar windows their eyes get even bigger. They get more excited and want to implement it in their own house.”
Refuge Manager Dick Nugent says there was some additional cost to innovations like the geothermal system and the southern wall of the building, which is made mostly of glass windows. But in the long run, many of those additions will wind up saving money on electricity and heating. And the overall goal isn’t to be frugal, but to teach.
On the other side of the state, another approach toward sustainable design is taking hold.
Pittsburgh is currently home to one-quarter of the nation’s buildings that have been certified as green by the U.S. Green Building Council. The non-profit national industry group represents design, construction, and environmental interests. The council also administers the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, rating system, which judges the overall environmental performance of buildings.
Unlike the Cusano Center in Philadelphia, many of Pittsburgh’s green buildings weren’t designed to be educational tools. The PNC Firstside Center in Downtown Pittsburgh provides workspace for 1800 employees in the bank’s technology and processing divisions.
Elmer Burger was one of the principle architects for the building. He says designing the largest LEED certified building in the country made sense for the project. The large floor space improved communication within business departments, and also allowed for extensive use of natural light.
“With a large floor plate, we had an opportunity to make the ceilings higher and bring daylight further into the building. So you can be as far as 125 feet away from the outside wall and still have daylight in a view.”
Burger says the building’s large windows give employees a view of the Monongahela River, and also save money by reducing the need for artificial light.
Rebecca Flora is director of Pittsburgh’s Green Building Alliance, a non-profit group working to encourage and facilitate environmentally friendly design in the city. She says some non-profit groups are interested in green buildings for ideological reasons, but also wind up getting long-term economic benefits.
“The life cycle value of doing a green building is actually quite significant in some cases. I know with Conservation Consultants, their building actually uses 60% less energy than a traditional building, which can have huge implications in terms of the small operating budgets that many non-profits have to work with.”
Flora says saving money is one of the main factors in getting major institutions like PNC to build green
“The myth that is out there is that green buildings cost more, and that’s one that we’re constantly trying to educate people around in that you get what you pay for. We’re trying to educate people around the fact that green building also adds value, and how do we equate that value with increased bottom line is a real key issue for most people.”
Flora says it’s important to convince clients, and not just architects of the benefits of green design. She says if the demand for LEED certified buildings increases, sustainable design techniques will become more common.
A number of other commercial and non-profit institutions in the city have also chosen green design. Both the Alcoa Corporate Center, and the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank are green buildings. And the new David L. Lawrence Convention Center is the first convention center in the country to earn LEED certification
With so many high profile green projects, sustainable design is starting to look like common sense to many architects and their clients. Elmer Burger says the success of the PNC Firstside Center has led the company to adopt a new policy. All of their new corporate buildings will be designed to meet LEED requirements.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Brad Linder.