Demand hot for 'green'

| Friday, June 11, 2010

It's not a "glass ceiling" but the glass walls at K&L Gates' office tower Downtown get your attention.

"We've heard a number of attorneys and staff say they are happy we did everything we could to make this old building energy efficient and as green as it could be," said administrative partner Michael Zanic of the design feature that lets sunlight permeate inner offices.

"It gives you a better work atmosphere. And it's a plus for us in the recruiting we do," said Zanic.

A growing number of buildings are being constructed or renovated with energy and environmental conservation in mind these days. Experts say the trend has evolved from just a lifestyle preference to a response to employees' and clients' expectations.

"People want a green and sustainable workplace," especially college graduates, said Holly Childs, executive director of the Green Building Alliance, South Side. "We are also providing more technical assistance to developers to serve tenants who are starting to demand green buildings."

Each of K&L Gates' 36 offices worldwide, for instance, has sensors that dim or brighten office lights depending on available natural light, said Barney Morrissey, global director of real estate. Offices have low-flow fixtures and faucets in all rest rooms and kitchens to conserve water.

Homes too. Jeff Martin, an upscale custom-home builder, said demand for "green" homes began increasing about three years ago. For instance, he uses spray-foam, instead of Fiberglas insulation, and puts furnaces in heated areas to increase efficiency.

Such features can add between 5 percent and 30 percent to the cost of a new home, said Martin, owner of Primrose Homes Inc., Harmony. But it's cheaper for the homeowner in the long run, he said, because gas and electric bills are lower.

"We selected this house over another one because of the 'green' features Jeff put into the home," said Carolyn Allen, who bought one of Martin's homes in Pine in April. For example, the energy-efficient, heating/air conditioning system only heats or cools parts of the house in use.

The Pittsburgh region is home to about 80 commercial buildings, mostly in the city, which have LEED certification -- for "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design" -- from the U.S. Green Building Council. Another 114 buildings around the region are seeking certification, said Childs.

The David L. Lawrence Convention Center, for instance, is the world's largest "green" convention center. Over 75 percent of it is naturally lighted, and it features an on-site water reclamation plant. The LEED distinction made the center especially appropriate to host September's G-20 summit, whose agenda highlighted climate change.

PNC Financial Services Group has 77, LEED-certified buildings, more than any company in the world, said bank spokesman Pat McMahon. Those "green" buildings include six branches in this region and PNC Firstside Center, the bank's operations and technology center Downtown.

Features include high-efficiency lighting systems, advanced heating/cooling systems and extensive waste-recycling practices. By building "green," PNC has cut building operating costs by about 35 percent, said McMahon.

"Employees enjoy working in the open, airy layout of PNC's green buildings," he said. An independent study said PNC Firstside had a higher employee-retention rate than traditional customer-service centers, said McMahon, declining to provide figures.

Pittsburgh Opera invested $3.5 million into renovation of an old three-story, brick building in the Strip District to relocate its headquarters/rehearsal space in 2008. All that money for "green" features -- including low-flow faucets and floor panels that reverse, doubling their useful life -- was worth it, said general director Christopher Hahn.

"This has been a major asset for the company," he said. "I suspect one of the reasons we've attracted funding is our green initiative. It's part of our profile."

Additional Information:

What's LEED?

LEED certification -- for 'Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design' -- means a building conforms to extensive environmental standards. They include aspects such as energy efficiency, water efficiency, reduction of carbon-dioxide emissions and stewardship of many other resources. Certification is done by the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit organization based in Washington.

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