Pittsburgh’s Environmental Renaissance

Over the last half-century, the Pittsburgh region has undergone the most extraordinary urban environmental transformation in modern history and now ranks among the top cities in the United States for green certified building space.

Over the last half-century, the Pittsburgh region has undergone the most extraordinary urban environmental transformation in modern history and now ranks among the top cities in the United States for green certified building space.

And while more work remains, the story of the historic public-private partnerships that transformed the environment of this region is an inspiring tale of an urban renaissance.

Pittsburgh was once the poster child of industrial pollution. In 1927, due to the heavy smoke that loomed over the city, American journalist H. L. Mencken referred to Pittsburgh as, “Hell with the lid taken off.”

Those days are, however, long gone. Today, visitors to Pittsburgh will find lush, green hillsides that surround the beautiful skyline.

The iconic three rivers – the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio – and riverfront trails are now top draws for visitors seeking outdoor adventures like kayaking, boating and biking. The city also boasts hosting major fishing tournaments on the beloved rivers.

Western Pennsylvania also has become one of the nation's best examples of rails-to-trails conversion, with hundreds of miles of rail trails, including the Great Allegheny Passage, which links Pittsburgh with Washington, D.C., and stands out as one of the country's great trail systems.

It's fitting that Pittsburgh, the birthplace of renowned environmentalist Rachel Carson, is today a national leader in the environmental movement and a green model for cities all over the world. Pittsburgh has set an example by renewing, reclaiming and redeveloping its environment through a series of lasting public-private partnerships going back more than 65 years – from the first air quality legislation to robust reclamation of Brownfield sites and river cleanups.

Today, the city is the materials innovator and supplier for a greener global economy, leveraging its world-class manufacturing capabilities to create better-performing green products and building technologies.

More than 370 LEED®-Certified buildings reside in Western Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh is home to the first green college residence hall and Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, which successfully pursued a net-zero energy and water designation as a “Living Building.” In 2021, Phipps also achieved Fitwel® 3 Star Rating, the highest rating in the Fitwel® Standard. The rating was awarded to the Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL), making it the first and only building to meet six of the world’s highest green building certifications.

In summer 2021, Pittsburgh International Airport became the first airport in the world completely powered by an independent microgrid. Using nearly 10,000 solar panels and on-site natural gas, the first-of-its-kind microgrid increases resilience and maximizes public safety.

Additionally, Pittsburgh is home to the United States’ highest-rated LEED® Platinum Certified convention center, the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. The 1.5 million square-foot space is a model of sustainability and sustainable practices.