Green Building Alliance CEO: Pittsburgh has 'strong leadership' role in sector

Since 2011, Pittsburgh native Mike Schiller has worked as CEO at Green Building Alliance, a South Side nonprofit organization that promotes the development of sustainable and efficient buildings.

Mr. Schiller helps guide the organization’s ever-expanding mission and recently shared his thoughts about the region and the growth of the Green Building Alliance, which was founded in 1993.

Q. How is Pittsburgh doing in constructing sustainable buildings?

A. Pittsburgh continues to play a strong leadership role in the advancement of healthy and high performance buildings. With 120 LEED certified buildings in the city and more than 200 in the region, we are among the nation’s leading cities. The Phipps’ Center for Sustainable Landscapes, built to meet the Living Building Challenge standard, is one the most sustainable buildings in the world and gaining appropriate worldwide recognition.

New projects like the Tower at PNC, the Frick Environmental Center and Chatham’s Eden Hall campus continue to push the boundaries for the design and construction of new sustainable spaces. The industry is creating and embracing more technologies to support green building, and the research being done at Carnegie Mellion University’s Center for Building Performance and Diagnostics and the University of Pittsburgh’s Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation are shaping design and policy for the next generation of buildings worldwide.

Q. How important are green buildings to the region?

A. Very! Healthy and high-performing buildings are a key component to making and keeping Pittsburgh competitive for the next generation of people and businesses.

Green buildings reduce operating costs; create healthier and more productive workplaces; help attract businesses and employees that value spending large amounts of time in a healthy and high-performing place; generate local jobs as part of the upgrades; and support additional local jobs and businesses that manufacture the products and services behind all these retrofits.

Round estimates of financially viable performance-based building renovations to just Downtown Pittsburgh reach $3 billion of investment, which means that many jobs, product sales and a healthier, happier population of workers and residents.

Q. What is your biggest initiative in the next year?

A. Two things:

1. We are expanding the Pittsburgh 2030 District to include Oakland. We are working hard to include the universities, the hospitals and all the other building owners in this initiative to reduce energy, water and transportation impact by 50 percent before 2030.

2. Updating the GBA Strategic Plan for the next several years. Topics under consideration for increased attention include green building products, the International Green Construction Code, eco-districts and other community scale design initiatives and increased policy and advocacy work at both the local and state levels.

Q. Who, or what, inspires you most?

A. 1. Paul Hawken (an environmentalist and author), for his overall sense of peace and vision for how we create a great planet without ignoring the realities of people, business and governments. 2. The natural world, by providing the centeredness and calm, combined with a sense of urgency and the motivation behind what I do.

Q. How could Pittsburgh be better?

A. We could have more people from many more cultures living and working here. We could invite more people from different backgrounds and who were not born in Pittsburgh into our homes for meals. We could have more women involved at higher levels of government, business (especially startups) and community influence.

We could be more risk-tolerant and celebrate our risk-takers. We could put less emphasis on our sports teams (though I love the Steelers) and participate more in local cultural and outdoor activities. We could have more non-chain restaurants where we can get a really good breakfast. We could have a direct airline flight to Seattle.

Q. What is your favorite Western Pennsylvania park?

A. Quebec Run Wild Area, in Fayette County, near Confluence and Ohiopyle, just north the West Virginia border. It’s my favorite place to hike and backpack, the perfect Western Pennsylvania wilderness. Quebec Run has a nice network of trails, several intersecting streams with lots of dense impenetrable mountain laurel and rhododendron, great rock formations, and lots of wildlife including native brook trout and black bear.

Q. What song is stuck in your head?

A. “Pretty Girl From Michigan,” by The Avett Brothers

Michael Sanserino:, 412-263-1969 and Twitter @msanserino.

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