Kayaking the Rivers

— Kevin Dole,

I’m not from Pittsburgh, so after being accepted into Duquesne University’s Palumbo-Donahue MBA Sustainable Business Practices, the first thing I did was look up the city on a map. I saw that the city was situated on a point where the Allegheny, the Monongahela, and the Ohio rivers meet, and I thought to myself, “That looks like a great place to go kayaking.”

So, I was delighted to find myself paddling in the Allegheny after my first week of classes. About 15 of us from the MBA-SBP and the Professional MBA program, along with Dr. Robert Sroufe, a faculty member involved in sustainability and high performance buildings, shoved off for a river tour with Pittsburgh’s Green Building Alliance (GBA).

Imagine my surprise to learn that there is a “fourth river” running through downtown. This is an aquifer that some buildings including the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, (the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) tap into to offset their water usage from the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority. The aquifer naturally replenishes from the flow of the other three rivers and by incorporating its flow into their plumbing, the convention center can flush their toilets and run their fountains without using expensive treated water that others could be drinking. It saves water, energy, and money.

Isaac Smith, GBA’s Data & Performance Director, explained all of this to us as we paddled along downtown’s North Shore. Water is just one of four areas that the GBA uses when evaluating a building’s environmental performance as part of the 2030 Challenge. With over 80M sq. ft. of building space and over 500 buildings in Pittsburgh, GBA and the building owners will decrease energy and water consumption by 50% and future buildings will be carbon neutral.  The performance measures for these goals focus on energy, water, transportation emissions, and indoor air quality. The city is also part of the Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities initiative, DOE’s Better Buildings Challenge, Pittsburgh Climate Initiative, and the Breath Project. GBA and buildings are at the center of these initiatives.


E.g.: The amount of energy saved each year by the convention center is equal to the electricity consumed by 1,900 households, ~$500,000. PNC Stadium, changing from incandescent to LEDs saving $1000s and lots of energy.


This year the GBA is doing a second commuter survey, tracking commuter choices and new trends in mobility including ride sourcing (as autonomous Uber cars are often found downtown), bike sharing, electric vehicles, and traditional transportation methods.

Indoor Air Quality

The Alcoa headquarters building has reduced GHG emission 37% from a 1990 baseline and saved 1.2M kBtu accounting for 15% energy savings from building to LEED standards while also reducing GHG emissions and improving indoor air quality for occupants.  With 300 buildings involved in the IAQ initiative, Pittsburgh has a data driven baseline of performance and engagement with building owners, operators and occupants.

We also learned that LEED buildings save energy, CO2 emissions, water, solid waste, and a lot of money. By investing $4 per sq. ft. there is a $62 return on that investment in green, high performance buildings.

All told, we spent about two hours paddling from the North Shore east past the Alcoa building, under five bridges, south to the convention center, to Point State Park, and back. It was a great way to learn about the hidden green features of my new city and will certainly give me a lot think about the next time I am out on the water.