Phipps Conservatory: Where Sustainability is Put into Practice

by Emily Thiem

If you have ever taken a driving tour of Pittsburgh, it is hard to miss the Phipps Conservatory. By day or night, this striking building in Schenley Park will catch your eye with its beautiful glass greenhouses and tropical foliage. When I first visited Pittsburgh years ago, I drove by Phipps and hoped that if I got the chance to return to Pittsburgh I could go inside. Now that I am a part of the MBA-SBP program I have realized that the Phipps is not only a place filled with exotic ecosystems but is an example of how organizations can integrate sustainability into everything they do.

As a self-proclaimed plant nerd and garden enthusiast, I knew that Phipps Conservatory would be a must-see when I moved to Pittsburgh. When the MBA-SBP program hosted a green building tour, Phipps was lauded for its beauty and high environmental standards. 

That night I went home and booked my ticket.  

Since then, I have made multiple visits to Phipps, and each time I am in awe by the size and diversity of plant species that they have there. Each room is an adventure as you walk through the desert cacti of the southwest, the tropical rainforests of Cuba, experience exotic orchids from around the world, and more. Additionally, their use of theming (this summer it was “The Hidden Life of Trolls”), sparks imagination for all as suddenly the plants are transformed before your eyes. Even as an adult it was hard not to find delight in the ways they utilized plants for the wacky troll characters.  

Outside of the beautiful exhibits though, I truly love to visit Phipps because sustainability is an integral part of who they are. In the MBA-SBP program, we discuss the promising opportunities and importance of integrating sustainability into our business decisions. Phipps Conservatory is an exciting place to visit because it represents a future that I hope to be a part of. A future where organizations incorporate sustainability and environmental considerations into the ethos of an organization, further intertwining that ethos into business decisions at every level.  

Currently, this is demonstrated at Phipps in many ways. The conservatory is one of the only buildings in the world to have achieved six of the most rigorous and prestigious green building certifications. One of these certifications is the Living Building Challenge, an honor that very few buildings globally achieve, and one that demonstrates excellence in the categories of place, water, energy, health & wellness, materials, and beauty. The Living Building Challenge summarizes a key element of the beauty of Phipps saying:

“Today, this history of excellence serves as a platform to demonstrate that humans and the natural world are inextricably linked, and that sustainable action is the key to ensuring that critical interconnections are preserved for future generations.”

Phipps has also adopted other sustainability measures in the pursuit of the United Nations Sustainability Goal 13, “Climate Action”. These include adopting 100% renewable energy campus-wide, eliminating plastic disposable service ware, offsetting all carbon produced to heat their buildings, divesting from fossil fuels, and more. Further, Phipps offers opportunities to visitors to participate in ‘Green Workshops’, educational programs about the environment, and learn at home tips to develop sustainable lifestyle habits.  Each of these decisions and opportunities reflects an ongoing commitment to sustainability that I admire, and while I am sure there are many other ways Phipps Conservatory integrates sustainability into their business, these are just some of the things that have stood out to me.

Ultimately, Phipps Conservatory is an organization that represents the change I want to see in the world. One where the environment is considered at every decision, not just as an afterthought. As I continue through the MBA-SBP program, I look forward to gaining the skills and knowledge to make this future a reality for more businesses globally. For now, as I look outside and see the impending fall rain I think I might head to Phipps. A relaxing walk through the tropical rainforest sounds like the perfect way to spend the day.