Non-profit organizations are among the country’s leaders in achieving high-performing green buildings. In GBA’s latest Green Building Bite, Leslie Montgomery interviews representatives from The National Aviary, Tree Pittsburgh, and Global Links to share their experience and perspectives when it comes to pursuing green building in the non-profit sector.
“ The pursuit of a healthy, sustainable building, in some ways, can be obvious because your missions intersect with sustainability and conservation. ”
The National Aviary
The National Aviary in Pittsburgh features a LEED Gold certified event space on the West Side of the facility called The Garden Room, which opened in 2020. The Garden Room is currently approaching 200 events hosted per year, and revenue from events serves as funding to support the Aviary’s daily operations and mission of inspiring respect for nature through an appreciation of birds.
According to Director of Facility Development, Conor McGarvey, sustainability and conservation is synonymous with the National Aviary’s mission and vision. Through their habitats and 80 Species Survival Plans®, the National Aviary is currently a leader in avian conservation. The same values motivating their work in conservation and species survival were also applied in the design process of the event space. For example, walls of bird-safe glass designed with etchings to protect migratory birds from collision were incorporated.
“ You can almost see the inspiration in people’s eyes and the appreciation for the work we are doing here. ”
Along with green design lending support to the organization’s mission and values, the unique opportunities for new efficiencies and new technologies to help manage operating costs, and to continue to connect patrons with nature were significant motivators behind design decisions. One unique opportunity McGarvey mentioned was the partnership the Aviary will soon be entering with the City of Pittsburgh, to provide water to Lake Elizabeth from collected runoff and stormwater, instead of the lake’s current supply of potable water.
Nestled in Lawrenceville along the Allegheny River, Tree Pittsburgh is located on an historic steel mill, for which the organization worked closely with the EPA for remediation to ensure safety of the space for staff and patrons. The 6,000 square foot building is home to their offices, workshop/garage space, and education center where they host internal educational programs. Similar to the Aviary, Tree Pittsburgh’s education center also serves as an event space, generating income to help fund their building and operation costs.
Executive Director, Danielle Crumrine, tells us that when it came to the decision to pursue the path of green design, location and finances were big motivators. The decision to remediate a brownfield certainly had its pros and cons, and while the location with direct access to water and lots of sun was an obvious choice supporting Tree Pittsburgh’s mission and purpose, remediation is an expensive process. Funding opportunities in Pennsylvania from the Industrial Sites Reuse Program, Green Mountain Energy Sun Club, and from Penelec in exchange for outreach and education helped to offset some of the expenses of this $3 million project.
Elements of green design are helpful in offsetting building costs, as well. Tree Pittsburgh was designed to be a net-positive energy facility, meaning they produce more energy than they use. The collection of rooftop water to irrigate the landscape saves the organization money, too. The building and its campus were designed to lend a hand in sustaining the organization, saving money and creating opportunities to generate revenue.
“ It’s a little bit more forgiving for us to fail at something than a for-profit company, so, we are able to take those risks [piloting green building]. ”
When medical surplus specialists Global Links were searching for their new home, they needed a clean space fit for the safe handling of healthcare products. The organization hit a stroke of luck when they came across a 58,000 square foot building which used to operate as a manufacturing facility for vitamins and supplements. Since acquiring that space, Global Links embarked on a ten-year journey of building updates and maintenance toward reaching energy independence.
“ Why does this matter to us?... It's not just dollars and cents, but how [green building] plays into a nonprofit's story and impact - not just directly on those served, but also on those who are part of serving the mission. ”
The long-term plan to green the existing building over time, including updates to HVAC, lighting, flood mitigation, and the installment of a solar array along with an already needed new roof, all serve to lower occupancy costs, and run the building for as little cost as possible, while also improving the working conditions for staff. The continuous pursuit of green design reflects the organization’s core values of respect for the environment and dignity and respect for all people, but the biggest challenge has been prioritizing which project to begin next.
What We Learned
Non-profit organizations and the decisions they make tend to be driven by a shared passion to make the world a better place, and as we have learned, the values of green building commonly intersect with the values of nonprofits and help these organizations to achieve their goals. Not only can sustainable and energy efficient design help to reduce utility and operating costs, with each project bringing non-profit organizations one step closer to energy independence, but also offers unique opportunities for partnerships and storytelling to support organizations’ core values, showcasing Pittsburgh’s commitment to sustainability as a whole and the community return on investment.
“ I think we have an inherent desire [or] need to be good stewards of our funders support. ”
Watch the full interview below!