When the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh was completed in 2003, it was one of largest green buildings in the country. Its success proved that sustainability principles could be integrated into a breathtaking and high-performing design. Using almost a decade of performance data, this study, led by evolveEA, was commissioned to understand the level of building performance and the return on the initial investment in sustainability. With input from Carnegie Mellon University's Center for Building Performance and Diagnostics, CJL Engineering, and Civil and Environmental Consultants, the Buildings-in-Operation (BiO) study demonstrates that:
investment in high performance systems can yield direct savings and improved sustainability operations and maintenance practices;
green building projects can accelerate broader organizational sustainability efforts;
green buildings can create major benefits for a region, including additional commerce and an increased uptake of green building design and;
high performing projects can affect their industry standards by setting a standard for future design and construction, but also by facilitating a culture of best practice sharing, benchmarking, and peer comparison.
Publicly-owned facilities such as stadiums and convention centers are capital-intensive structures in both their construction and their operation. Because of this, large-scale public facilities need to compare upfront investment in high performance design and construction to the expected return on the investment (ROI) over the lifespan of the building. There are many challenges to understanding ROI in these circumstances. For example, these civic structures often have dynamic use patterns with conflicting indicators of success, (e.g., days without events may lower energy usage but those days do not generate revenue.) In addition, civic structures often operate as a “loss leader,” or a facility that isn't profitable itself but that attracts visitors and money to a region. This requires that return on investment be measured against larger regional returns.
It is in this context that Pittsburgh initiated the design and construction of a new convention center in the early 1990s. Eight years later, the Public Auditorium Authority of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County (now called the Sports and Exhibition Authority), the Southwestern Pennsylvania Convention Center Design Commission, and a number of regional foundations created a design competition that would become the first design competition for a public facility since H. H. Richardson designed the highly acclaimed Allegheny County Courthouse in the 1880s. With the support of the partners, a regional nonprofit, the Green Building Alliance, led the efforts to include green design in the competition criteria, resulting in the selection of the winning design by Raphael Vinoly.
Upon its completion in 2003, the David L. Lawrence Convention Center (DLCC) received a Gold level certification from the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for New Construction (LEED-NC) green building rating system, making it the world's largest green building and the first LEED certified convention center in the world. This pursuit was leveraged through a multimillion dollar foundation grant that came with the condition that the facility would be reviewed to understand the effectiveness and value of green design. With eight years of available operational data, the Heinz Endowments commissioned this post-occupancy evaluation to quantify specific benefits and costs of designing and building a green building and to provide recommendations for the Sports and Exhibition Authority and SMG World (the building operator) to continue improvements (Case Study for the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, 2012).
Among its findings, the study found that the investment in green building certification and high performance systems has been recouped through annual operational cost savings at the DLCC. It also found that the DLCC's leadership in sustainable practices has given it a competitive advantage. The increased business due to this leadership has positively impacted both direct and indirect regional spending and has catalyzed an industry across the country. The DLCC's commitment to sustainability has been an explicit attraction for many high-profile events, including the U.S. Green Building Council's Greenbuild Conference and Expo (2003) and the G-20 Summit (2009). In fact, the DLCC's success has been a contributing factor in raising the standards for sustainable practices in the convention industry, as evidenced by the soon-to-be-released APEX/ASTM Green Meetings and Events Standards. 1
Some highlights and achievements as a result of the DLCC BiO investigation, completed in early 2011, can be summarized as follows:
The Business Case for Sustainability: The investigation built a strong business case that clearly defined the value of its sustainability initiatives and galvanized organizational support for future investments. The team showed that from 2006 to 2010, marketing of the facility's green features attracted “green-seeking events” that brought $143 million in spending to Downtown Pittsburgh, and $12.5 million in revenue directly to the Convention Center.
LEED for Existing Buildings Certification: The investigation guided the efforts that culminated in LEED Existing Building Operations and Maintenance (EBOM) Platinum certification, continuing the building's leadership by being the first EBOM Platinum certified convention center in the world.
Strategic Marketing Development: Bolstered by the strength of the business case, and informed by careful review of visitor perception and industry best practices, the investigation developed a strategic plan for leveraging the convention center's efforts into increased business and improved environmental performance.
The study leveraged the DLCC's sustainability communications program, or greenfirst (g1), as a fulcrum for transformative regional change. By partnering with its local service providers or value chain, the facility's g1 program can be used to brand the entire city as a green event destination, while greening the practices of the hotels and restaurants that its guests frequent.