Greening the U.S. Steel Tower

By: Cristina Mestre

UPMC and the UPMC Health Plan occupy 40 percent of the U.S. Steel Tower in downtown Pittsburgh, or roughly 900,000 square feet of office space, spread across 23 of the building’s 64 floors. The U.S. Steel Tower is the most iconic building in the Pittsburgh region and is the largest structure between Chicago and Philadelphia. As part of UPMC’s environmental initiatives, efforts began in 2007 to lighten our ecological footprint by retrofitting all of these floors to be more sustainable and to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) “Silver” certification in the Commercial Interiors category.
After six years, UPMC has achieved LEED Silver certification for 13 floors of the U.S. Steel (or “USX”) building, most recently for the 9thand 25th floors, with the remaining floors under construction and expected to be complete by January 1st. In the spring, after the certification process has ended, we hope to have all 23 floors certified as Silver.
And this week in Philadelphia, UPMC and LEED consultant evolveEA are participating in the U.S. Green Building Council’s Greenbuild international conference and expo, the world’s largest event dedicated to green building. There, experts will learn about best practices in the green building arena and how to create healthier and more sustainable spaces for working and living – plus, they’ll get to hear Hillary Clinton as the keynote speaker. With this knowledge, USX floors which have already achieved LEED Silver certification could be further retrofitted to become even greener.
With the help of evolveEA and USX building landlord Winthrop Management, sustainability initiatives and completed retrofits have included:
  • Lighting:Installation of a Lutronlight control system which allows for the same lighting power but 15-25% less energy use, and of occupancy sensors and daylight responsive controls which ensure the lights aren’t on when not in use. The new system also has extremely low mercury content as compared to previous light bulbs. 
  • Renewable energy: UPMC is purchasing 100 percent renewable or green electricity for the newest construction projects (on floors 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 14, 25, 31, 40, 41, 42, and 55).
  • Efficient equipment: All new equipment (refrigerators, computers, etc.) purchased for these floors is Energy Starapproved.
  • Water efficiency: Installation of low-flow and dual flush toilets to reduce water consumption. All floors that have achieved Silver certification are 30 percent more efficient than comparable floors.
  • Sustainable materials:  At least 20 percent of the supplies purchased for the LEED-certified floors come from recycled materials.  Materials such as adhesives, sealants, paints, flooring, composite wood and furniture are also low-emitting, meaning they contain little or no amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or urea formaldehyde. Plus, 75 percent of the construction waste on LEED-certified floors is diverted from landfills.


“Through the pursuit of LEED certification, there are a number of sustainability initiatives that UPMC has undertaken that are above and beyond conventional construction,” notes Marc Mondor, Principal at evolveEA, which led the retrofitting efforts. “As UPMC has full service leases at the Steel Tower, they don’t pay their electric and heating bills. Yet even though UPMC does not benefit from the financial savings of increased efficiency, these strategies are still pursued because it’s the right thing to do. These measures lessen environmental impact and create healthier environments for employees and visitors.”
Winthrop Management has also signed the US Steel Tower on to the Pittsburgh 2030 District challenge, a public-private partnership to create a high-performance and energy-efficient building district in downtown Pittsburgh by the year 2030. As part of this challenge, businesses are committing to reduce energy usage 50 percent over the next 17 years. Through UPMC’s pursuit of LEED certification for our tenant-occupied floors at USX, we are contributing to meeting this goal.
“UPMC and Winthrop’s work at the US Steel building exemplifies how a landlord and tenant can work together to achieve significant energy and water reductions, cost savings, and ongoing sustainability improvement,” added Mondor. “Through our work with both organizations, evolveEA has helped strategically target improvements that are resulting in substantial savings.”