From Left: Anne Swager, Charles Ries, Maureen Guttman and Francisco Escalante. (Photo / Henry Clay Webster)

The New Hazlett Theater was ground zero on Tuesday, Feb. 23, for a presentation on the future of green building.

The packed auditorium, filled with architectural students and professionals, listened intently to a panel of experts discuss new views and research in the fields of sustainable building, energy conservation, economic incentives and foreign environmental initiatives.

Anne Swager, executive director of Pittsburgh’s chapter of the American Institute of Architects, moderated the panel discussion.

Swager focused the event, “Beyond LEED: The Future of Green Buildings,” by critiquing the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system.

It takes 35 years of lower energy consumption to make up for the energy used to build a new building, but retrofitting an older building to LEED certification only accounts for three points on the rating scale, said Swager, referring to the 100 point scale used to determine LEED status.

The three panel speakers each represented a different geographic level of the green movement.

Rugby Realty’s Vice President of Development Francisco Escalante represented the local Pittsburgh level. Escalante’s firm manages over 2.5 million square feet of commercial real estate in downtown Pittsburgh, and he brought a private sector view to the discussion of the green movement.

“I can think of three reasons why a developer would go to LEED. One is by force or pressure [from government codes], two is because of their personal philosophy and three is because it’s economically viable,” Escalante said.

People will find a way to get around reason one, reason two will only be a factor for a narrow band of people, Escalante added, but the third reason gives developers the incentive to go the extra mile.

Maureen Guttman, who runs the Pennsylvania Governor’s Green Government Council and brought a state-wide perspective to the panel, said that much of the funding that has aided developers in building LEED-certified buildings has come from the local level.

“The financial incentives are mostly done on the local level, not much is from the state level,” Guttman said. She said that the state’s role was primarily to effect better codes to push builders in a greener direction.

“I look at code enforcement as one of the most important green jobs out there,” Guttman said.

Charles Ries, a former diplomat and now a senior fellow at the RAND Corporation on international energy issues, spoke mostly about building better economic incentives into the future of green building.

“We must incentivize green building so [the average person] can recognize the value of it,” Ries said. He suggested that a simple start would be to place a sign in every new building regarding the structure’s energy efficiency.

Escalente noted that the real estate world is already starting to see the value creation of green building.

“Tenants are starting to see the value of this. Tenants call and ask about our buildings’ [energy efficiency]. 10 years ago, that wasn’t the case,” he said.

Ries said one difference he’s seen in studying other country’s green building movements is how different codes account for energy efficiency.

“Britain judges not energy usage but carbon output,” Ries said. This spurred a discussion on not only building green but ensuring that the energy used comes from cleaner forms of electricity than coal.

Ries also compared the fact that U.S. developers favor shorter payback terms for investing in a building’s energy efficiencies. “In northern Europe, they make investments in 10 year paybacks — more long-term,” he said.

The entire panel agreed when Guttman proposed that “the biggest thing that makes buildings green is [energy conscious] tenants.”

The panel discussion was a cityLIVE! event, a joint venture of the Heinz Family Foundation, the New Hazlett Theater and No Wall Productions. The next cityLIVE! event at the New Hazlett Theater is the Soapbox Rant on March 16. This is an open forum that allots 90 seconds to anyone with a pet peeve or rant who wants to share it with those in attendance.