American cities are laboratories for novel policies to reduce climate change, reverse environmental degradation and support alternative energy. In the U.S. federal system, cities’ policies are often adopted at the state or national level, putting cities at the center of the environmental movement.

Two images showing city in 1930s and today (Margaret Bourke/The Life Picture Collection/Getty Images) (Jeremy Edwards/IStock/Thinkstock)
From the 1930s to today, Pittsburgh has reinvented itself as a green city. (Left: Getty Images. Right: Thinkstock)

From plumes to blooms

Artist's rendering of skyscraper (Courtesy of Gensler)
The Tower at PNC Plaza uses 50 percent less energy than other buildings of its size. (Courtesy photo)

From a declining industrial metropolis with steel mills spewing black smoke and soot into the sky, Pittsburgh has transformed itself into a vibrant green city. Thanks to collaboration among city leaders, labor, business, academia and nonprofit groups, clean-energy projects and startups drive a new economy, with well-paid green-collar jobs.

Pittsburgh’s environmentalism is visibly displayed across its skyline. A 33-story office tower at PNC Plaza, which opened in fall 2015, surpassed the U.S. Green Building Council’s highest certification requirements in sustainable design. The PNC Financial Services Group hopes these features make the building the greenest skyscraper in the world:

  • A geothermal temperature system that operates by tapping into a river beneath the city, helping cool and heat the building.
  • A solar chimney that pulls fresh air in for ventilation before “exhaling” it through the roof and also absorbs sunlight to heat the building.
  • A double-skin facade made up of two separate panes of glass that can open up to let in fresh air. Employees can enter the space between the panes of glass for an “outdoor” stroll.

Want to know what the world is doing to fight climate change? Follow the November 7–18 global climate summit, called COP22, @US_Center, and use the hashtags #ActOnClimate and #AskUSCenter.