The Green Building Alliance (GBA) was one of the country’s first regionally-based organizations formed to advance green building practices. As GBA, which was founded in 1993, nears the end of its tenth year as a fully staffed and funded organization, its significant influence is evidenced through 80+ local green building projects in the Western Pennsylvania region. Despite such measurable progress, however, most of this impact has occurred primarily within Greater Pittsburgh. In an effort to broaden the organization’s geographic reach and impact, two network groups were formed under its umbrella in 2006. These groups provide direct access to green building constituencies in the Laurel Highlands (LHN) and Northwestern PA (NWPAN) areas. Working with steering committees that have been formed in each of these locations, GBA staff is developing market-appropriate programming and delivering greatly needed services to them.
LHN, which encompasses seven counties (Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Clearfield, Fulton, Huntingdon and Somerset), began forming late in 2005 when professionals from the Johnstown and Altoona communities explored the possibility of becoming a U.S. Green Building Council chapter. Since Pennsylvania already had three well defined and established USGBC chapters or affiliates, the group was referred to GBA for assistance in developing locally-based programs as part of that organization’s Western PA service area. Following discussions with GBA’s executive director, Rebecca Flora, a memorandum of understanding was developed and signed in 2006. The MOU established an organizational framework and clarified roles and responsibilities between GBA’s LHN steering committee and the main GBA office in Pittsburgh. This umbrella approach not only guards against market dilution, but also facilitates programming in new areas without the added cost of a separate office and staff. With assistance from the steering committee, GBA held initial programs in the Laurel Highlands region last year and has planned a calendar of events there for 2007.
As the pieces began falling into place for LHN’s formation, another group from the Meadville-Erie area approached GBA about starting activities in the Northwestern corner of the state. GBA staff met with a large group of key constituents and facilitated a workshop to determine their needs and interests. The NWPAN Steering Committee was subsequently formed and plans are underway to begin programming and activities in that 11-county region later this year. The NWPAN territory is comprised of the counties of Cameron, Clarion, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, Jefferson, McKean, Mercer, Venago and Warren.
With these new network groups, GBA will be able to more effectively reach beyond the Greater Pittsburgh region by mobilizing enthusiastic professionals throughout Western Pennsylvania who share their goals and mission. “We have learned that, while a multitude of education programs were offered in Pittsburgh, they were not accessible or well known in outlying areas,” states Flora. “Without an ‘on the ground’ constituency to raise awareness, the market outside the city was still in an early stage of exposure to green building practices and adoption. Since GBA began as a grassroots organization in the early ‘90s, in many ways, these networks are bringing us full circle. This time, however, we have the momentum of a huge national green building movement and many local successes behind us by way of support to move these new markets ahead much faster.”
Concurrent Technologies Corporation (CTC) in Johnstown has been very supportive of LHN’s formation, while the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies has given grants to assist both networks through its Penelec Sustainable Energy Fund and Pennsylvania Green Business Initiative. The Foundation’s executive director, Mike Kane, has been a strong advocate of this region-wide approach, along with its inherent efficiencies. “Having the Green Building Alliance in Pittsburgh has been a wonderful local resource,” he remarks, “and, by establishing networks in the Erie and LaurelHighlands regions, professionals and communities throughout Western Pennsylvania can now more fully take advantage of GBA’s programs and expertise. We hope, as well, that this expansion effort will result in more green projects and ideas being generated in these areas.”