All photos courtesy of Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

Phipps Conservatory cares.  They care about nature, they care about people, they care about the environment, and they care about Pittsburgh.  Anyone who has visited over the past 125 years knows this. They care about children. Now they have even shown how much they care about their employees, especially a special group of people who are responsible for the day-to-day tasks of running such an incredible endeavor:  the maintenance and ground crew.

Phipps is opening a new Exhibit Staging Center whose primary occupant will be the staff who works behind the scenes.  The Exhibit Staging Center (ESC) would be an afterthought at most places but Phipps took a different approach, one that puts the group in a territory no other property in the world can claim.

Phipps Conservatory

The Living Building Challenge has been the standard at Phipps for over 10 years.  The Living Building Challenge is, by far, the most rigorous standard. According to their website, “with the Living Building Challenge, you can create buildings that are: Regenerative spaces that connect occupants to light, air, food, nature, and community.  Self-sufficient and remain within the resource limits of their site. Living Buildings produce more energy than they use and collect and treat all water on site.  Healthy and beautiful living buildings give more than they take, creating a positive impact on the human and natural systems that interact with them.”

One particularly interesting facet of the building is that it runs on DC current.  As they discussed in their press release: Direct current (DC) electricity is the form of electricity collected by solar panels and stored by their batteries, but most American buildings use alternating current (AC). In conventional settings, a device called a solar invertor  converts the DC electricity from solar panels into AC, wasting 10 – 15% of solar energy in the process of converting to AC and then back to DC again to power LED light bulbs. The ESC breaks this wasteful convention by using direct DC from the solar panels and batteries to all of the lights in the building. That means the entire lighting system for this building could run on a single 20-amp circuit.

There is a relationship between buildings and their occupants’ health.  Phipps takes that into consideration with all of their buildings. Starting with the children’s oriented Nature Lab, they created a modular structure geared toward a group whose buildings are typically the least “healthy” – in young folks.  Next, Phipps targeted an even lower served population in maintenance staff and ground crew.

Phipps Conservatory

They invested $6.3 million in retrofitting a former public works building into the ESC.  Better overall health of the employees isn’t the only benefit. There will never be a bill.  Imagine living with no heat, electric, cooling or water bills… ever!  The ESC is not the last Living Building project at Phipps.  Currently they are in design and development of more buildings.

More than just a room with glass walls and roof with flowers, Phipps takes the “conserve” part of Conservatory to the next level.  They are not only conserving energy, they are conserving people. It’s because they care.

You can read more about the new Exhibit Staging Center here.