By Alexandra Perry

The Pioneer

Photo by  Ralph Musthaler

Photo by
Ralph Musthaler

Before the Pittsburgh Penguins had a serious discussion about turning the all-new CONSOL Energy Center green, most of their intentions were built around cost consciousness, not sustainability.

That all changed when the $321 million project’s managers, including LEED certified partners Chris Cieslak and Michael Bernard, deliberately showed Pens officials that sustainable materials would not only be better for Pittsburgh’s environment but also save the team large amounts of money.

“I remember about half-way through the project laying down a map and saying ‘Look at all these items that we could do, we should look at what we should do,

(LEED) Gold is within an ear shot,” said Bernard. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

What they found along the way is that by going green at Consol, they not only would build one of the most sustainable hockey and entertainment complexes in America, but by spending a bit more in design and other elements early on they could save money in the long run.

“In my industry, you know what right looks like and you know what wrong looks like. Almost without fail for the whole project, it looked right,” said Cieslak. In order to qualify for LEED, a building must use materials and energy that minimalize impact on ecosystems and water sources, are water efficient, promote better energy performance and innovative strategies, reduce and recycle waste during and after construction. A building must allow for high-quality indoor air to circulate. There is also consideration for a building’s access to public transportation, walkable, vibrant, compact communities and green infrastructure and design.

In every meeting, the team incorporated LEED into the discussion. Once the team was convinced the savings justified the early costs, the project was registered.

These types of projects are often perceived as very expensive, although they produce numerous forms of savings down the line.

“There is a business case for it, because it costs a lot less to operate,” said Bernard.

The costs of a commissioning plan brought doubt from the business point of view because the plan increases costs up to $40,000. By the time the project was a third of the way in, all skepticism had vanished. Project managers recognized and emphasized the necessity of an energy model and commissioning plan.

“That’s engineering and engineering planning. That might cost you $20,000-$30,000 upfront but that’s going to translate into savings down the road,” said Cieslak.

The initial plan for the building was to reach LEED silver. Once the team realized gold certification was within reach, the project went beyond expectations. The use of eco friendly materials in the project put the team on track to a tier of certification above what they had planned.

“Once we realized gold was within reach, the team pulled out all the stops to achieve it,” said Cieslak.


In following the strict guidelines of both the NHL and LEED, Consol even used environmentally friendly ice, freezing it with nature-safe chemicals.

Bernard recalled the efficiency of handling construction waste for proper recycling. It was not possible to separate such large and difficult materials on site, but negotiations were made with CONSOL to properly handle these waste materials once they were taken off site to be recycled.

There was mild difficulty in establishing air quality in CONSOL during construction. Engineers developed practical layout of the ductwork where louvers were placed in the most energy efficient locations. By plotting these locations, less material was used to build the ductwork and the heat and air conditioning ran more efficiently.

“That team was the best I have ever worked with, bar none,” said Cieslak.

The designers also used recycled building materials, sustainably harvested and processed wood, materials that reflect sunlight to reduce heat absorption, a lighting control system, low-flow plumbing fixtures and the use of low-emitting paints, coatings and other materials.

“CONSOL has set very high sustainability goals including pursuit of LEED for Neighborhood Development for the entire site, LEED certification for individual buildings Pittsburgh 2030 District performance goals that include 50% reductions in energy and water use, and transportation emissions below national and district baselines by the year 2030, with new construction reaching carbon neutrality by the year 2030,” said Sherrard.

By the time the building was completed, it was under budget, ahead of schedule, with no lawsuits and no major injuries. “We had skepticism from the state [and] from the team, about the feasibility of it, the affordability of it,” said Cieslak. “It’s such a unique structure; so big, so open.”

After a year in design and two years in construction, the project was completed. In July 2010, the arena received LEED certification.

The Penguins also made a commitment to the green movement through the NHL after CONSOL was built. The NHL has seven green partners, including EPA WasteWise, Energy Star, Beyond Sport, Green Sports Alliance, Natural Resource Defense Council, Bonneville Environmental Foundation and Green Power Partnership.

The NHL’s efforts have made the Stanley Cup Final the first ever water-neutral series in league history. The NHL’s commitment to the green movement not only encourages but also operates with the goal of renewable energy, reducing the ecological footprint and greenhouse gas emissions while building long-lasting arenas.

“This project is one example of how the city of Pittsburgh has been leading the way in healthy and high performance buildings.  For example, Pittsburgh has three of the first 13 LEED-certified buildings to ever become LEED-certified in the country, and we rank 14th in the country in the number of LEED-certified buildings.  We’re very proud of that,” said Dr. Aurora Sharrard (VP of Innovation for Green Building Alliance, Pittsburgh’s local chapter of USGBC).

In July 2012, CONSOL was ranked 41st worldwide and 18th in the U.S. in Pollstar’s 2012 rankings, recognizing the Top 100 arenas ticket sales. In June 2012, Venues Today ranked CONSOL Energy Center No. 10 in the world in concert and event gross revenue.

CONSOL remains the only NHL LEED gold certified sports facility in North America. The Penguins are guaranteed to remain at CONSOL for 29.5 years post construction, which leaves 26.5 more useful years left at the arena.

“I think in the end we got a facility that is not only LEED-certified, we ended up with a building that is recognized worldwide,” said Bernard.