Green workplace

Across the board, we love to take action in Southwestern Pennsylvania. In its first two years combined, Sustainable Pittsburgh’s Green Workplace Challenge prompted nearly 100 regional employers to voluntarily save $7.4 million in energy costs.

Now in its third year, the friendly competition is expanding, this time to welcome K-12 schools to make improvements in energy, water, waste and transportation usage.

And so far four local schools, including Pittsburgh Public Schools, have joined over 50 businesses, nonprofits, universities and local governments, says Matt Mehalik, program manager at Sustainable Pittsburgh.

The deadline for employers to sign up is January 31, 2015.

Mehalik calls the challenge a “choose your own adventure for how to make progress. It’s a large commitment for anyone who signs up,” he says.

During the challenge, organizations focus on doable improvements, he says. The goal is for organizations to track progress in terms of saving energy, water, waste, reduce air pollutants and more, while providing a positive business case, showing that actions are saving money and bolstering revenue.

“We encourage people to develop their capabilities using basic measuring tools,” he says.

Those tools – included in a guidebook with over 240 “action items” – offer guidelines for making improvements. One is the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager software for tracking 12 months of past energy usage. Another is the EPA’s waste assessment tool that helps with waste management issues like what to do with electronic waste and general information about composting.

Another tool provides commuter assistance like finding ride sharing,  locating bus routes and measuring distances traveled within the work day. Progress is updated monthly on an online leader board.

Last year, the University of Pittsburgh won the competition in the university category. Its primary goal was to engage the University’s community of faculty, staff, and students by increasing awareness of Pitt’s efforts to improve sustainability on campus.  Pitt entered both baseline and current energy data for five buildings into the Energy Star Portfolio Manager that provided an energy utilization index, a metric used to compare energy consumption per square foot.

“Overall, the five buildings achieved an electricity reduction of approximately 1.9 million kilowatt hours between the baseline (June 2012-May 2013) and program (June 2013-May 2014) year,” says Laura Zullo, senior manager, energy initiatives at Pitt’s Facilities Management Division.

The University also provided incentives for alternative transportation, installed energy efficient windows and green roofs, upgraded lighting, recycled, instituted tray-free dining and many more, adds Zullo.

Not surprising, trophies at last year’s award banquet were made of recycled glass, says Mehalik.

To help participants with their initiatives, Sustainable Pittsburgh offers monthly workshops. The next, “Making the Business Case: Energy Savings, Financial Opportunities, and GWC Success” is January 30 at 8:30 a.m. at the New Hazlett Theater.

“It doesn’t take that much to get started. Folks find it’s helpful to have a helpful hand to get things going,” says Mehalik

Laurie Bailey is a freelance writer who has reported for many local publications. When she isn't writing she serves as a media consultant for nonprofits and other local companies.