Sustainable Pittsburgh
Sustainable Pittsburgh

Is your New Year’s resolution to reduce your environmental impact? If so, the timing is right to enter your workplace in the 2018 Sustainable Pittsburgh Challenge.

Hosted by Sustainable Pittsburgh, the yearlong event encourages various organizations in the region — including businesses, nonprofits, schools and local governments — to further their sustainable business practices. Previously known as the Pittsburgh Green Workplace Challenge, the free, open competition enables organizations to track their sustainability performance and receive recognition for their achievements.

“Sustainability can be such a broad topic,” says Autumn Secrest, sustainable business program manager at Sustainable Pittsburgh.

She adds that the challenge makes it simpler by breaking it down into seven different categories: Air Quality, Materials Management, Social Equity, Engagement, Energy, Water and Transportation. Organizations work with Sustainable Pittsburgh to customize their strategies by choosing from more than 250 actions from within the seven categories. They then earn points for each action they submit and receive awards based on their overall performance.

Secrest points out that actions can range from changing to more energy efficient lighting to reducing the number of cars on the road by creating a vanpool that employees can use to travel to work.

At the end of the competition, participants are recognized during a special ceremony, where they receive awards in designated divisions. For the first time ever, Sustainable Pittsburgh will give a People’s Choice Award to an organization that completes an especially inspiring or innovative action over the course of the year.

“Participating in [last year’s competition] helped us grow our positive social and environmental performance and it’s great to be a part of the larger effort to make that impact in Pittsburgh,” says JoAnn Rizzo of AE Works, a Pittsburgh architecture firm that won the Small Business Division award. “For any company or organization that is thinking about participating, I highly recommend it.”

To help them achieve their sustainability goals, organizations rely on a support system that includes workshops and networking events that encourage them to interact with fellow participants.

“One of the biggest benefits I’ve seen people gain from the challenge is that organizations can connect with and learn from one another,” says Secrest. “They’re able to exchange ideas and practices. That has been very valuable for a lot of our participants.”

Since its launch in 2011, 250 unique organizations, including large businesses, nonprofits, schools and local governments, have participated in the Challenge over the past four competitions.

“When you see what these organizations have done over the course of a few years, it’s pretty incredible,” says Ginette Walker Vinski, communications director for Sustainable Pittsburgh. She adds that their efforts have saved enough water to fill Heinz Field to a depth of 230 feet, which translates to more than 100 million gallons.

Secrest points out that the competition makes organizations realize just how much they can save by reducing their energy and water use. In a press release, Sustainable Pittsburgh claims that over the course of the past four competitions, organizations have saved a total of $10 million in energy costs — enough to power more than 10 percent of single-family homes in the City of Pittsburgh for one year.

“We see [the challenge] benefiting Southwestern Pennsylvania in that it will help make the region more sustainable, more equitable and reduce our environmental impact overall,” says Secrest.

So far, more than 70 organizations have signed up for this year’s challenge.

Interested in joining the Sustainable Pittsburgh Challenge? The deadline to sign up is January 31, 2018, and the competition runs until January 31, 2019.

Amanda Waltz

Amanda Waltz is a freelance journalist and film critic whose work has appeared locally in numerous publications. She writes for The Film Stage and is the founder and editor of Steel Cinema, a blog dedicated to covering Pittsburgh film culture. She currently lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and oversized house cat.