Advancing Sustainable Practices in the Region

Nov 2, 2017 Environment

Through its years of engagement with businesses, municipalities, and nonprofits, Sustainable Pittsburgh has maintained a finger on the pulse of the region’s sustainability challenges and opportunities.

Today, the organization is seeing a continued increase in awareness and interest in sustainability practices across the region.

Court Gould, executive director of Sustainable Pittsburgh, says there is “optimism” in terms of the acceleration point for sustainability. “We have reached a time internationally and domestically where investors, portfolio managers, consumers, and trustees of companies, are readily gathering information about a company's sustainability performance, or ESG, which stands for environmental measures, social measures, and governance measures.”

“Those companies that score well tend to do well,” adds Gould. “Particularly in terms of risk mitigation, innovation, and employee engagement, and access to capital. In a global and domestic environment of scarce resources and community pressures, companies that are good actors tend to rate well, and those who aren't don't rate as well.”

In fact, a 2016 survey by MIT Sloan Management Review and The Boston Consulting Group reported that more than 70 percent of investors say sustainability is central to their investment decisions. 

CEOs for Sustainability

Recognizing the strong link between business sustainability performance, financial performance, and regional quality of life, corporate CEOs from throughout the Pittsburgh region have recently established the CEOs for Sustainability executive council. 

Co-chaired by founding participants WindStax Energy CEO Ron Gdovic and Covestro LLC President Jerry MacCleary, CEOs for Sustainability provides a forum for CEOs of the region’s leading companies to share best practices in sustainable business and collaborate in growing the ranks of businesses around the region that pursue sustainability. 

“CEOs for Sustainability provides a place for companies whose leaders are embedding a culture and practice of sustainability throughout management, operations, facilities, product development, customer satisfaction, and more,” adds Gould. “It gives them a place to grow their ranks, to interact, and to learn from outside as well.”

“The market is shifting to favor companies that are high performers in the areas of environmental, social, and governance responsibility,” says Gdovic.  “Businesses focusing on these core areas gain competitive advantages in terms of winning contracts, customers, employees, and reputational benefits.  The benefits for long-term financial performance are proven, from better stock valuation and access to capital to market access and revenue growth.” 

“Today’s CEOs for Sustainability understand that for Pittsburgh’s economy to thrive into the future, its business community must continue to take the lead in advancing even more sustainable business policies and practices for the benefit of individual companies, as well as the region as a whole,” says MacCleary.

Energy Efficiency

Another initiative being promoted by Sustainable Pittsburgh is the development of a regional energy plan and strategy in order to rise to the imperative of combating climate change while creating jobs and boosting the economy through smart energy innovations that deliver cleaner more healthy and just communities that enable all to live and work to their full productive potential.

“During the Energy for the Power of 32 event that was held a few years ago, energy efficiency was identified as a regional imperative to reduce cost, reduce environmental burden, reduce load on the grid, and ensure resiliency,” explains Gould. “The project to develop a regional energy efficiency plan and strategy is moving forward in the hands of the Tri-University Energy Alliance, which has a special committee led by Deborah D. Stine, professor of the Practice, Engineering and Public Policy at CMU.”

Paralleling this effort, more than 40 energy professionals convened in early October to start to deliberate on a plan and strategy for growing the production and consumption of renewable energy across the region.

“Renewable energy and energy efficiency go hand in hand,” says Gould. “You need the latter to make the former viable. You need more efficiency to be more in step with renewable energy.”

Gould points out that internationally and locally, companies of many sizes are declaring ambitious renewable energy use or acquisition goals that keep us on track to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Accord. “Right  here in our region, we have excellent renewable energy providers who are seeking more long term financial commitment in the form of power purchase agreements, known as PPAs, to expand their generating capacities, clearing the ground for green jobs related to large scale wind powered installations, hydroelectric installations on our three rivers, and large scale solar farms as well.”

Sustainable Pittsburgh Challenge

A perfect example of companies stepping up their sustainability practices is Sustainable Pittsburgh’s Sustainable Pittsburgh Challenge (formerly known as the Green Workplace Challenge), a yearlong, friendly competition among employers to see who can make the most improvements in in energy, water, waste and transportation, as well as social equity and community initiatives. This year, more than 90 employers from throughout southwestern Pennsylvania completed the competition, twice the number from the previous year. In total, these participants took 2,009 green and sustainable “actions,” including switching out less efficient light bulbs, implementing a recruitment policy to encourage diversity and inclusion, offering employees paid time off to volunteer in the community, establishing recycling programs, and encouraging carpooling. 

The competition resulted in some impressive savings.  Just one example: participants saved more than 33 million gallons of water—enough to cover the playing surface of PNC Park to a depth of 46.3 feet!

Sustainable Pittsburgh Challenge winners

Sustainable Certification

In another positive move for the region, 76 municipalities in the region — representing almost 3 million people — have been certified, through the state-wide Sustainable Pennsylvania Community Certification, a project of the Pennsylvania Municipal League and Sustainable Pittsburgh.  The voluntary performance recognition program helps municipalities achieve their sustainability goals to save money, conserve resources, and encourage innovation.  

Gould says that it is noteworthy to point out that the certification is recognized in grant decision criteria by the State Department of Community and Economic Development. He proudly adds that 97 restaurants have earned certification in the Sustainable Pittsburgh Restaurant program and 235 small businesses have earned a level of designation in the Sustainable Small Business Designation program.

Social License to Operate

When asked what’s next at Sustainable Pittsburgh, Gould replies “continuing to accelerate the sustainability trend, and making the business case for sustainable business practices, whether in a government body, a small business, a restaurant, a large corporation, a university or college, or a neighborhood development organization.”

The business case is becoming increasingly apparent on the triple bottom line —corporate profits, environmental integrity, and social equity. This relates to the popular “social license to operate,” the ongoing approval and acceptance of a company or a program within the local community and from other stakeholders.

“In our view,” says Gould, “sustainability is a process of continuous improvement that takes into account equally environmental issues, social issues, economic issues, and continually educating and looking out over the horizon and to be able to change in time to move on opportunities and get out of the way of threats such as those increasingly being signaled by nature (heat waves, fires, floods, invasive species, rising tides, drought, and more) as fueled by climate change.”

To learn more about Sustainable Pittsburgh, its mission and programs, visit www.sustainablepittsburgh.org