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Friday, July 18, 2008

Pittsburgh region still baby stepping its way towards sustainability

Back in June Mayor Luke Ravenstahl received praise for creating a $100,000 Green Trust Fund that would be managed by the city's to-be-hired Sustainability coordinator. Question - why are we supposed to get excited over $100k for green initiatives? Is this a joke? First off, during the first mayoral debate in September of last year Mayor Luke stated that he was hiring a sustainability coordinator for the city. We are almost one year away from his statement and the city has yet to hire this individual. Like most of the green initiatives we have discussed here in Pittsburgh, such as converting the city's fleet of trucks to biodiesel, there is no sense of urgency to follow through, and this also goes for any legislative measures that would provide incentives for things like green building.

I am tired of the baby steps. If you look around to other cities that have done more than just talk about "going green", you will find some practical measures that have been taking to reduce energy consumption, congestion, and air pollution, things that increase the quality of life in a region. Some of these green initiatives, like green building, are happening here, although, to be fair we have slipped in the green building rankings to #5 due to the lack of support from our government. The problem is that we cannot walk around town and see with our own eyes that Pittsburgh is committed to being a green and sustainable city. The problem is that a Green Pittsburgh is not visible. The things we can see are lot of press releases, and speeches, and a mayor who is reluctant to give up bottled water in the city-county building, a building that happens to be one of the least energy efficient structures imaginable (they use the AC units during the middle of winter!).

The following is an example of what I'm talking about. When I travel to other cities I can usually tell if they really care about the environment, energy efficiency, going green, etc simply by noticing a few things in their region's airport. And let's face it, the airport is usually the first impression the city makes on someone visiting for the first time. Here is Pittsburgh, based on our airport I would give Pittsburgh an 'F' as a grade for showing the world our commitment to going green. The airport has two monitors over by the passenger trams that show a loop of a presentation that shows off all the great things Pittsburgh has to offer. At one point, the words "A green leader" flash across the scream. I let out a "ha!", and then proceed to the tram, which took me over to the baggage claim area. During several of my trips I have searched the airport for any clues of recycling or sustainability. One would figure that all the newspapers and plastic bottles travelers and employees go through on an annual basis could end up generating revenue for the county if recycled. Well, I finally found a recycling can in the Pittsburgh international airport, at one of the ends of hall in the baggage claim area. It is easy to miss. Here is the picture.

First thing I noticed is that, besides being the only recycling container in the entire airport, it was not right next to a trash can, which doesn't make sense because if you're going to throw something away it's nice to have the option to recycle right there by the trash can.

Now, the following week I flew to Kansas City for a few days. I'm not saying that Kansas City is a green leader or anything, but at least the officials there are conscious of recycling and it's benefits, as evidenced by the recycling bins throughout the airport that are shown below:

Is it too much to ask our county executive to spend a little itty bit of his drink tax revenues to fund a county wide recycling initiative? Think of all the waste that is thrown out in our airport, and our parks, and other areas where the county could easily collect and recycle plastic and glass bottles, and newspapers. The revenues the county could receive for the recycles would be more than enough to pay for this initiative. To the right is a photo I took at one of our county park's golf courses. On a hot summer Sunday afternoon - how many bottles of water/soda happen to get thrown into a garbage can out on the golf course?

Too bad it all ends up in a land fill!

Am I asking for too much? Heck no, but until our leaders are willing to put some public policy behind some of the great ideas from local thought leaders and organizations like the Pittsburgh Green Building Alliance, this region will continue to severely lag other regions who have made sustainability a strategic imperative.

1 comment:

YERT Mark said...

Hey there!

I recently landed in Pittsburgh after wrapping up a year's worth of travels geared towards personalizing sustainability through fun environmental videos. I've seen all sorts of cities and spoken with their green coordinators and citizens and even a handful of mayors, and would love to share those stories with folks here in Pittsburgh - hopefully to alert them to all of the low hanging fruit available on the green front. Do you or any of your readers know where I might be able to give a presentation about our adventure? Possibly schools, or in businesses, or for local leaders? Bill Peduto was a big supporter of our project all year... You can read more about it at YERT.com. (That's short for Your Environmental Road Trip).

After reading through your blog, this seemed like a great place to put this inquiry. Thanks for all you do!

Hope to hear from you or anybody interested soon!

A New Pittsburgher,
Mark Dixon