Green initiative offers employers bragging rights for sustainability | Slag Heap
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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Green initiative offers employers bragging rights for sustainability

Posted By on Thu, Aug 18, 2011 at 11:10 AM

Plenty of publications run a "Best place to work" contest. But now companies have another title to vie for: the most sustainable place to work.

The Pittsburgh Green Workplace Challenge will run through September until October 2012 for businesses in Southwestern Pennsylvania. This year's competition is a pilot program of Sustainable Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Climate Initiative, but program manager Matthew Mehalik, of Sustainable Pittsburgh, hopes it will expand to other businesses and sectors in the future.

Mehalik notes that "until now there has not been a significant regional initiative that permits companies to measure their energy efficiency efforts, using agreed-upon national standards, in ways that permit them to communicate their achievements with credibility," he says. "Credibility comes from establishing a baseline of performance followed by standardized, monthly reporting for one year of energy, water, and gas usage so that clear achievements can be measured."

For example, one element in the challenge guide encourages businesses to create an Energy Star portfolio that will be monitored by GWC staff, to establish a baseline of energy and water use, utility costs and carbon emissions, then identify ways to reduce those and ultimately achieve Energy Star certification -- an EPA certification for energy management.

"Businesses do not like to be involved in activities for which they cannot make credible claims about the impacts of those activities. This competition helps businesses measure and take credit for actions that they can then communicate if they so wish," Mehalik says.

The guide also lays out other suggested action items, like creating an internal green team, encouraging bicycle commuting among employees, distributing a green newsletter and conducting an energy audit. Staff of Sustainable Pittsburgh will monitor and verify a business's progress, and companies earn "points" for each step they complete. Top scorers will be recognized at the end of the challenge, and GWC staff will hold monthly workshops on methods and suggestions to make measurable changes.

"Any business that participates is going to benefit," says Ginette Walker Vinski, of Sustainable Pittsburgh. "Once a business starts incorporating some of these ideas, they will start to become more efficient, and efficiency equals cost savings."

Citing a 2008 Pittsburgh Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory, the guide notes that "commercial buildings represent 47% of the city's gas output -- more than transportation and residential emissions combined ... Pittsburgh's commercial sector is ripe for improvement."

Mehalik says its too early to tell what impact the competition will have on lowering the city's gas input, for example, but that the competition is a critical starting point for the effort. "it will take the efforts of many businesses, as well as efforts from other regional sectors, for us to meet our goals. The good news is that along the way, people who engage in energy savings activities also can save a large quantity of money on their operational costs, and that can serve as direct investment for our region's businesses."

Companies can register until Sept. 30.

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