Meet Lindsay Baxter, the city's new sustainability coordinator. | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Meet Lindsay Baxter, the city's new sustainability coordinator.

At the City of Pittsburgh's orientations for new full-time employees, the first person to address the new hires is Lindsay Baxter. To the city's sustainability coordinator -- the first to hold this brand-new job -- that's a measure of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's commitment to greener operations.

But Baxter faces many challenges. Her long-term goal is reducing city government's projected greenhouse-gas emissions 20 percent by 2023 -- all while improving services, saving taxpayers money and bettering working conditions for city employees.

Baxter, 25, just earned her master's degree in environmental science at Duquesne University. But the Shadyside resident started work in October with some advantages. Working for the nonprofit group Clean Air -- Cool Cities, she coordinated last year's Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan, where she essentially wrote what has now become her own to-do list. The CAP is a multi-year plan for challenging government, businesses, universities and citizens to fight global warming by using fewer resources.

According to CAP, city government accounts for just 4 percent of Pittsburgh's greenhouse-gas emissions, so much of Baxter's impact will be as a role model.

Her turf encompasses all city departments, plus community outreach on things like curbside recycling. Her priorities include helping the Public Works Department improve efficiency for street lights, which along with traffic signals generate nearly half of the GHG emissions from municipal operations (not counting the housing or water-and-sewer authorities). Baxter says some form of LED technology is likely, pending evaluations of light quality and maintenance costs for different models.

This spring, Baxter plans to seek a contractor to energy-audit her own headquarters: Downtown's massive, 92-year-old City-County Building. Results might suggest things like more occupancy sensors (which extinguish lights when no one's around) and HVAC upgrades. "If we could make [the building] super-efficient [and] healthy for its employees, it could really be a showcase for other building owners around the country, to see you don't have to have new construction to be efficient," says Baxter.

Some projects are less obvious. Among the city's biggest GHG emitters is the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority. Pumping 70 million gallons a day, the PWSA accounts for 13 percent of city government's energy use. Because its pumps use electricity mostly from coal-fired plants, the authority emits 26 percent of city government's GHGs. Possible improvements include variable-frequency drives, which can reduce energy use for individual pumps by up to 50 percent.

Other projects include: planting 20,000 trees over five years; using a federal Solar Cities grant to help fit a selected city-owned building with solar panels; and continued review of municipal codes to make building practices greener.

A symbol of both the promise and the limitations of Baxter's job are the City-County Building's 10 refrigerated vending machines. "Vending machines run very inefficiently," she wrote in the CAP; annually, they can average 3,500 kilowatt hours each, enough to power a whole household.

The CAP recommends the Vending Miser, a commercial device which, by halving consumption, can pay for itself in a year or two. (Baxter has already divested several machines of their lamps, which can eat up to one-third of a machine's energy.)

What about eliminating the machines entirely? "Getting rid of vending machines is not something that I see that would be a big hit for us," Baxter says.

Still, there's plenty of other low-hanging fruit. "A lot of cities and organizations have a lot of success with simply putting up little signs that say, 'Please turn off the lights when you leave,'" Baxter says. And city workers are sure to have suggestions: "We're thinking about ways to really get this message of sustainability out to all of our employees, so that it's not just one person thinking about it, that we're all thinking about it in our day-to-day jobs."

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