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Green Workplace Challenge expands in 2nd year

| Sunday, June 23, 2013, 10:29 p.m.

The goal is to outdo one another in “green” practices, and Pittsburgh-area businesses, governments, nonprofit organizations and schools have a year to do so in a competition that starts Wednesday.

Sustainable Pittsburgh will kick off its second Green Workplace Challenge, though some activities started June 1.This year, nonprofits, colleges and municipal governments can compete against businesses to see who can best improve energy, water, waste and transportation efficiency, said Ginette Walker Vinski, spokeswoman for Sustainable Pittsburgh.

“Last year was a pilot and it was only open to businesses,” Walker Vinski said. “We had such a great response last year that we decided to open it up.”

The challenge uses programs to measure energy and water consumption, waste production and transportation efficiency.

A company could use the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star Portfolio Manager, for example, to compare electricity, water and natural gas usage to the past year's and earn points for establishing a baseline for resources and comparing the company to industry averages. Commissioning an energy audit earns more points, as do such actions as generating electricity on-site or purchasing power from renewable sources and reducing overall consumption.

The same holds for waste reduction, or for using the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission's CommuteInfo tool to measure how employees commute to work and make improvements in their carbon footprint.

The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium observed last year's challenge, counting points but not competing, said Marcia Marks, curator of conservation education.

“It fits into our mission of animal conservation,” she said. “If we don't do things to save the planet, we're not helping humans or animals.”

This year, Marks hopes to get points for a wind turbine the zoo installed to provide some power for its ticket booths, and for solar panels that will be installed.

“Sustainability was the No. 1priority that came out of our long-range comprehensive planning process a couple of years ago,” said Chelsea Puff, community projects administrator in Cranberry, which plans to participate. “Really, the biggest benefit is how it leads to the betterment of the township.”

Angela Garcia, deputy director of Green Tree-based nonprofit Global Links, said joining the challenge will provide a chance to use practices that Sustainable Pittsburgh recommended to retrofit its new Trumbull Drive building, a former industrial warehouse, to be more sustainable.

Walker Vinski said the competition's goals are to at least double participants' total water and energy savings over last year. Sustainable Pittsburgh wants to sign up at least 100 participants and use the contest to spotlight outstanding organizations. The winners in each category will receive a hand-crafted award — last year's winners got trophies produced by Millvale-based Red Star Ironworks, and runners-up got medals from Grove City's Wendell August Forge.

Last year's 50-plus participants saved more than 67 million kilowatt hours of electricity and 90.7 million gallons of water.

“We work with a lot of other companies on green practices, so the competition was a really nice framework for us to put those things together,” said Christine Mondor, principal at Friendship-based evolveEA, last year's challenge winner. “... It was interesting for us to see where small companies can find it easier or more difficult than big ones.”

Matthew Santoni is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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