City of Pittsburgh’s Role in a Sustainable and Resilient Economy: The Inside Scoop

grantervinThe City of Pittsburgh’s Department of Innovation and Performance aims to transform Pittsburgh into a world-class city through the intersection of technology, sustainability, and performance. Grant Ervin, the City’s Chief Resilience Officer, leads the Department and we had the opportunity to pick his brain.

How do these three approaches work together?

They are mutually supportive. Sustainability is an effort to develop a standard and process for continuous improvement. We have worked to establish performance baselines. From energy efficiency to civic participation in the work that we do, we are taking measured approaches to develop key performance indicators and look at results through the lenses of sustainability and resilience.

Technology is an enabling factor, and sometimes an integrator of data or systems, that allows us to improve decision making and resource allocation. The Department of Innovation and Performance allows sustainability to cross silos and serve as a resource to other departments, but also extend an outward focus to serve as a resource for communities or city-wide policy objectives as they pertain to sustainability.

How is sustainability a priority for the City of Pittsburgh?

Internally, we try to improve the efficiency of City operations, like fleet management, facilities operations, and employee engagement. We also consider city-wide impacts and how local government can help support the development or preservation of a more sustainable and resilient place. Externally, we integrate policy and investment perspectives that can influence land use, transportation, or other infrastructure decisions.

How does the City support Pittsburgh’s businesses in becoming more sustainable through performance, place, and culture?

The City provides a platform and service for businesses. From infrastructure and code information, to policies and local government services, we provide a supportive environment for businesses that put sustainable decision-making up front. We also recognize that transparent and available data helps support a sustainable business culture. Better understanding of information related to building energy performance, recycling, location efficiency, and transportation access can help drive growth and development. The Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center and Uptown / West Oakland EcoInnovation District are two initiatives that empower a more supportive environment to drive decision-making.

What key projects are you working on that will continue to help local businesses, governments, and residents achieve more efficient and healthy places and organizations?

There are a lot. Let me focus on two.

We are working to reimagine and develop resources around district heating and cooling and microgrid solutions, which can reduce operations and maintenance costs for building operators. Our Energy Collaboration Pittsburgh program with the U.S. Department of Energy, National Energy Technology Lab, University of Pittsburgh, and several local utilities demonstrates that technologies like combined heat and power add a layer of security and resilience to critical infrastructure like hospitals. Local energy generation and delivery is more efficient and has less impact on the environment.

We are also creating a city-wide building energy transparency policy that can help provide a supportive data environment for building energy consumption. The policy would create a pathway for improved resource allocation, a platform to create open-data-driven decision-making, and optimize utility resources for building operations. As a result, we would help create a valuable added benefit for supporting local technology and providing value to the commercial real estate market.

How does sustainability directly impact our region’s business economy?

It is a pivotal time in our region and the global business climate. Issues like climate change, globalization, and urbanization are mega trends that are impacting business decisions in both macro and micro terms. To lead in the face of these shifts, to acknowledge that leading companies and regions are confronting these issues because the value proposition is so great, presents a unique opportunity to encourage innovation and leverage the resources and capacity of the Pittsburgh region. Placing sustainability and resilience at the forefront of business decision-making helps to position our region’s economy as a strong global player.

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