Ben Kamber

Pittsburgh has come quite a long way from the smoky city of only a few decades ago. Robert Vagt is President of the Heinz Endowments and Organizer of the Breathe Project, a coalition dedicated to clearing up the air to support physical health and a more robust economy. Citing environmentally conscious actions taken by companies such as U.S. Steel Corporation and The PNC Financial Services Group, Vagt encourages Pittsburgh to be proud of its accomplishments, and spurs individuals and companies to continue to work together to improve the quality of our air.

How does the local chapter of a charity deal when its national parent organization is engulfed in controversy? Kathy Purcell, Executive Director of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure in Pittsburgh, discusses the immediate effects of the decisions that were made, and the charitable, life-saving work that Susan G. Komen, Pittsburgh continues to do every day.

Eric Shiner, Director of the Andy Warhol Museum, explains how the timeless pop art icon has become a global ambassador for the region. Shiner discusses what’s in the works locally in coming months for the museum, along with Warhol exhibitions travelling internationally as far as Singapore.

Our Region’s Business” airs Sundays at 11 a.m. on WPXI-TV. Hosted by the Allegheny Conference’s Bill Flanagan, the 30-minute business affairs program is co-produced with Cox Broadcasting. The program is rebroadcast on PCNC-TV at 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays, and at 3:30 p.m. Mondays. It also airs Sundays on WJAC-TV (Johnstown-Altoona) at 6 a.m. and WTOV-TV (Wheeling-Steubenville) at 6:30 a.m.

Bill Flanagan

Congrats to Highlands High School and their robot, Honeybadger, the Grand Champion of the 2012 Southwestern Pennsylvania BotsIQ competition April 14 at Westmoreland County Community College. I’ve emceed the finals of the event since its inception seven years ago. Back then just six schools battled. This year hundreds of students from more than 40 schools competed from all over the Pittsburgh region.

The idea is to get young people interested in science, technology, education and math by giving them an incentive to build and battle with robots. The teams have to do more than simply design, manufacture, and operate the “bots;” they must document all their work, just as engineers do in real manufacturing settings. Corporate partners who work with the students, their parents and teachers to build the best bot. The local chapter of the NTMA, the National Tool and Machining Association, brought the event to our region to get out in front of the aging of our workforce and introduce a new generation to the thrill of making – and, yes, destroying – things.

Plum Senior High School Students posing with their champion robot “Still ‘N Shock 2"

By all accounts, the strategy is working. Surveys of the youngsters who have participated in BotsIQ indicate that they’re more likely to choose engineering as a career. All of this is all the more important given the growth in manufacturing jobs in our region. Last year, more than 50 manufacturers expanded in our region or were attracted to set up shop here. In addition, manufacturing employment is growing faster here than it is across the state or nation. A lot of the same skills apply to the energy industries that are expanding in our region. We are going to need to educate, train and attract a lot more skilled workers if we’re going to keep up.

Although Highlands took the top prize because of the performance of their bot and their attention to detail in documentation, Plum Senior High School’s “Still ‘N Shock 2” won the actual competition, beating Kiski Area High School’s “Bruce Wayne” in the final match of the day. But a three-way tie for “Best Sportsmanship” is worth noting. Eastern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center, Hempfield Area High School and Mapletown Junior/Senior High School were honored by their fellow competitors for their willingness to help other teams and make sure that every bot that came to compete was able to compete. It’s an award in the true spirit of the power of Pittsburgh to innovate and collaborate to make things happen.

You can find out more about BotsIQ at their website, You can also check out a video (below) I produced at last year’s event.  Better yet, encourage your local high school or career & technical center to create a team and battle for bot supremacy. Sure, it’s fun to win a competition like this, but it’s even better to participate in a program that’s going to make our region a better competitor in the future.

Bonnie Pfister

Washington & Jefferson College this week opens its Center for Energy Policy and Management, bringing together scientists, industry leaders, elected officials, advocates and citizens to shape policy while working to minimize environmental impact and promote economic growth.

The center will be home to the W&J Energy Security Index, a benchmark for measuring the energy security of the United States developed at the college by two faculty economists.

On Monday, April 23, the center is hosting a free summit entitled “Taking Control of Our Energy Future.” The event will feature the Allegheny Conference’s own Bill Flanagan, as well as Susan Eisenhower of the Eisenhower Institute, Newsweek‘s Eleanor Clift, former PA Secretary of Environmental Protection Kathleen McGinty, as well as discussions by several elected officials, nonprofit researchers and industry leaders.

For additional information, contact Karen Oosterhous at or 724-223-5294.

Phil Cynar

On Sunday, April 22, we marked the 42nd anniversary of Earth Day – a commemoration and a call to action to cherish the planet and reduce the impact that humans have on the environment.

Pittsburgh is a place that knows well how industry and its associated pollution can degrade air and water resources and endanger quality of life. We also know well that remediation is possible, and now Pittsburgh is a model for environmental transformation and the place where innovators are imagining and engineering sustainable solutions for 21st-century energy challenges.

Among these solutions are systems that more efficiently balance how buildings use energy, reducing – or even eliminating – unnecessary or wasteful energy consumption.

Opening its doors to the public on May 23 will be the Pittsburgh’s region’s newest “green” building:  the Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL) at historic Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Oakland.

Adding to the excitement of this grand opening is the fact that the CSL is an uber-green building, designed to meet the Living Building Challenge. When it opens, the CSL will be largest operational building pursuing Living Building status in the U.S. and one of the greenest buildings on the planet. The Living Building Challenge is the most advanced measure of sustainability in the built environment possible today, even surpassing the highest LEED certification.

The CSL at Phipps will be a net-zero water/energy facility, which is required for Living Building status.  This means that with regard to energy, the CSL will produce all of its own renewable energy. It will also have water independence by capturing all precipitation, managing all storm water runoff and re-using wastewater.

Living Building Challenge creator Jason McLennan was in Pittsburgh recently to talk about what this achievement at Phipps says about Pittsburgh and what it means to the region’s green building and sustainability leadership.

Watch the video below to hear his thoughts on a building designed, as he describes, to “operate as elegantly and efficiently as a flower” – which is simply eloquent, given what Phipps is all about. Happy Earth Day, Pittsburgh. You’ve come a long way and have a lot about which to be proud.

Bonnie Pfister

In honor of Earth Day this April 22, the Pittsburgh International Airport is sharing sustainability and recycling awareness information with travelers on Friday, April 20.

Photo Copyright Darrell Sapp/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Following a 2010 energy audit of the airport, the Allegheny County Airport Authority developed an energy savings plan, with implementation underway. It includes more energy efficient lighting, escalator motors that automatically power down when not in use, upgrades to electric doors on the baggage-handling areas and a new employee parking location that eliminated the need for shuttle buses.

“The Airport Authority is dedicated to sustainable initiatives, resulting in a great reduction in environmental impacts while also enhancing efficiencies at Pittsburgh International Airport,” said authority Chairman David Minnotte.

More specifics on the airport authority’s energy savings plan:

Brighter and Greener Lighting – Pittsburgh International Airport installed new LED lighting in the parking garage. The three-story garage has 2,100 parking spaces and also houses the rental car agencies on its first floor. These lights are brighter than previous and use 73 percent less energy, a 2.16 million kilowatt-per-hour (kWh) savings annually.

Conditional Power for Escalators — Digital power conditioners have been installed on moving escalators, which regulates the amount of power supplied to the motor based on the load — power supply is increased and decreased based on the amount of people on the escalator. These power conditioners are expected to save 137,160 kWh each year.

Quicker Closing Doors and HVAC Control Upgrades — An opportunity for significant energy savings presented itself when analyzing the frequent trips of airline-operated baggage carts driving in and out of the buildings. High-speed overhead doors and baggage-handling HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) control upgrades were installed at the airside and landside terminals. A total of 22 doors were installed, which automatically open and close as vehicles enter and leave the terminals.

In addition, the HVAC system has been integrated with the high-speed doors to optimize energy efficiency by regulating the operation of heaters in the vicinity of the doors when they are in the open position during the heating season. Also, the overhead doors automatically open when the temperature reaches 60 degrees to reduce the door operating cost. This project resulted in an estimated savings of 1.8 million kWh annually.

Eliminating Employee Shuttle Buses — The employee parking lot was relocated to the former E gates adjacent to the Landside Terminal eliminating the need to bus employees back and forth to parking. The measure saves fuel, minimizes emissions and adds convenience for employees. The environmental impact is significant. The employee buses averaged 400 hours of busing per week and burned an average of 2,550 gallons of diesel fuel per month.

Other planned improvements include airside and landside terminal lighting upgrades, runway and centerline light upgrades, and HVAC control upgrades. When the energy savings project is complete, the airport authority expects to save 19.3 million kWh annually.

If you’re a fleet manager and have been considering whether a switch to natural gas powered vehicles makes sense for you, then you’re in luck. The Allegheny Conference on Community Development is making a number of resources available to help you in this decision.

Part of the Conference’s new natural gas vehicle website is a three-part savings calculator that offers fleet managers a tool to evaluate the financial case for adopting natural gas vehicles. Coupled with this is a white paper report, Encouraging Natural Gas Vehicles in Pennsylvania, which takes a look at the opportunities and challenges of using natural gas vehicles as a transportation fuel.

Key finding of the report include:

  • The ready availability of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale and other shale formations has shattered the traditional relationship between natural gas and oil prices.
  • The widening price differential, with crude oil trading at 48.8 times the price of natural gas in the last week of March 2012, can make converting to natural gas pay for itself in particular types of fleets.
  • Lack of natural gas fueling infrastructure (not enough available stations) remains the biggest hurdle.
  • Depending on their operations, natural gas vehicles may make sense for some kinds of public and commercial fleets.

If you’d like more information, check out the full report and head over to the website where additional resources and background materials are available.