Pittsburgh has endeavored for the last 20 years to reverse the environmental damage inflicted by the steel and coal industries, from launching air-and-water quality projects to supporting green building initiatives.
The 2016 Arcadis Sustainability Index recently recognized that work, with Pittsburgh earning high marks in a ranking of 100 cities worldwide based on important quality-of-life and sustainability measures.
The index provides an overview of urban areas working to make their cities cleaner and healthier places to live. The ranking takes a look at how cities balance what the survey calls the three pillars of sustainability: quality of life (people), sound environmental practice (planet) and regional economic health (profit).
Pittsburgh ranked No. 62 globally, No. 18 in North America and No. 15 in the U.S.
“The fact that Pittsburgh is on the list is a nice acknowledgment of what we’ve been trying to accomplish for the last decade,” said Aurora Sharrard, executive director of the Pittsburgh Green Building Association, an organization that promotes green energy practices across the region.
Three of the first 13 buildings to receive Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification after the U.S. Green Building Council launched the program in 1998 were in greater Pittsburgh. The David L. Lawrence Convention Center was the first LEED-certified convention center in the program.
The survey is not a report card of each city, but rather a “peer exchange” that allows city leaders to study factors and learn from other cities, explains Tanya McCoy-Caretti, Arcadis Pennsylvania market leader.
“The goal is to help cities learn from one another on their journey to sustainability,” said McCoy-Caretti, “The European cities ranked higher as they are further along when it comes to energy efficiency and greenhouse initiatives.”
Zurich leads the way as the most sustainable city in the world followed by Singapore, Stockholm, Vienna and London. Well-established European cities made up 16 of the top 20 positions. Johannesburg, Cape Town and Kolkata rounded out the bottom of the list.
The highest-ranking cities in North America were Vancouver (23), New York City (26), Montreal (28), Toronto (33) and Boston (34). Pittsburgh came in ahead of Atlanta (65) and Indianapolis (65) and behind Philadelphia (51) and Baltimore (53).
The index analyzed 32 different indicators that rounded out each city’s sustainability rating, areas such as income equality, education, crime, affordability, energy consumption, drinking water, sanitation, green space, transportation and employment.
Pittsburgh received strong marks in the areas of education, gross domestic product per capita, ease of doing business and providing clean drinking water and good sanitation services.
Arcadis, a global design, engineering and management consulting firm based in Amsterdam, has firsthand knowledge of many of these cities through its work. The firm currently works as a consultant for the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority in the design of environmental infrastructure improvements to the system.
To improve its ranking, Pittsburgh should work on providing more widespread mobile/broadband connectivity, reducing the homicide rate, minimizing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting international tourism, the study says.
Sharrard questioned several of the findings for Pittsburgh. The region’s work to improve greenhouse gas emissions and the recently released metrics by the city of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh p4 team aimed at promoting environmentally sensitive developments may have been overlooked, she notes.
“It is always nice to attempt to infer compliment or recognition in categories where we seemingly do well and confusing when we are not evaluated at a level reflective of the good work we think we are doing locally in other areas,” she said. “Such is the nature of the rankings beast.”
Pittsburgh’s perseverance in this area will be at the forefront of the second 2016 p4 Conference on Oct. 17-18. Organized by the city of Pittsburgh and The Heinz Endowments, the p4 Conference focuses on forging urban development that is sustainable, inclusive and innovative.
McCoy-Caretti explains that Pittsburgh should consider the first year on the list as a baseline from which to start going forward.
“The most interesting thing will be to see where Pittsburgh lands next year,” she said. “The city of Pittsburgh has taken terrific steps in the last 12-15 months that were not included in the data.”
The cities chosen in the ranking were those that offered sufficient available data to allow for an international comparison and was not a reflection of Arcadis’ ongoing work in the cities, she adds.