Pittsburgh nonprofits begin to focus on green

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The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and Global Links are by mission already in the green movement. Both nonprofits divert supplies that would otherwise be wasted to people in need.

But they have amped up their efforts to reduce waste in-house, and that side mission inspired a recent workshop Downtown for other nonprofits.

"Reduce Your Use for Good," sponsored by Direct Energy and Pop City Media, attracted staff and consultants from about 20 nonprofits, including Venture Outdoors, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force, Hillman Family Foundations, the Garfield Community Farm, Carnegie Mellon University, Attack Theater, Family Services of Western Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh Filmmakers.

Christine Mondor, a principal at evolve EA, an environmentally centered architecture and design firm, joined Kathleen Hower, CEO and co-founder of Global Links, and Sam DeStephano, repack manager for the food bank, on the panel.

"Our core donor base's concern is that we get food to people, but we can't do that in the long haul if we're not sustainable in our own practice," Mr. DeStephano said.

In 1999, the food bank built one of the first LEED certified buildings in the country -- a 94,000-square-foot warehouse in Duquesne out of which 27 million pounds of food are distributed in 11 counties every year.

He said 25 percent of the donated food has to be inspected, sorted and packaged, and some portion is not fit for consumption. While the food bank is recycling more, planning a composting system and fueling its trucks with alternative energy, it still has the task of educating some of its donors, he said.

Global Links ships 275 tons of medical supplies to Latin America and the Caribbean annually, almost all of which come from 35 hospitals in the region. These supplies would otherwise be landfilled, Ms. Hower said.

There are many reasons why hospitals chuck supplies that are perfectly usable, she said.

When a hospital changes vendors, it moves all the old product out so the staff has the consistency of everyone using new one. Sometimes, a kit of supplies comes in pieces of eight but the hospital only needs four; it ordered eight for the better price.

A supply cart is ordered for the care of every newborn, but if the baby goes home before all the items are used, those items are replaced by a new cart of supplies for the next baby. And if a package is torn and cannot be restocked, it may be donated to Global Links.

Global Links also receives more and more gurneys that cannot hold obese people, she said.

"In the last seven or eight years, we have become more focused on the environmental aspect of our mission," in part to be a model to other organizations, she said.

By spring, the organization will be vacating its Garfield location to consolidate all its operations in a building it is retrofitting in Green Tree.

Like the food bank in its efforts to ensure it gets appropriate donations, Global Links has to "push the envelope with some hospitals" to make sure donations don't become someone else's landfill. "We have a goal that 100 percent of what we send is useful," she said.

In-house, the staff is copying on both sides of paper when copying is necessary, drinking water from the tap instead of bottles and keeping the heat at sweater level.

Attendee Christine Kirby, director of development for Neighborhood Legal Services, said the nonprofit has a green committee of managers, attorneys and support staff "to reduce our footprint," largely by using less paper.

"Attorneys are used to having a lot of paper, but our attorneys are very interested in economic and social justice, so environmental justice was an easy shift."

The next goal is to buy electronic tablets for staff lawyers to take to court, she said.

Ms. Mondor told the group that a less wasteful, more efficient nonprofit has an advantage: "It's huge if you can prove to a foundation that you're saving money. Start with your utility bills and look for ways to be more efficient. You need to do an energy audit, and there are three levels of those," from basic to rigorous.

"You can manage only what you measure, and if you don't set goals, it's hard to rally people just for the good of it."

Bethany Ruhe, senior manager for public relations at Direct Energy, announced another incentive: $2,500 grants to nonprofits whose videos inspire a panel of judges to reward projects that would save energy or reduce waste. Those grant amounts will accrue with every 2,500 "likes" on Direct Energy's Facebook page. For details, visit ReduceYourUseForGood.com.

neigh_city - businessnews - environment

Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.


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