Skip to content

Environmental Technologies Find Fertile Soil Abroad with More Room for Growth

Thought Leader

How many of us, in meeting someone visiting Pittsburgh for the first time, have heard some form of the statement, “I had an entirely different picture of Pittsburgh in my mind, one that was much more polluted and dirty than it truly is”?

Visitor by visitor, Pittsburgh continues to reveal its true character and charm – one that is much cleaner and vibrant than many expect. This turnaround was built on many factors, to be sure, but the strength of the local environmental technologies industry played a key role.      

And the expertise and knowledge gained as a result of our region’s turnaround is now one of our greatest assets in a global market for environmental technologies goods and services that reached $1.05 trillion in 2015.      

With our region’s well-documented research and innovation attributes, and our experience handling air, water and soil management through the production and use of our abundant local energy resources, local firms are well positioned to deploy the technologies and expertise developed here to international markets facing similar issues.    

The U.S. is a global leader in the environmental sector, housing the single largest market in the world while employing 1.6 million people (in the local 13-county region, nearly 1,700 firms employ more than 37,000 workers according to the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s latest State of the Industry Report). In 2015, U.S. firms exported nearly $48 billion in environmental goods and services. Our technologies are highly regarded and actively sought by foreign buyers.

For U.S. firms to exploit this export potential, finding the right market for your products and services is paramount to success. It’s important to understand that while environmental needs (potable water, clean air) matter, they alone are insufficient to generate demand. In fact, the single largest driver for U.S. environmental technologies is a country’s enactment and enforcement of environmental regulations. When costs of non-compliance with environmental rules exceed the cost of compliance, market opportunities for U.S. firms arise.     

Coupled closely with regulatory enforcement is the need for available financing of public-sector infrastructure development and to fund private sector regulatory compliance. Finance is the lifeblood of opportunities for U.S. technologies. Furthermore, environmental resources such as water and recyclable materials are critical industrial production inputs. Technologies that enable more efficient use and reuse of these resources are in great demand.     

The International Trade Administration’s 2017 Top Markets Report for Environmental Technologies (available at takes these factors into consideration and ranks the top markets where U.S. government resources can have the greatest impact to increase export opportunities for U.S. firms. The report scores the top markets in each of the three key industry subsectors of air, water and waste and provides a composite overall ranking. The top key markets identified in the latest report include China, Mexico, Brazil and India, along with several other markets in Asia and the Middle East.

Helping U.S. firms to capitalize on these international opportunities and navigate foreign markets is a focus of the U.S. government, through a host of agencies and programs devoted to environmental technology export promotion.   

The U.S. Commercial Service Pittsburgh office provides counseling, market intelligence, business matchmaking and commercial diplomacy and serves as a conduit into our global network of environmental technology specialists in offices spanning more than 70 countries, as well as providing connections to other available federal agencies. Notably, we have liaison offices in the large multilateral development banks (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Asian Development Bank, and others) where U.S. companies can compete for numerous environmental infrastructure projects and consulting/advisory opportunities for service providers.

Among other U.S. government organizations, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency funds demonstration projects and feasibility studies involving U.S. firms in select emerging markets and it organizes reverse trade missions to educate foreign officials and connect buyers with U.S. technology providers. To address the financing issues mentioned above, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) provides funding support for the foreign development and construction of infrastructure projects. Direct export financing is also available through the Export-Import Bank of the United States, which provides a suite of export finance and insurance solutions to facilitate export transactions.      

International market development can be a key component to fuel your company’s growth objectives. With a large identified international need and our region’s inherent strengths in environmental technologies, there is tremendous opportunity to leverage our local expertise to replicate Pittsburgh’s successful turnaround in cities and regions around the world for the betterment and advancement of a global economy that values both productivity and sustainability.      

By Ryan Russell: He is a Senior International Trade Specialist with the U.S. Commercial Service in Pittsburgh, part of the Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration, and serves as the U.S. Commercial Service’s Global Environmental Technologies Team Lead. He can be reached at or (412) 644-2817.