Skip to content

Business as Usual: Sustainable Pittsburgh's Executive Director

Business as Usual
Education & Non-Profit

Today we welcome Joylette Portlock, Executive Director of Sustainable Pittsburgh.

Joylette will detail how Sustainable Pittsburgh regularly works with hundreds of partners in the region — including local governments, nonprofits, and the business community — to ensure our economy is built to last and that our people and our planet thrive.



Good afternoon, everyone. This is Audrey Russo, President and CEO, the Pittsburgh Technology Council. Happy to be here again on a Tuesday in February. And our show today is like each and every day, we just get a chance to meet incredible people. And in a few moments, I'm going to have an opportunity to formally introduce joy let Portlock, she's the executive director of sustainable Pittsburgh. But before we get started, and we bring her to the forefront, I would like to just have some shout out of deep appreciation to Huntington bank for the work that they've done and being partners with us for so long. And all things that we experiment in when it comes to storytelling and connecting the entire community with amazing people. And 40 by 80. That's a wholly owned subsidiary of the Pittsburgh Technology Council. And that's where we work on entrepreneurship and talent development. You're gonna hear a lot about apprenticeship programs that we're building and partnering with very soon and we're pretty excited about that. That's the 501 c three charitable arm of the Pittsburgh tech Council. But now I'm going to pass it on to Jonathan he's going to talk about no and work scape

under so so many of us right now are watching this webcast from our home offices, so many of them are cramped. There's no space for sitting in weird positions. Some of us are even sitting on our living room floors for freakin crying out loud we're putting an end to that we are partnering with Moodle and work scape for a home office makeover. We already have 13 entries right now very excited to pick of your workspace to design at work scape And you will be in the running to get out homemaker we're talking a desk chair and some storage. But the catch is you got to attend our Friday business as usual, where we have no stopping by today give us the latest on technology behind both office and home office furniture technology. So you got to be in attendance to win really encourage you to send us your pictures. We want to see what you're working on. And no more aching backs.

That's great. So that's Jonathan Kersey. He's vice president of all things media and marketing and storytelling for the Pittsburgh tech Council. And he will be monitoring the chat, he will make sure that if there are questions that are raised as we're having a conversation with Troy let he will keep his eye on that chat. We've muted your chat. And just to make sure that we don't hear anything in the background. The other thing about the chat and formality is this is not an opportunity for you to sell your wares. This is an opportunity for you just have your lunch, get a chance to listen to our guests and ask questions and just get immersed in the person that we're highlighting today. So now I'm going to jump in and say welcome joy let Portlock she runs sustainable Pittsburgh, I am very happy to have her here today. And I think we're going to really pack in a lot, because there's a lot to talk about. So welcome, joy, let thank you for carving out the time with us today. I deeply appreciate that.

Thank you for the invitation to be here. And yeah, sustainability is a broad, broad topic. So we've got a fair amount we can cover today.

Well, let's let's just talk a little bit about your background, your academic background, anything personal that you want to share. I mean, you really have just an impeccable academic background that is just been on a very interesting journey. So I think people will be really blown away by that. You're on mute. Okay, we got to get off of mute. Yeah.

I muted myself to clear my throat. And then of course, couldn't unmute myself.


apologize for that. Yeah. So my background has really been, as you say, sort of interesting. I, my background is in science, my training is in science, I have a PhD in genetics, have gone to school, you know, on on the coasts, and my PhD is from Stanford, and my undergraduate degree is from MIT. I've also done work, you know, in government, working on the hill for a year I've worked. Most recently, though, really kind of at the intersection between technical topics that are really complex, you know, and trying to make sure that that information is accessible and can be impactful by everyone who needs to be able to use it. And so that's that's taken a bunch of different forms. That kind of science and tech outreach has taken a bunch of different forms for me in my career, but currently in my role, which I've had for two years as the head of sustainable Pittsburgh. That looks like figuring out how to enable and empower sustainability achievement for decision makers in the region.

Why So you're not? Are you originally from Pittsburgh? Or did you come here? I think in 2007,

that's right. Yeah. Not Originally, I originally from a small town in Delaware, which I always I always, you know, kid to people. And like that was such great training for landing in Pittsburgh, where the sense of place is so palpable, and the sense of community is so real. So I've really enjoyed my time here in putting down roots in the community. I am not from Pittsburgh, but my kids are so

Ah, that's great. Well, we're glad that you're here. And we're glad that you're doing this work and, and taking the time with us. So that you know, the tech Council has a long history with sustainable Pittsburgh even have that on your on your homepage of your website, that actually, the organization was birthed out of the tech Council. But that was a while ago, and you know, the world has changed. So can you talk about the, you know, the history and, you know, the mission? the why of the organization? Sure. out there, so everyone can know how to get right to her website.

Yeah, and you're right, you know, the origins of the organization happened in 1998, as part of the Pittsburgh Technology Council with funding from the Heinz endowments. And so we're 22 year old organization that is operated in the 10 county region to advance sustainability practice and policy. We are our mission. And this is actually kind of interesting, because you talk about, you know, the world changing and kind of current challenges. Our mission was recently restated with our conclusion of the strategic planning process last year, that it is to empower decision making that builds a fundamentally equitable, resilient, prosperous, and healthy region. And that is a that is pre pandemic, right. So I bring that up, because I think it's really important to think about, you know, the essence of what sustainability is has really only become more salient and more important, as we've been facing multiple challenges around economic devastation around environmental crisis, and around and around the, the equity conversations that we're having now.

So, someone asked a question in here and talked, and I'm gonna grab it real quick, because I was going to ask that question a moment ago. And it's Michael saying, Can you talk about your role in training in genetics and how that's relevant to your current role

that's relevant? Well, you know, and one of the things that one of the things that I've always found helpful and has definitely carry through, apart from the ability that you gain from years of working in a lab to multitask and to kind of process multiple complicated streams of things coming at you. Is systems thinking. Right. And I think that this is something that that is very common in biological study, but in understanding that things are interrelated and the interplay of different pieces of a system and how they can affect the other pieces. And so really looking at that, and this is an approach sustainable Pittsburgh has always taken really looking at that systems level approach for Okay, what are the what are the levers and the opportunities for us to get the outcomes that we know we want to see to build that thriving region?

Okay, great. Great. I like the way that your your systems thinking has sort of transcended in terms of the work that you're doing right now. So that's really cool. And, you know, Bill Gates just released a book called How To Avoid climate disaster. I suppose that you've heard of it, right.

I have heard of it. I haven't picked it up yet. But yeah,

and it's focused, it's in a nutshell, to focus on the role that the innovation community, the business community, that focuses on tap, needs to play in terms of bringing breakthrough technologies to the marketplace. So can you talk about areas that you think, you know, from the world, the systems world that you've been in, that you think could particularly benefit from private, you know, innovation, private companies, people who are working in tech, um,

I think that there's, there's a lot of potential there. I think there's a lot of potential areas. So you know, I was happy to serve as an advisor on the first iteration of project draw down. And there are a number of different kind of categories of work, that have technological implications that are ripe for Write for development. I mean, and we know that there is kind of the interplay as well, not just, excuse me, not just with the with that always happens when you start talking to people. Not only the interplay between, you know what, what technology can do, but also looking at what how that can, again, look at kind of this multi pronged approach that not just builds our capabilities in one area, but also benefits our economy and other areas. So we know that, you know, clean energy is our fastest growing energy sector, it has been for many, many years. And, you know, there's just there's a number of technologies there from, you know, grid development to storage, etc, that are that are going to be really important, but it's not just around clean energy, right? There are advancements in transportation, there are advancements in agriculture, there are advancements in and a lot of different sectors that are going to be really important. I think. When it comes to climate change, I think we need to understand that there's a lot that we have an opportunity to do to to meet the challenge.

Okay, so there's some questions, Jonathan, I'd like Jonathan to grab for us so we can get some input from our

guests, really. So thanks for being part of the show today. We love having you on and learning more about you and sustainable Pittsburgh. So I'm Emily mercuria, wants to know, basically, how is sustainable Pittsburgh addressing issues relating to air quality in the impact on under resourced communities in our region?

Thanks. Hi, Emily, and thanks for the question on air quality and under resourced communities. So this last year, here's what I can say about that this last year has been a really important year, I think, globally, nationally and regionally, for us to have really, some really frank and honest conversations about equity, and about environmental justice, and I've been a part of a lot of those conversations that have been happening. Um, it's, you know, it's essential that we understand that to build a sustainable future and the work that we do at sustainable Pittsburgh working with partners in the for profit sector, and looking at ways that we can help them to do the work of reducing their impact on these communities is, is really a big part of the picture. We also do a lot of work to educate, educate folks in many different sectors about these issues, and make sure that in, in all our work that the equity considerations in the equity implications of business as usual, not the title of the program today, but it's to you know, help people understand what that means in terms of impact on some of our most vulnerable residents.

Okay, any other questions, Jonathan, are clear, keep proceeding forward? Thanks. So none of this work, you know, happens alone. You've talked about systems, you've got, you know, the interconnectedness of all things. So talk about CEOs for sustainability initiative, but the impact of the work that you do through this group a little bit about that group, and the why.

Yeah, so the CEOs for sustainability is an executive Roundtable. It's a network of executive leadership, regional executive leadership, that really works to elevate the importance of sustainability and demonstrate sustainability success through their company's actions. It's a roundtable that includes companies totaling over $150 billion in revenue and 100,000 employees. So pretty significant. And it's small, medium, and large companies that are all kind of working in their own spaces in their own sectors to to improve, improve sustainability. In the fall. We presented with CES for sustainability, a set of tools and an initiative built around, leading forward with kind of three main aims for the business community one to one to address racial and ethnic equity, one to address the need for carbon reduction. And another prong born out of the clear and present crisis. Those are both kind of the long term longer term but also still Urgent tools to get to that sustainable economic recovery for the region that we need. But there's another problem too, about immediately helping local support local business and our local business community in this time of need.

So is there a link to that work? I know that we've had two people on our team that have been involved in that is that we can put out there.

Yeah, there absolutely is. It's available at sustainable slash roadmap. Okay. Take that in the in the chat quickly enough, but the leading forward resources will help any organization, any company to engage with this content in a kind of stepwise, you know, here's a how to kind of way you know, you want to look at racial and ethnic equity in your company, here are the steps that you go through to start addressing that to start assessing and, you know, improving, and the same for carbon reduction. The tools were built out of best practices in the field and in the industry for doing the work.

Okay, there's a quick question, Jonathan, from Todd, one here.

So if Todd seat wants to know, how does sustainable Pittsburgh work to influence policy in the city, and surrounding counties, and is the Biden ministration impacting your plans over the next several years?

That's a great question. So we do work closely with, with partners at the city, in multiple different departments, and are part of a number of conversations about different policies affecting sustainability. We also work with a number of local governments. So I didn't kind of talk about this in our in our intro, but sustainable Pittsburgh's work looks like tools and resources on comprehensive sustainability to really provide information to multiple different sectors, including the municipal sector, as well as multiple sectors in the for profit community, it looks like building these networks, we just talked about CEOs for sustainability and offering opportunities without peer to peer learning and engagement. And it looks like putting best practices into the world, so that he can demonstrate what sustainable solutions look like in kind of a more innovative space. And so through our municipal work, both the performance program, the sustainable Pennsylvania, community certification, which we co manage with Pennsylvania Municipal League, and through networks, like the Sustainable Community Development network, we work with a number of local government, folks on sustainability. And the second part of the question, what was the second part of the question? I'm

sorry, working with the Biden administration, and Oh, right.

Um, so you know, I think everybody kind of is continuing to evaluate what the change in federal leadership means in terms of the landscape of opportunity for sustainability. So you know, we'll be continuing to do our work to, you know, advance a more advanced, more prosperous region, and constantly, you know, kind of looking for those opportunities and evaluating what's possible. When it me,

I'm gonna ask a question, and then Jonathan will go back to Romans question here. So we have spent some time at the tech council this year joy, let you know, talking about the impact of COVID. Right each and every day. Well, you know, that's what we're doing, trying to mitigate what we can. And one of the pieces that we're passionate about is the impact of the local restaurant scene.


you know, we just had such a dynamic restaurant scene that had really been, you know, sort of marching uphill, for at least the last five years, sustainability, sustainable. Pittsburgh has actually done some pretty cool stuff. You've had some amazing partners, you know, in the community, can you talk about your restaurant program, and maybe share some of the factors in there?

Yeah, sure. So the sustainable Pittsburgh restaurant program is one of those tools and resources that I mentioned, where we address comprehensive sustainability in the restaurant sector. And so that looks like waste reduction, water conservation, energy efficiency, engagements and working with people and responsible sourcing a number of different factors that are material to the restaurant sector. We more recently in response to the COVID crisis, have done a project called Allegheny eats, which is a project with a number of partners including Kraft at Chatham for when to Food Rescue the food bank. pasa Pennsylvania Association for sustainable agriculture, restaurant mutual aid and, and, and others to build a, a program that addresses multiple crisis induced breakdowns in our food system. So I think we all remember right seeing the images of, you know, farmers dumping produce, we all, you know, have personal experience with restaurant closures, and many of us are also experiencing the impact to that major sector of regional employment and the the impacts that, you know, having so many people faced with food insecurity and what that means for the region, too. So, Allegheny eats is a platform where consumers can go and buy meal kits that they can pick up from several local restaurants. And a portion of those proceeds goes towards creating meals, complimentary meals for restaurant workers to claim those meals. And a portion of the spend 30% of the sent must come from local producers must go to local producers for that for those meals. So in this way, we're addressing the needs of the restaurant worker community, the restaurants themselves, and preserving that business model and, and helping local producers. And so I encourage everybody to go alligator eats org, the food's great. And it's a way to really do a lot of wins for the community in the time in this time of crisis right now.

exhausted, we want to grab Robin's question.

So Robin has a two part question here. So hang on tight. So what's new? What is your role in supporting and attracting industry related to innovation with electrical storage, and enhancing energy generation that is better for the environment? And then Part two is when you know, additionally, your position on shale gas as a transit as a transitional tool? can be is can we can we all do an alternative source energy based on availability of storage?

Okay, that was a Yeah, multi part question. And let me see if I can parse that apart. Um, so I think that, you know, sustainable Pittsburgh is more about helping? Well, no, that's not really true. So there's, there's multiple pieces, we are absolutely about helping businesses that are already here, to do their work more, more effectively and more sustainably. So it's about encouraging, encouraging businesses that are here to do that work. And in so doing, I think creating a climate that encourages other businesses to to look at our region as an attractive place to be and to be doing sustainable work. So I think that you know, and there are other kind of pieces that we're engaged in that can help that can help promote really a sustainable and more renewable path forward in through multiple different initiatives. In terms of the question about shale gas as a transition, that's such a challenging question. I mean, I think, you know, obviously, regionally, this has been something that's been very important for our economy. But I think that, you know, a lot of the research coming out of CMU and other places, really calls into question how transitional it really can be, if we, if we build out the capacity, what does that do to our ability to transition to lower carbon fuels in the long term and kind of what does that trajectory actually look like? So I do think there are some questions there.

Okay. All right. Thank you. Thank you for dissecting that question.

The tricky one,

and you're right.

Biden administration is actively pushing for electric vehicles. We, which is something that we're very bullish on right EBS and, you know, the movement and as well as opportunities inside the region for attracting region and downstream, etc. How big of an opportunity, do you think this is for Western Pennsylvania?

I think it's very important. I think that vehicle electrification is part of And overall strategy for looking at decarbonisation. In many states transportation is already the biggest contributor to climate change as emissions from electricity generation have fallen. So it needs to be part of that overall strategy to reduce carbon build resilience in our communities. The according to the clean, clean jobs Pennsylvania report, last year, pre pandemic ease were close to 7000 jobs in the state, as of 2019, and we can look to neighboring states to get kind of an idea of the opportunity there. There's a lot of good work going on in New Jersey, New York, making some major commitments to pretty lofty goals. So I think, you know, if we can put in place the needed infrastructure, then we will be able to, you know, be a step closer to that mass adoption, and really looking at what we can do, you know, still thinking about the, the shale gas question, what we can really do you to look at what sustainable energy sources look like into the future.

So, as we come to a close for this conversation, this will probably be one of many, I'm sure that what can How can the tech community How can people who are listening, get engaged now? Well, and what would you want from them?

Well, so anybody listening or wanting to engage is absolutely encouraged to get involved with our resources, like the leading forward roadmap and our various performance programs, look for our new workplace designation, which is coming this fall and will apply to will apply to workplaces that are, you know, not covered by other sector specific programs. You can keep apprised of these and other opportunities through the sustainable Pittsburgh insider newsletter. We also often look for volunteers and partners to assist with outreach, critical work and as part of collaborative initiatives. So please visit single, for information about how to contact us and sign up.

So is there anything else that you think that you should have covered before we sign off?

I think this was a pretty, a pretty far ranging conversation. I mean, I think, to the point raised the very beginning, sustainability is a big topic. But I think what's important is to think about it as a really set of fundamental ideas for how we can build our communities to thrive into the long term we meet, we want to build the region to last and that looks like a lot of different things. But I think it's a goal we can all rally behind.

Well, I want to say thank you, thank you for being here in Pittsburgh making Pittsburgh your home and having leadership that you find this relevant, important and taking it to the next level. I also deeply appreciate your your academic background and the ways that you've knitted it together to create meaning and relevance into the work that you're doing for all of us here. So just because we're on zoom doesn't mean that we're strangers. We care about this. We care about this work. And so I let it it's a pleasure to have a conversation with you. And people can reach out to joy let you can find her on the website. She's easy to find. And I'm sure she'll be passionate about connecting with people here who care about this issue and care about the future. So thank you everyone for being with us today. Thank you so much joy let and for the work that you're doing really appreciate you taking a half hour of your day. And Jonathan what's on what's in store.

tomorrow as we continue our quest with work scape and Knoll to do a home office medical Remember to submit your pictures to design at work scape But tomorrow we have a really cool guest we have Jean Kunis Ellie, stopping by she's Executive Vice President at UPMC enterprises. She has an amazing background and cannot wait to ask her some questions tomorrow. That's for sure.

That's great. All right, everyone, stay safe. Enjoy your lunch. We will see you here tomorrow. Take care. Thanks so much.

Transcribed by