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Putting Yourself “Out of Business:” The Role of a Sustainability Coordinator

Lindsay Baxter was the first Sustainability Coordinator of the City of Pittsburgh and continues to work in the environmental space, aiming to make sustainability efforts so much a part of everyday business culture that her job and others like it are no longer necessary -- "because sustainability will be integrated into every aspect of the organization," she says.

Lindsay Baxter is being recognized as a Champion of Change for her innovative energy priorities and sustainable living practices making a greener community a possibility in any American city or town.

As a graduate student five years ago, I received a lot of blank stares when I answered “become a sustainability coordinator” in response to the question, “What do you want to do when you finish school?” Most people had not heard of such a position and, not surprisingly, had no idea what a sustainability coordinator did.

I soon found myself asking the same question when I had the honor of becoming the first Sustainability Coordinator for the City of Pittsburgh. Whether their titles are coordinators, managers or directors, those who serve as the point-person for sustainability in an organization are becoming more and more common in corporations, government and higher education.

At the City of Pittsburgh, we established the position with two areas of focus: (1) reducing the environmental impact of city operations and (2) providing the resources and information residents and businesses need to reduce their impact and save money. While the city had undertaken important environmental projects for many years, including recycling services, tree planting and maintenance, and environmental education programs, establishing an Office of Sustainability represented a significant step towards incorporating environmental issues into city operations in a much more comprehensive way. Environmental projects were shifting from being separate “green” initiatives, to instead becoming projects that were an important part of improving the quality of life for citizens and operating more efficiently.

In order to ensure the comprehensive nature of sustainability projects in any organization, sustainability coordinators work with many -- if not all -- departments, from budget offices, to administrators, to electricians and plumbers. There is a common saying that the way a sustainability coordinator knows s/he has had an effect is when, instead of approaching departments with recommendations to make the organization more sustainable, the departments approach the sustainability coordinator with their own suggestions.

There is a beautiful synergy that can exist between a sustainability coordinator, who brings to the table knowledge of environmental and technical issues, and the people who are doing the day-to-day work and have the expertise to know which projects will be most successful and which will not work. In this way, sustainability coordinators are in the unique position of trying to work themselves out of a job. If we are truly successful, our position will not be needed anymore, because sustainability will be integrated into every aspect of the organization.

It is an honor to be named as a Champion for Change for my work with the City of Pittsburgh, and it is an honor that is shared with many individuals whose hard work makes the success of sustainability projects possible.

Lindsay Baxter, a Project Coordinator for Pennsylvania Environmental Council, works with communities to implement commonsense solutions to environmental problems in western Pennsylvania. She is being honored for her previous work as the first Sustainability Coordinator of the City of Pittsburgh, in the Office of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.