Aiming For Zero

Aiming for zero, title. There are big green leaves in the shape of a zero.


year ago, the Mt. Lebanon Commission passed a resolution to reduce carbon emissions to a net zero by the year 2050. The Environmental Protection Agency defines net zero as consuming only as much energy as produced, achieving a sustainable balance between water availability and demand, and eliminating solid waste sent to landfills.

The goal is an ambitious one, but Mt. Lebanon isn’t starting from scratch. The municipality has taken several steps over the years to reduce its impact on the environment.  In 2008, Mt. Lebanon signed the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement, pledging to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions, improve air quality and enhance community livability and sustainability. The municipality came up with its first climate action plan, making municipal buildings more energy efficient, installing lower-energy LED traffic lights and replacing old vehicles with more fuel-efficient models.

In 2013, Mt. Lebanon received a Silver certification from Sustainable Pennsylvania, a program that evaluates community sustainability initiatives. Requirements for the certification include an energy audit of all municipal buildings; establishment of an active environmental advisory council; a ban on outdoor burning; policies, plans and ordinances to protect wetlands, waterways and their buffers; an integrated approach to  stormwater and wastewater management; and a comprehensive plan that promotes walkable, pedestrian-oriented mixed-use development.

Last year Mt. Lebanon created a new position, urban planning and sustainability coordinator. Greg Wharton has been working to upgrade our silver certification to gold, among other sustainability projects.

Two men working on installing solar panels on the Mt. Lebanon Public Library.
The solar panels on the roof of the Mt. Lebanon Public Library are expected to generate more than 30,000 kilowatt hours in the first year.

“This is an opportune time, since we’re in the middle of our comprehensive planning process, to set some goals,” he said. A comprehensive plan is a blueprint for development for the upcoming decade. The plan is mandated by the commonwealth.

Mt. Lebanon is linking its efforts to reduce carbon emissions with this and future comprehensive plans, incorporating a review of land use, zoning regulations and other policies to ensure that they continue to use best practices for reducing our carbon footprint. The municipality will also review and update its climate action plan every 10 years, three years ahead of the comprehensive plan, to ensure climate action goals will be incorporated into the plan.

Beginning in 2025, the municipality will conduct a review every two years to measure the success of all carbon emission reduction programs.

The 2022 resolution also called for the adoption of a Complete Streets policy, in accordance with guidelines from Smart Growth America, a nonprofit urban development organization. Adopting that policy codified much of what Mt. Lebanon is already doing. Complete Streets allow for multiple modes of transportation, but must always include walking and biking. Features of a complete street include bike lanes, curb ramps, planters, signage, street furniture, green infrastructure, high visibility crosswalks, shorter crossing distances, audible signals and safe walking routes.

Last year, the Congress of Neighboring Communities (CONNECT), an umbrella organization encompassing Pittsburgh and neighboring communities, adopted a climate action plan. Ward 5 Commissioner Andrew Flynn was the CONNECT chair when the plan was adopted.

“Inner ring communities like Mt. Lebanon generate almost as much carbon emission as the city of Pittsburgh,” Flynn said. “We need to take action within the community and across jurisdictions.

Pull quote: "the beauty of solar is there is virtually no ongoing maintenance required."

The reality is, climate change is coming, and we need to understand that the investments we’re making now will impact the future, so we make those investments with an eye to making a more resilient community, able to deal with shocks coming 10, 20 or 50 years in the future.”

Earlier this year, the Mt. Lebanon Public Library installed a solar array on its roof. The $125,000 roof is expected to generate more than 30,000 kilowatt hours of power in its first year. Composed of 62 490-watt panels with room for more, the panels and inverters are warrantied, and the roof should produce energy for up to 30 years.

Rooftop solar panels turn sunlight into electricity by converting the light’s photons into electrons of direct current electricity, which then flow into an inverter, which converts it into the alternating current electricity that powers electronic devices and home appliances.

“The beauty of solar is there is virtually no ongoing maintenance required,” said Greg Winks, business manager at Enviniti, the company that installed the roof. “Mother Nature will clean the panels and they are a tempered glass surface, very durable in the weather of western Pennsylvania.”

The library will have a large screen monitor displaying real-time data on the system’s performance. Jeremy White, the library’s associate director for IT and facilities management, is working with library director Robyn Vittek on an educational component that will give patrons a look into the workings of the panels.

Other recent steps to improve sustainability and reduce our environmental impact include the purchase of a carbon credit from Constellation Energy. The carbon credit program allows an organization that is not currently able to reduce its carbon footprint to pay money to a company that’s further ahead in its pollution control, and thus is able to reduce its carbon footprint by a ton.

In Bird Park, a 2020 stream restoration project resulted in the removal of dead trees and the installation structures designed to slow the flow of water. The project stabilized about 700 feet of stream bank, combating erosion and other storm-related damage.

In 2021, Mt. Lebanon installed an electric vehicle charging station in the Overlook parking lot, in the Beverly Road business district. Earlier this year, the municipality added two more stations in the South parking garage.

“The administration is serious about taking steps toward advancing sustainability,” Wharton said. “We’re not playing catch-up.”