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2020 Governor’s Awards for Environmental Excellence

More than 60 applicants from across the commonwealth nominated projects on energy efficiency, emissions reduction, watershed restoration and protection, environmental education opportunities, and smart growth planning and design.

The Governor’s Awards for Environmental Excellence is open to any Pennsylvania business, farm, government agency, educational institution, non-profit organization and individual that has created, or participated in, the development of a project that promotes environmental stewardship and economic development in Pennsylvania.

2020 Winners

Forest Hills Net Zero Energy Municipal Building

Borough of Forest Hills

Borough of Forest Hills.jpgFor the municipal building, the Borough of Forest Hills developed a facility with a net-zero energy usage, meaning that the clean, solar photovoltaic energy produced on-site is sufficient to power the building while producing zero emissions. The following efforts were also used to maximize energy and resource efficiency:

  • Forty 90-foot-deep geothermal wells to provide heating and air conditioning
  • Use of 12” SIPS panels forming the outer walls and roof of the building providing greater insulation value
  • Natural light provided by both the southern exposure angle of the building and a large clearstory panel across the peak of the roof to allow sunlight into the building
  • Full LED lighting inside and out with sensors that dim or turn off lights as needed
  • Main roof panels supported by glue laminated beams and columns of wood rather than steel or concrete
  • Excess energy generated by the solar array was sold back to the utility serving the borough
  • Construction included use of sustainable, nontoxic, recycled material throughout the building
  • Rain gardens surrounding the building to accept rainwater plus a large area in the middle of the parking lot for a bio swale to manage Stormwater runoff from the site
  • Use of water conserving plumbing features
  • Water conservation efforts reduces peak discharge rate into the watershed by more than 64% for the 100-year storm.  The volume of runoff from the 2-year and 5-year storm is entirely infiltrated, as is most of the 10-year storm volume
  • Sand and limestone infiltration beds reduce runoff acidity and temperature and rain garden plantings provide additional water quality runoff benefits

Youth Empowerment and Climate Change Education


CommunitopiaYECCE is an educational outreach campaign for individuals most impacted by it: youth from environmental justice communities. Last school year the program was presented to 300+ students in environmental justice communities throughout Allegheny Co. with the following results: 

  • Measurably increased students’ literacy on climate change, motivation to take action on climate change and motivation to influence others to take action
  • Produced 15 collaborative student-led Action Plans to tackle climate change
  • Produced numerous student statements at school board meetings to advocate for climate-friendly policy and 105 student letters to school board members asking them to pass climate action resolutions
  • Successfully petitioned Woodland Hills School Board to pass Pennsylvania’s very first Climate Action Resolution calling on the district to implement eco-friendly policy and create a Climate Committee open to board members, students, parents, teachers and community members
  • Created a Climate Action Team made up of 30 students who suffer from asthma/other air quality related issues. Students spoke at Pittsburgh’s Climate Action Summit and co-presented a workshop

Etna EcoDistrict

Etna Community Organization

Etna Eco District

The Etna EcoDistrict is a grassroots sustainable community development initiative aimed at defining and actualizing a future where everyone in Etna has an opportunity to thrive and live healthy and fulfilling lives. During the team building phase, volunteers gathered to learn about EcoDistricts, strategize around expanding the movement to the larger community in an inclusive and equitable way, and unite with Millvale and Sharpsburg to form the Triboro EcoDistrict collaboration. During the community education phase, independent consultants (evolveEA) joined with ECO to facilitate a 6-month Etna EcoDistrict Education Series to develop a shared understanding of the 6 focus areas on which the Etna EcoDistrict planning is based: water, air, mobility, energy, food, and equity. During the planning phase, community workshops engaged residents and collected iterations of feedback to develop goals, actions, metrics, and place-based recommendations for a more sustainable, equitable, and resilient future. The past 3 years of team building, education, and planning resulted in the publication of the first edition of Etna EcoDistrict Plan. In November 2019, the Etna EcoDistrict became the first Certified EcoDistrict in the world.

Geisinger Catawissa Clinic Photovoltaic Project



Geisinger Medical Center commissioned its second renewable energy installation—a 39 kW, 135-solar-panel project on the roof of the Catawissa Clinic.  Geisinger’s partners, Zartman Construction, built a south-facing awning that includes seven solar panels. This provides window shading, which will reduce the overall cooling load on the building. The system will generate over half the electric for the 5,000-square-foot, 100-year-old building. The solar array can assist in making our communities healthier by generating clean power. The project is a testament to the environmental commitment Geisinger has to its community. By offsetting 46,163 kWh, the array provides the following environmental benefits by decreasing:

  • SOx emissions by .18 tons annually
  • NOx emissions by .04 tons annually
  • Carbon Dioxide emissions by 24.91 tons annually

8th Street Lot Renovations

Indiana Borough

IndianaBorough.jpgIndiana Borough wanted to demonstrate that parking lots can be transformed in an environmentally friendly & sustainable fashion. First, the parking lot was repaved to fix the asphalt and prepare for the trailhead to be installed. A rain garden was installed running the entire length of the parking lot with an expanded overflow pipe underneath it. These new additions assist with managing stormwater runoff. The trailhead installed includes covered bike racks, solar-powered lighting, and a mechanical bike repair station. In addition to this, Indiana Borough installed a public-access electric vehicle charging station (with two ports) with funds awarded through the Driving PA Forward Program. These amenities were added to support more eco-friendly forms of transportation.  The EV charger installed can be accessed by anyone traveling through the commonwealth. The installed trailhead services all cyclists who opt to use the recently designated bike lane throughout our community.

Youth Agriculture Projects & the Environment

Penn State Extension

"Manure Management Planning for Youth Animal Projects" is a newly developed curriculum, written in 2018 and released for use in 2019. The curriculum is full of hands-on activities, career exploration, and more to help guide youth in proper manure management and the protection of Pennsylvania’s water resources. Additionally, the project team also held a series of trainings for facilitators and youth in 2018 and 2019. Youth raising livestock animals as part of their in-school or out-of-school programs were introduced to the new curriculum and engaged in understanding the importance of manure management and their obligations to complete a manure management plan when raising livestock in Pennsylvania.

PHFA Passive House & LEED Platinum Tower Expansion and Historical Renovation

The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA)

Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency

Continued agency growth has fueled a major expansion for additional staff. A new 8-story tower and renovated 8,921-square-foot historic Hickok Mansion have been integrated into PHFA’s original LEED Gold Certified building. As the agency provides tax credits to developers for Passive House affordable housing projects, the expansion goal was to incorporate these standards into its expanded building as well. Passive House design is focused on achieving the absolute minimum amount of energy use required to heat and/or cool a building (up to 90% less than a standard building of similar size), as measured on Btu per square foot. Unique design elements include: a thermal bridge free design, superior insulated windows, conditioned air ventilation with heat recovery, quality insulated facades and airtight construction. PHFA has designed two Passive House systems (one for the historic and one for tower addition) plus are also seeking LEED Platinum certification for both buildings. To date, this is a one-of-a-kind corporate project on the East Coast.

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens Living Campus

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens Living CampusEfforts at Phipps to implement high-performance energy efficient capital expansions have reached a new level of excellence with the construction of three ultra-green buildings on Phipps’ campus: the Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL) which is also the only building in the world to achieve four of the highest certifications for green construction: Living Building Challenge, LEED Platinum, WELL Platinum and SITES Platinum; the Nature Lab at Phipps, and the Exhibit Staging Center (ESC). Through additional green innovations on its campus, Phipps reduced CO2 emissions by 56% per square foot from 2005 to 2016, doubling the goal set by the Paris Agreement. The Living Campus site infiltrates or captures for re-use all precipitation that falls on it, averaging 4.5 million gallons annually. The site has not sent any stormwater to the overtaxed municipal water system since 2013. Similarly, all of the site sanitary water is cleaned on site through Phipps’ chemical-free constructed wetland system and re-used for toilet flushing. The ultra-efficient CSL, Nature Lab and ESC operate combustion free, and the energy needed to light, warm, cool and power the buildings are generated on-site using geothermal energy and solar power. In fact, the 200-kW photovoltaic arrays generate more energy than the buildings need.

Pittsburgh International Honey Bee Project

Pittsburgh International Airport

Pittsburgh International Airport

While providing land use for the positioning of five apiaries, this project has benefited the airport in several ways. First is the reduction of the number of swarms that have historically impacted daily air operations. Second is that, due to minimal use of pesticides, the airport abounds with pollinator-friendly vegetation which provides a great source of nectar and pollen, resulting in healthier honeybees. Due to its large size (~8,800 acres) PIT also allows for an “isolated” area where the density of honeybee colonies can be managed. This was particularly beneficial for two reasons. One, hive density, along with better forage, means healthier bees. The other is that, as part of the Pa. Queen Bee Improvement Project, Meadow Sweet Apiaries can manage the selection of particular genetics which in turn increase survival and sustainability of honeybees both locally and across the commonwealth.

Nature-Based STEM (Erin McCool)

Riverbend Environmental Education Center

Riverbend has built upon strong partnerships local school districts to create an environmental education program entitled “Nature-Based STEM”.  In a three-part model, students receive a pre-visit to their classroom in which Riverbend educators introduce science skills like observation, asking questions and building investigations. They apply these skills during a science field experience outside and then reflect upon that experience through discussion during a post-visit to their classroom. Overall, this program reaches more than 2,500 students annually in Southeastern PA directly in classrooms and outdoor settings to provide high quality, authentic experiences in nature.  Eighty percent of teachers surveyed indicated that they refer back to these lessons when teaching STEM and more than 70% indicated they will use this program as a springboard to teach other environmental topics.

Correctional Conservation Collaborative, Riparian Forest Buffer Vocational Training


SCI HuntingdonTwenty inmates who are a part of the State Correctional Institution (SCI) Huntingdon’s Community Work Program (CWP) were educated on a wide range of topics ranging from how agriculture can affect water quality, to stream ecology and plant identification, and small business basics. There were both classroom and hands-on lessons that took place at actual RFB sites. As PA begins to ramp up implementation of RFBs as a forestry practice, many are finding that contract installers and maintainers of RFBs and community tree projects are lacking. This project was designed to provide reentrants with the necessary skills to find jobs in the RFB or urban forestry sectors in addition to empowering them to start their own businesses. The training culminated with a planting of 400 tree and shrub seedlings along a stream on SCI-HUN property that is currently leased for farming.

Innovative GESA Program Puts GHG Emissions Reductions on a Fast Track, while Catching Up with Deferred Maintenance

Slippery Rock University

SRU determined that a guaranteed energy savings project could be used to save significant money by completing approximately $18 million in deferred maintenance construction projects over a two-year period using a bond-financed Energy Services Company (ESCO) Guaranteed Energy Savings Act (GESA) project, rather than spreading these projects out over 20 years as scheduled. By compressing the implementation time frame in this way, the team also realized they could reduce GHG emissions by 20 times the amount that would have been reduced using the business-as-usual approach. This project is estimated to reduce annual GHG emissions by 12.5%, resulting in a cumulative reduction in GHG emissions of over 67,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent over the next 20 years.

Pennypack Creek Headwaters Storm Water Management

Upper Moreland School District

The stormwater basin was retrofitted to provide extended and enhanced detention by modifying the outlet structure, deepening it, removing non-native vegetation, and planting native species which will enhance habitat for desirable wildlife, including mosquito predators. UMSD also installed a large infiltration gallery beneath the lawn immediately southwest of the bus parking lot, which stores and infiltrates any excess roof runoff and parking lot runoff from extreme events. This has the additional benefit of enhancing base (so called “dry weather”) flow in headwaters of the Pennypack Creek which, like most streams in developed areas, suffers from reduced base flows with attendant deleterious impacts on stream health. A series of rain gardens were constructed to intercept, store, and treat runoff at strategic locations throughout the campus, while further enhancing the performance of the improved detention basin. The rain gardens (depending on soil conditions at individual locations) infiltrate the water they trap or retain it until the water evaporates. Finally, UMSD installed bioswales at various locations and planted them with tall native grasses to serve a dual-function of storing and conveying storm water while also helping to deter the large resident population of Canada geese, thereby contributing to the improvement of the quality of the water leaving the site and making the fields more pedestrian friendly.

Preservation and Restoration of the Lehigh River Headwaters: Klondike Acquisition and Dam Removal

Wildlands Conservancy


The 500-acre Klondike property adds to a larger complex of more than 45,000 acres of contiguous protected land. In 2013, Wildlands Conservancy (WC) was selected by the William Penn Foundation to lead a targeted land protection effort in the Upper Lehigh watershed as part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI). The “Klondike Ice Dam” was built on the Lehigh roughly 70 years ago and was considered high-hazard. In the early 1990s, the dam was enhanced in order to facilitate a proposed lakefront development. Because WC had been conducting continuous water quality monitoring on the Klondike property, they knew that the Lehigh River was being degraded by the 18-foot-high dam. As the river entered the dam impoundment, it became stagnant; water temperature increased, and dissolved oxygen decreased sharply. In October 2019, WC removed the Klondike dam and restored free-flowing conditions to the high-value Lehigh River headwaters and eliminated a substantial public safety concern. The water is now cold and shaded by an expansive riparian buffer; once smothered and degraded wetlands are regenerating, and wildlife is returning.