Here’s one big thing we did in 2015: We won the Pittsburgh Green Workplace Challenge (GWC)!

You might ask, “What is that?” So let me back up.

Phyllis Barber with GWC award

Highmark sustainability consultant (and blog author!) Phyllis Barber with Highmark’s GWC award.

Organized by Sustainable Pittsburgh through its Champions for Sustainability Sustainable Business network, the GWC is a year-long, friendly competition for Pittsburgh businesses, nonprofits, universities and local governments to track and measure their improvements in energy, water, waste and transportation. This year, 50 organizations of all sizes and types competed.

Organizations received a guidebook with more than 250 green and sustainable actions they could take to earn points, verification and recognition. Highmark has participated in the annual competition since its inception three years ago, and we’ve improved each year. But this year, we took home top prize in the Large Business category.

So how did we do it?

We Exercised

For starters, we sponsored the new Healthy Ride Pittsburgh bike share together with Allegheny Health Network beginning in May. We encouraged our employees to ride by providing bike share vouchers through our employee fitness center. We also installed secure bike parking for employees and tenants in the Fifth Avenue Place parking garage.

Healthy Ride bike station

A Healthy Ride PGH bike station.

The combination of these actions that support bicycle infrastructure also allowed Highmark’s Pittsburgh location to become a Bicycle Friendly Business, as recognized by the League of American Bicyclists.

Pittsburgh wasn’t the only location to get this honor. Our office in Parkersburg, WV, became certified for the first time as a Bicycle Friendly Business this summer as well.

What can you do?

Use bike trails, bike lanes and bike shares in your community for recreation or commuting. The more you pedal, the healthier you become, and the more you help to reduce carbon emissions.

We Ate

We celebrated the second annual National Honey Bee Day with Parkhurst, offering Highmark café menus with local, seasonal meals that highlighted the importance of honey bees to our food production. More than 500 employees attended events in Pittsburgh and Camp Hill, and one of our Pittsburgh employees — who also works as a beekeeper — brought an observation hive and honey to teach us about bees.

Beekeeper Lynda Reich at an information table

Highmark employee and beekeeper Lynda Reich teaches about bees and their honey on National Honey Bee Day.

Year-round, we offer reusable take-out containers and mugs in our cafes. We also eliminated Styrofoam a few years back and, more recently, disposable cups from our coffee stations. These actions helped to reduce the amount of waste our organization creates each year.

What can you do?

Eat seasonal and local foods, and pack yourself and your kids a no-waste lunch by using reusable bags, napkins, utensils and food storage containers.

We Volunteered and Supported the Community

We sponsored Open Streets PGH events in May, June and July, and Pedal Pittsburgh in August. In addition to these sponsorships, our employees volunteered at and participated in these (and many other) events.

Bikers in Pittsburgh during Open Streets event

Bikers rule the road during Open Streets PGH.

Highmark is also a community partner in the Pittsburgh 2030 District, which seeks to conserve energy and water while increasing the use of alternative transportation, as well as the Breathe Project, which seeks to improve air quality in the region.

What can you do?

Learn more about these initiatives and what you can do as an individual. Participate with your family in recreational community events like the ones listed above.

We Replaced Our Lights

Energy conservation efforts at our corporate headquarters helped us finish the GWC with a strong lead, as we reduced energy usage by 9 percent during the 12-month period of the competition.

We replaced more than 5,000 fluorescent light fixtures with LEDs and added motion and daylight sensors in our Fifth Avenue Place office building and parking garage. These lights are 45 percent more efficient and allow us to use, on average, 20 percent fewer lights per floor. These lights also help contribute to a savings of approximately 20 percent kilowatt hours per floor.

Pittsburgh is not the only Highmark location that’s saving energy. Our Parkersburg office performed an energy audit in 2013 and continues to act on recommendations from the audit. Our Center Street facility in Camp Hill, PA, is also an Energy Star-rated facility, with a score of 90/100.

What can you do?

Replace your incandescent lights with LEDs or compact fluorescents. The price for LEDs has come down significantly, and more color and size options are available. Sign up for a free or low-cost home energy audit from your local utility company or community organization.

Looking Ahead

Our environmental stewardship reflects our strong commitment to the health of community members. The GWC confirms, however, that every action counts — and that it takes more than one person or one organization to tackle long-term climate and environmental issues.

We look forward to future competitions and aspire to improve in areas such as water conservation and recycling, and appreciate the GWC for pushing us further on behalf of good health.