Dr. Joylette Portlock is the Executive Director of Sustainable Pittsburgh, a nonprofit working to advance sustainability policies and practices in southwestern Pennsylvania. 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. Prior to her role at Sustainable Pittsburgh, Dr. Portlock served as Associate Director of Science and Research at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and as Executive Director of Communitopia, a nonprofit based in Pittsburgh that focuses on climate change communication. She holds a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in anthropology from MIT and a Ph.D. in genetics from Stanford University.
Her work focuses on building community around sustainability topics, with a particular interest in making important scientific, technical or complex information accessible and useful. Dr. Portlock has worked on environmental issues at the local, state, and federal level, and also currently serves on the Allegheny County Board of Health. She was an advisor to Project Drawdown, and serves in many other roles in the community, including as an advisory board member of the Black Environmental Collective. Dr. Portlock has lived and worked in the Pittsburgh region since 2007.
Understand what it means for a community to be sustainable, and how neighborhoods and local governments can enact policies and practices that support healthy residents, build vibrant communities and advance environmentally responsible practices. Explore regional and national tools and resources.
Importance of Sustainability
Sustainability sits at the intersection of social equity, environmental stewardship, and economic prosperity. There isn’t any one thing a community, organization, or business can do to become sustainable. Being sustainable requires a foundational approach that simultaneously integrates all of these elements in decision-making.
Our world’s changing climate is one of the most pressing sustainability challenges of our time. Carbon dioxide emissions were the highest on record in 2022, and the same year is tied for the fifth warmest year on record. In the Pittsburgh region, climate change is causing increased flooding, landslides, and risks to public health. How can our region adapt to be more resilient and inclusive of our most vulnerable populations?
A March 2023 survey by the Pew Research Center found that nearly 70% of Americans favor the U.S. taking steps to become carbon neutral by 2050 and prioritizing renewable energy sources like solar and wind. Yet how do we talk about climate change such that our target audiences feel empowered to make a difference?
Social Equity and Environmental Justice
Workplaces and communities are socially equitable when all members have the opportunity to engage, prosper, and reach their full potential. Similarly building an environmentally just community means addressing unequal distribution of resources, impacts, and involvement in the processes that define environmental quality.
Clean Energy Workforce Development
Exploring the historic workforce development policies developed by the federal government and how implementation must be centered on equity. An equity-focused clean energy workforce development coalition that convenes local governments, businesses, and workforce development experts will enable partnership and collective action that meets the needs of the expanding clean energy industries with a diverse and appropriately trained workforce.
Decarbonization has quickly elevated as a priority for southwestern Pennsylvania. Increasingly, in our region, the term “decarbonization” is becoming synonymous with carbon capture and storage, yet there is so much more to it. To truly achieve decarbonization, we must embark on a massive scale-up of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and electrification. This includes solar, wind, and hydropower. It also includes a transition to electric vehicles and multimodal transit, and the beneficial electrification of homes, large buildings, and industrial practices. It includes transportation, regenerative agriculture and land use practices, and is currently enabled by federal and state opportunities as never before.