Frequently Asked Questions

The SP Challenge is an initiative of Sustainable Pittsburgh, a nonprofit organization that affects decision-making for the Pittsburgh region to integrate the three pillars of true sustainability to Pittsburgh businesses and communities: economic prosperity, social equity, and environmental quality.

When does the next competition start?

Hosted by Sustainable Pittsburgh, the SP Challenge is undergoing an exciting makeover for 2020, with a re-launch planned for this fall. Like Sustainable Pittsburgh on Facebook and join our email list to stay updated on the launch. For specific questions, please email

Does my organization have to own the building(s) in which we operate in order to compete?

No – owning your building is not a requirement for participating in the Sustainable Pittsburgh Challenge. Many participating organizations share the same building - or even the same office - with other organizations. Many of the actions in the Master Playbook do not require collaboration with a landlord or building manager. For example, nearly all actions in the Social Equity, Engagement, and Transportation sections do not require the effort of a building owner or manager.

If your sustainability goals do require collaboration with your landlord, the SP Challenge also includes several actions specifically designed for tenants. These actions provide an opportunity to earn points simply for taking steps to collaborate with the building owner and/or manager to improve energy efficiency, water use, and other aspects of building performance.

What are the eligibility requirements?

All businesses, nonprofit organizations, colleges/universities, and municipalities with operations in Southwestern Pennsylvania are invited to participate in the SP Challenge.

In order to be eligible to compete, you must:

  • Register to compete by TBD due date ( You can also join as a Self-Performer and not compete against peer organizations. Self-Performers may still submit actions, receive verification, earn achievement ribbons and attend workshops.)
  • Operate in at least one building within Southwestern Pennsylvania
  • Complete actions in one of the following areas outlined in the competition guidebook:
    • Social Equity
    • Engagement
    • Energy
    • Water
    • Air Quality
    • Materials Management
    • Transportation

Although it is not required to create and update an EPA Portfolio Manager account to compete in the Challenge, it is highly recommended. Many competition points are associated with information regarding energy measurement through EPA’s Portfolio Manager.

If your organization has been located in its current facility for less than one year, you will be unable to input enough utility information in EPA’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager to create a baseline. Portfolio Manager requires 12 months of prior utility usage data to establish a baseline; therefore only organizations that are able to establish baselines are eligible for energy and water measurement action.

There are plenty of sustainability actions from the competition guide besides those requiring Portfolio Manager that you can complete and remain competitive!

Can my organization get credit for an action we completed prior to the start of the challenge?

Yes, with the following guidelines and restrictions:

You may submit any action that your organization has taken after the start of the baseline year with the following exceptions:

  1. You must submit evidence of continuation or expansion of actions for which you have previously received credit. For example:
    • You must submit evidence that your Green Newsletter is current and updated.
    • You must submit evidence that you are an active participant in a sustainability network.
    • You must submit evidence that you have reviewed and updated, and/or are still implementing and following your Computer Shutdown policy.
  2. You may not submit a building, fleet, landscaping, or other infrastructure project that was submitted previously unless you can provide evidence for updates, improvements, expansions, or continued maintenance completed after the baseline year. For example:
    • Your previously submitted green roof requires continued landscaping and maintenance throughout the year.
    • You have installed additional electric vehicle charging stations since the previous SP Challenge.
    • You have switched additional lighting from incandescent to LED since the previous SP Challenge.
  3. You may not submit events and workshops that took place prior to the start of the competition. Events and workshops must be attended during the competition year for points.

Additionally, your organization will be rewarded for its continuous efforts in the Challenge via Legacy points. 

What are Legacy Points, and how are they rewarded?

Legacy points for 2020 will be determined prior to the start of the competition. The following addresses legacy points for the 2018 competition.

In order to reward continued and increasing commitment to sustainable action demonstrated by returning competitors, the SP Challenge will continue to recognize legacy points for 2018.

This year, all points from the SP Challenge 2016 - 2017 will be rolled over as 2018 legacy points at 50% of the previous value from the final totals except for the following:

  1. No points involving reductions in energy, water, waste, and commuter footprint savings, or engagement actions will be counted in the 2018 legacy points.
  2. Any points listed as legacy points from SP Challenge 2016 - 2017 (purple in the leaderboards) will be rolled over again as legacy points in 2018 at 25% of their value.  In other words, if an organization had 100 legacy points for 2016 - 2017, 25 points would be counted towards the 2018 legacy points.

If my organization earned legacy points for an action in the last competition, can I re-submit the same action for the current SP Challenge?

Generally, yes.  Legacy participants are awarded points based on the same guidelines as outlined in the question, "Can my organization get credit for an action we completed prior to the start of the Challenge?"

What are the measurement tools used in the Sustainable Pittsburgh Challenge?

The SP Challenge emphasizes measurable achievements in the areas of energy, water, air quality, waste, and commuter transportation, along with verifiable actions that build capacity for making a measurable difference.  The Master Playbook's point system awards the largest proportion of points based on the deployment, use, and reductions using the following tools:

  • EPA's Energy Star Portfolio Manager, which measures energy, water, waste, and greenhouse gas reductions from energy and water usage.
  • Input Waste audits into Portfolio Manager, which provide performance measures on waste generation and reduction (including composting, recycling, and total diversion rate).
  • The SP Challenge Transportation Survey (distributed during the competition), which can be distributed by employers at the beginning and end of the competition.  Data is used to calculate an organization's transportation baseline GHG emissions, track improvements, and to award points for those already choosing sustainable commute options.

Organizations deciding to compete in the Challenge have the best opportunities to win the competition to the degree that these tools are adopted, deployed, and used to measure performance.  The Challenge offers training workshops on using these tools to participants in the Challenge.

What are the Competitive Divisions this year?

Organizations can compete in the following divisions:

  • Businesses (micro, small, medium, large)
  • Non-profits (micro, small, medium, large)
  • Municipalities and Local Governments (micro, small, medium, large)
  • Colleges/Universities
  • Self-Performers (formerly "Observers") for those who want to participate, but not compete

Businesses and nonprofit organizations are asked to include the number of people employed by their organization when signing up for the Challenge.  Only those employed in southwestern Pennsylvania should be counted for this purpose.  Division placements are based on the number of employees provided in the oganization's Challenge registration, unless the SP Challenge team is provided with an update during the 2018 competition.

Divisions of Businesses and Nonprofit Organizations:

  • Micro organizations (10 or fewer employees)
  • Small organizations (11 - 75 employees)
  • Medium organizations (76 to 499 employees)
  • Large organizations (500 or more employees)

Municipalities and Local Governments are placed in competitive divisions based on the most recent publicly-available population data. In cases where no recent data can be found, 2016 Census Bureau estimates are used.

Divisions for Municipalities and Local Governments, competing against others:

  • Micro (3,999 residents or fewer)
  • Small (9,999 - 4,000 residents)
  • Medium (10,000 - 29,999 residents)
  • Large (30,000 or more residents)

To ensure each participating organization has a reasonable number of competitors, it is sometimes not possible to break up a competitive division by organization size. Each year, the SP Challenge team re-evaluates competitive divisions to determine whether changes should be made. As an example, the 2016-2017 SP Challenge saw a significant increase in participation by municipalities. Therefore, the 2018 SP Challenge opened with expanded competitive divisions for municiaplities and local governments.

Are homes or home-based businesses included in the SP Challenge?

Homes and home-based businesses are not included for this iteration of the SP Challenge.

I’ve already registered for the Challenge, but I’d like another individual at my organization to receive SP Challenge email newsletters and notifications as well.

If others in your organization would like to receive SP Challenge communications, those individuals are welcome to sign up for the SP Challenge newsletter. Organizations also have the option of creating more than one user account for submitting Actions in the Challenge. If this is of interest, additional users can register using the Challenge sign-up form or contact us at

What is the difference between the Sustainable Pittsburgh Challenge and the Pittsburgh 2030 District?

The SP Challenge and the Pittsburgh 2030 District complement one another. Both are supporters of the Pittsburgh Climate Initiative. Here is a quick snapshot that describes the programs:

  • The SP Challenge has a regional scope, including all ten counties of Southwestern Pennsylvania, whereas the Pittsburgh's 2030 District focuses primarily on Pittsburgh’s Golden Triangle and Oakland districts.
  • The SP Challenge is a year-to-year competition; Pittsburgh's 2030 District has a long-term focus.
  • The SP Challenge’s competition Master Playbook can be used as a step-by-step, customizable sustainability work plan, and includes actions designed to engage employees and create more inclusive workplaces. The 2030 District works primarily with property owners and managers to improve building performance, engage tenants and employees of tenants in reducing transportation impacts, and improve indoor air quality.
  • The SP Challenge has an emphasis on occupied space, which encompasses both tenants and building managers. The 2030 District has an emphasis on entire facilities, which mainly involves the owners of those facilities.
  • The actions outlined in the SP Challenge competition manual are based on short-term implementation, which affect day-to-day operations, practice and culture. The implementation of the 2030 District goals are more tied to the full lifecycle of the building, such as equipment capital investments, e.g. a new roof, HVAC system etc.
  • While both programs use the EPA’s Portfolio Manager as the measurement tool, the SP Challenge’s measurement comparison is actual usage, from year to year. The 2030 District measurement comparison is based on the cumulative performance vs. an industry average benchmark year.

The Sustainable Pittsburgh Challenge’s ready-made guidebook of sustainable actions provides a guideline for organizations to track and actively measure their progress in social equity, energy, water, air quality, waste, and transportation. The measurements and reductions that result from actions taken throughout the SP Challenge will aide in the progress towards Pittsburgh 2030 District goals.

How do I log in, choose, see, and submit actions?

Once you have created a user account, the SP Challenge team will assign your account to your organization. You will receive an email once your account has been confirmed. Then you will able to log in and submit actions. Under "For Participants" you will see "Submit Actions." This does not appear until you are logged in.

From there, you can choose the action you want to submit. Click on it, and it will show you the description of the action and the submission criteria. Attach any required documentation and include a brief description of your submission in the comment box. Click submit! The website will take you back to the Action selection page.

Should you wish to see your pending actions, click the "Profile" tab. From there, click the name of your organization to view your pending, approved, and disapproved actions. Any disapproved actions will have a comment explaining why they were disapproved. You are welcome to adjust your submission documents and resubmit any disapproved actions at any time during the competition. If you have any questions, please email us at href="">