Published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Other Opinions” on Sunday, July 25, 2021
by Patricia M. DeMarco, Ph.D.
In September 2019, AMAZON made a public commitment to become carbon neutral in all of its operations worldwide by 2040 and launched a $2 billion fund to implement it.[i]
As The Borough of Churchill and other communities around Pittsburgh see advances of AMAZON interest in locating distribution centers in the area, those making the decisions and responsible for granting the building permits must stand to hold them accountable to their rhetoric.
Taking the former Westinghouse Research Park in Churchill as an example, there are three things that can be done on this site to ameliorate the climate impact of this proposed new facility. Many of my constituents and neighbors have expressed concerns about diesel pollution and emissions from the operation of this facility and outrage over the destruction of hundreds of mature trees on the site. Air quality, stormwater run-off, and destruction of carbon reducing trees are serious issues. Remedies to mitigate these issues are readily available and should be required in the permitting process.
First: This new construction should be based on a passive solar design with geothermal earth tube and heat pump systems for heating and cooling. The electric load of the facility should be met by installing a photovoltaic solar array on the roof. This will reduce emissions both from burning a fossil fuel on site for heating and from the regional power supply to produce electricity to serve the facility. A well-designed new building can be cost effective to build, cheaper to operate, and have a net zero energy profile.[ii]
Second, AMAZON has touted its electric fleet as one of its innovations for climate action.[iii] This new facility should be required to use electric vehicles, with charging stations at the facility to prevent the diesel emissions that will otherwise certainly inundate the area with particulate and organic compounds in the air.
Third, the site should be required to install bioswales and permeable paving in the parking areas and along the roadways. Stormwater runoff from this site is already an issue for neighboring areas, and the removal of the large trees to accommodate this facility will only worsen this effect. Sloping the parking areas toward bioswales and designing the area around the building to capture runoff will help to mitigate stormwater effects.
Finally, the removal of mature trees should be kept to an absolute minimum with careful siting of the facility on the land. Preserving the remnants of an Indigenous People trail and maintaining trees as visual and noise screening from the surrounding residential areas should be a priority for the site design. The Borough of Churchill has the opportunity to hold AMAZON accountable to its own rhetoric. This new facility can become a model for innovation and adaptation to the reality of our climate crisis, not a capitulation to the lure of “jobs” at any co
[i] AMAZON Climate Pledge and Climate Pledge Fund. https://sustainability.aboutamazon.com/about/the-climate-pledge https://sustainability.aboutamazon.com/about/the-climate-pledge/the-climate-pledge-fund
[ii] The Forest Hills Borough municipal building completed in 2018 has generated more energy than it uses for a net zero operating profile.
[iii] “AMAZON’s custom electric vehicles are starting to hit the road.” https://www.aboutamazon.com/news/transportation/amazons-custom-electric-delivery-vehicles-are-starting-to-hit-the-road
Patricia M. DeMarco, Ph.D. is the author of Pathways to Our Sustainable Future- A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh Press. 2017. She is a Senior Scholar at Chatham University and writes a blog “Pathways to a Just Transition” at https://patriciademarco.com She is Vice President of the Forest Hills Borough Council and Chair of CONNECT – The Congress of Neighboring Communities surrounding Pittsburgh.