Technical education — also known as shop class: wood shop, metal shop — were once popular offerings in the Pittsburgh region’s public high schools. The downturn in the industrial economy in the 1980s prompted many parents and guidance counselors to instead champion a four-year college degree as the route to a sustainable career.

Now the pendulum has swung back. With Baby Boomers beginning to retire from manufacturing jobs nationwide. well-compensated jobs are abundant for people with technical skills. So shop is making a comeback.

Check out this recent story by WESA 90.5 reporter Erika Beras and photographer Ryan Loew from Beaver Fall High School, where students are learning how to repair engines and build wind generators.

shop class, tech, technical education
Photo by Ryan Loew 90.5 WESA



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Story by Leah Lizarondo

The Environmental Protection Agency reports that the U.S. generated about 36 million tons of food waste in 2012. Only 5% of that was diverted from landfills or incinerators. Last month, Massachusetts banned commercial food waste, enforcing a redirection of that waste into composting, conversion or recycling.

Pennsylvania has no such ban. Coupled with the fact that we have some of the lowest landfill tipping fees in the region, our restaurants and food establishments have very little incentive to reroute food waste to better use.

Digest-o-Mat aims to change that with the first small-scale system that can transform food waste into energy.

Carnegie Mellon University architecture students Jacob Douenias and Rohan Rathod founded Digest-o-Mat as an offshoot of Douenias’ thesis that investigates the symbiotic relationship between microorganisms and architecture—how waste in a building can be harnessed to produce energy.

The project evolved into looking at the restaurant industry and servicing the small  and mid-sized restaurants that most commercial composting services cannot serve. This prompted the design of an on-site system that converts waste into fuel and liquid fertilizer or “compost tea.”

Digest-o-Mat is an end-to-end service that audits a restaurant’s needs, designs a system that is tailored to the restaurant and performs the install and maintenance. The restaurant can also either opt to use the fuel and fertilizer generated by the system or opt for Digest-o-Mat to resell it.

The company is piloting its first installation at Kevin Sousa’s yet-to-open Superior Motors in Braddock.

Working with Digest-o-Mat is consistent with the restaurant’s long term goals, according to Sousa. “Over the next couple of years, we would like for Superior Motors to be a zero-waste establishment. Having the ability to redirect 75 pounds a day of food waste from land fills is in line with that.”

A Digest-o-Mat starter system runs about $10,000 and comes with the digester, greenhouse and food waste shredder.

Douenias says that they are aiming to break ground at Superior Motors in February 2015. The company was recently awarded a $9,000 Sprout Fund grant, part of which covers the pilot project.


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Pittsburgh, skyline, three rivers, point, fountain
Photo Courtesy NEXTpittsburgh

Pittsburgh has done it again.

The Economist has ranked Pittsburgh as the most livable city in the continental United States, squeaking in just under Honolulu.

Not bad, considering Hawaii is a vacation destination.

This marks the second time that the esteemed journal of global economies has ranked Pittsburgh at or near the top. The Economist first designated Pittsburgh as the most livable city in America in 2009. But you won’t find it online.

The news is buried in a report issued by The Economist Intelligence Unit that was the basis for the article–more of a graphic image really–reported in The Economist of the top worldwide cities. Melbourne tops the list, followed by Vienna, Vancover and Toronto. Pittsburgh ranked No. 30 out of 140 cities surveyed.

VisitPITTSBURGH uncovered the info and sent out a news release earlier today and, at our request, sent the actual report including a full listing of rankings for Pittsburgh.

“Pittsburgh has the goods,” said Craig Davis, president and CEO of VisitPITTSBURGH. “We have received so much buzz in the last 10 years and it has helped us tremendously. This kind of success begets more success. We’re riding a wave.”

The Economist defines the concept of livability as a “simple assessment” that determines “locations around the world (that) provide the best or the worst living conditions.”

The study notes that those cities scoring best “tend to be mid-sized cities in wealthier countries with a relatively low population density. This can foster a range of recreational activities without leading to high crime levels or overburdened infrastructure.”

Here’s how Pittsburgh ranked in the following categories on a scale of 1-100, with 100 being considered “ideal”: stability rating 85; healthcare 92; culture and environment 91; education 100; and infrastructure 100.

Pittsburgh was four points behind Honolulu and ahead of Washington, D.C., Chicago and Atlanta and the rest of America.

While The Economist rankings definitely have “street cred,” it was the Places Rated Almanac that really put Pittsburgh on the map in 2007, says Craig.

Since 2000, Pittsburgh has made more than 200 “best” lists including “40 Prettiest Cities in the World” (Huffington Post), “Most Entrepreneurial City in the America (Inc.), “Most Livable City in America” (Forbes) and “Best Places in the World to Visit in 2012″ (National Geographic Traveler).

Pittsburgh is the only city in the country that has been twice named to Places Rated Almanac.


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Looking for a job? Pittsburgh’s got ‘em — more than 22,000 open positions across the 10-county region. Check out our powerful job search aggregator at

Find a job, advance your career, build a life you’ll love:


Bonnie Pfister
Venture Outdoors’ Adriane Harrison paddles the Ohio River, with Point Park’s fountain behind her.

With warm weather finally here, it’s time to get out and about with Neighbors like Adriane Harrison and organizations like Venture Outdoors.

Formerly an attorney with one of the world’s largest law firms and a denizen of Los Angeles, Harrison now is human resources coordinator for the unique nonprofit that offers opportunities that could prompt even the most lumpen couch potato to fall in love with southwestern Pennsylvania’s natural riches. Venture Outdoors has easy specialty walks that end with, say, soup or wine tastings, or in a microbrewery, as well as hikes and overnight camping for a full range of skill levels, urban bike tours  and its signature kayak rentals under the Roberto Clemente (Sixth Street) Bridge.

Love is what brought Harrison to Pittsburgh, but the many amenities – both inside and out – are what has made it so easy to stay. From 5,000 acres of state parks, 43,000 acres of lakes and rivers, 142 golf courses and the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium to the Children’s Museum and the region’s many independent bookstores and record shops, Harrison and her young family always have something to do — often within a 20-minute drive of their Allison Park home. You can hear from her directly in a video you can watch on our YouTube page, on Harrison’s Neighbor profile or below.

We’re proud to have Adriane Harrison as one of our Neighbors at, a virtual concierge that highlights some of the great work, play and live options in the 10-county region. There job seekers can search thousands of jobs gathered by’s powerful aggregator, sign up for updates about the region through our RRS feed, Facebook, Twitter or other social media channels and take the “Find Yourself in Pittsburgh!” quiz to be matched up with Neighbors who may share interests and have tips on what’s fun and engaging to do in the region.

Phil Cynar

Exhibit at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Exhibit at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Pittsburgh is a town built, to a large degree, on historical philanthropy when considering public assets around arts and culture. Many are the museums here – from the Heinz History Center and the Children’s Museum to the National Aviary and the Carnegie Museums, and more. When out-of-town guests come a-visiting or just for your own rainy day getaway, Pittsburgh museums are sure to please. The underwriting of these and other arts and culture assets by well-to-do Pittsburghers has proven to be good investments of their “green.” But today – as these facilities embrace the latest sustainable operations and practices to lessen their impact on the environment and reduce energy consumption – their value is multifaceted. And often, the innovation, parts and materials that are making such sustainability achievable are homegrown – coming out of the Pittsburgh region’s universities, entrepreneurial startups and companies firmly established in the sustainability space within the region’s broader energy sector.

Pittsburgh’s green museums and similar places of interest are highlighted in Part II of a series on these structures – old and very new – in Green News Update. Part I is available here. For a deeper dive on a dozen nifty green practices underway at our region’s museums, check out this sidebar.

If you already know Pittsburgh as the new “Emerald City” you’ll be even more impressed. If not, and you hail from elsewhere, you might find yourself green with envy to discover that Pittsburgh is where all this – and more – is happening.

Author’s Note:  Green News Update Editor Bobbie Faul-Zeitler writes from personal experience with Pittsburgh’s green assets. She participated in a May 2012 “green Pittsburgh” media study tour organized by the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance and VisitPittsburgh, in cooperation with a number of the region’s green champions.

Phil Cynar
Point Park's beloved fountain returned to operation June 2013.
Point Park’s beloved fountain returned to operation June 2013.

On June 10, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance (PRA) hosted five national environmental journalists as part Carnegie Mellon University’s annual Steinbrenner Environmental Institute’s Media Fellowship. A “Pittsburgh Re-made” cruise focused on environmental and economic transformation from the vantage point of Pittsburgh’s three rivers. A highlight of the 2013 cruise was the restored iconic fountain at the Golden Triangle. The fountain’s renovation, which is the final piece of the overall renovation of Point State Park by then-Governor Edward G. Rendell, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and Riverlife, a public-private partnership dedicated to reclaiming, restoring and promoting Pittsburgh’s riverfronts. Riverlife has raised over $5 million for the fountain renovation, including $750,000 in private and grassroots donations for a matching grant challenge issued by the Colcom Foundation. With fanfare and flourish, the fountain was welcomed back to Pittsburgh’s skyline on June 7, 2013 after a four-year hiatus for fundraising and repairs.

PRA President De Peart (left) with environmental journalists from around the U.S.
PRA President De Peart (left) with environmental journalists from around the U.S.

“Riverfront redevelopment has been a huge economic force in downtown Pittsburgh over the past decade,” said Lisa Schroeder, president and CEO of Riverlife and the narrator/guide for the annual PRA-sponsored river cruise.  “It’s hard to believe, but in 2000 very few of the city’s most prominent riverfront sites existed – the North Shore, South Side Works, Mon Wharf Landing, a refurbished Point State Park  and the list goes on. The investment in Pittsburgh’s downtown riverfront park system has transformed the city in a relatively short period while serving as a catalyst for an additional $4 billion in related riverfront investment, and that amount keeps on growing as we continue to create new public greenways, beautiful developments that open up to the rivers, trail connections and riverfront recreational amenities.”

Watch the video to see a sampling of Pittsburgh’s riverfront transformation and hear from several of the visiting journalists about their impressions of the region’s waterways.