Repurposing tons of scrap auto carpet. Making streams healthier by planting native trees on the family farm. Greatly reducing city lighting expenses with energy efficiency changes. Training a volunteer stormwater pollution reduction workforce. These are just some of the 23 innovative and impassioned initiatives in Pennsylvania chosen by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to receive the prestigious 2018 Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence.

“Just as important as Pennsylvania’s abundant natural resources are the Pennsylvanians who invest their time, labor, and ingenuity to protect them,” said Governor Tom Wolf. “Their dedication results in public health and safety, environmental, economic, and recreation benefits across the commonwealth.”

Any individual, business, school, government agency, or community organization in Pennsylvania was eligible to apply for the award.

“DEP received more than 60 applications, which we evaluated for their degree of environmental protection, innovation, partnership efforts, economic impact, consideration of climate change and sustainability, and results achieved,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “It’s an honor to recognize the tremendous impact many Pennsylvanians have in protecting our air, land, and water.”

The award-winning projects accomplished the following results:

  • enlisted 16,000 volunteers
  • prevented 258 million tons of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere
  • saved over $42 million in operation and maintenance costs
  • conserved 37 million gallons of water annually
  • diverted 29 million tons of waste and 57 million bottles from landfill disposal
  • created 98,500 acres of riparian buffers
  • planted 35,090 native trees and shrubs
  • installed 350 rooftop solar tubes

2018 Environmental Excellence Award Recipients

Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation: Graffiti: No Place in Nature—Using drones and geographic information mapping systems, the foundation linked volunteers with opportunities to clean up graffiti at trailheads, boat launches, rock outcroppings, and vistas. More than 170 volunteers scrubbed clean 37 graffiti sites and picked up 80 bags of trash, seven boxes of glass and nails, and other debris items in this labor- and time-intensive process.

Allegheny County
  • Western Pennsylvania Conservancy: TreeVitalize Pittsburgh—By increasing street tree population, TreeVitalize Pittsburgh will increase environmental, economic, health, and aesthetic benefits. With the assistance of over 12,000 volunteers, this project has planted over 28,000 trees in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, resulting in a 10 percent increase in city street trees and a 45 percent increase in street tree diversity.
Allegheny, Armstrong, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Washington, and Westmoreland Counties
  • Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, Water Resource Center: Municipal Stormwater Workshop Series—The center developed a collaborative regional initiative to address municipal separate storm sewer management across counties. More than 780 participants attended 15 workshops at no cost, learning stormwater management methods. Participants included local governments, elected officials, county planning departments, conservation districts, engineering firms, and environmental nonprofits.
Allegheny, Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lackawanna, Lehigh, Luzerne, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Wyoming, and York Counties
  • Penn State Extension: Master Watershed Steward Program—The program trains citizen volunteers into an educated, organized workforce to partner with local and state governments and organizations on water conservation projects. Last year, 194 master watershed stewards volunteered 7,582 hours of service, including educating the public at community events, monitoring 15 streams, planting 915 trees, and building 118 rain barrels.
Berks County
  • Berks County Water and Sewer Association: Berks County Source Water Protection Program—Incorporating new and existing protection zones to maintain safe drinking water in Berks County, this program identifies possible sources of contamination for both surface water and groundwater. The program combines education and water quality improvements to the Chesapeake Bay and Schuylkill River watersheds and covers 266,000 people in Berks County.
Blair County
  • American Eagle Paper Mills: Project Phoenix—American Eagle Paper Mills transforms 300 tons of waste paper into recycled paper every day. Recent retrofits reduced fresh water withdrawal by 83 percent, reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 68 percent, and ceased transportation of 10,000 tons of coal ash.
Butler County
  • Slippery Rock University: Healthy Planet, Healthy People Environmental Summer Camp and Community Project Incubator—To help high school teachers and students create environmental stewardship projects, Slippery Rock University hosted a camp for educators that included classroom instruction, leadership training, and immersive field experience. In partnership with the EPA, the camp provided $1,700 in seed money for participating school districts to kickstart their community projects. Thirteen projects completed in eight counties have the potential to raise environmental awareness among 2 million Pennsylvanians.
Columbia County
  • Autoneum Bloomsburg: Carpet Trim and Waste Recycling—Autoneum Bloomsburg repurposes automotive carpet and trim products, keeping 12,000 tons of virgin material from the landfill and saving 25 Olympic-sized pools’ worth of water annually. Recycling has made operations more cost-effective and price competitive, enabling the company to obtain more customers.
Delaware County
  • AeroAggregates: Bottle to Building—AeroAggregates uses 13,000–26,000 tons of 100 percent postconsumer recycled glass annually to produce lightweight construction materials for road and building projects. Not only do they repurpose the equivalent of about 55 million glass bottles per year, but construction vehicle traffic decreases from five trucks to one because weight is reduced.
Lancaster County
  • Pequea Creek Watershed Association: Big Beaver–Esh Farm Stream Restoration—To eliminate erosion from Big Beaver Creek and reconnect the creek to the natural floodplain, the association regraded high streambanks, installed stream flow structures, planted streambank stabilizing vegetation, and constructed livestock fencing. The improvements prevented the loss of valuable land and reduced sediment levels by 121,000 pounds, nitrogen levels by 202 pounds, and phosphorous levels by 183 pounds annually.
Lackawanna County
  • City of Scranton: LED Street Lighting Conversion—Through investing in infrastructure improvement projects, converting to LED lights, and installing lighting controls, the City of Scranton has decreased its energy consumption and maintenance, improved visibility, increased safety, and reduced hazardous waste output. The city will save nearly $400,000 annually.
Lehigh County
  • Wildlands Conservancy: Building Partnerships and Restoring Riparian Buffers in the Lehigh Valley—The conservancy led a significant effort to restore riparian buffers along streams in the Lehigh Valley. Managing invasive species, planting native plants, installing deer protection, and monitoring the buffers were key to success. This project will improve water quality by shading the stream, prevent erosion and sediment loading, filter nutrients and pollutants from runoff, and provide vegetation and habitat to support aquatic life.
Luzerne County
  • Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority: Regional Stormwater Management Plan and MS4 Permit Compliance—A collaborative effort by 31 municipalities in Luzerne County resulted in a municipal separate storm and sewer system (MS4) plan to reduce pollution and address aging infrastructure in an affordable way. The collaboration allows for a regional Pollutant Reduction Plan and enables more strategic, cost-effective implementation of stormwater best management practices. The municipalities will save $200 million over the next 20 years while ensuring the long-term sustainability of their stormwater systems.
Northumberland County
  • Dr. Blair T. Carbaugh: Dr. Blair T. Carbaugh Conservation Area—Dr. Carbaugh led a project that reclaimed an abandoned coal mine site and turned it into the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area for ATV use, along with a 100-acre conservation area with 500 American Chestnut trees, planted by volunteers. Almost 19,000 passes to the park were sold in 2017.
Luzerne County
  • Earth Conservancy: Askam Borehole Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) Treatment System Wayside Exhibit—Earth Conservancy installed two AMD treatment systems to prevent pollution from flowing into Nanticoke Creek and reduce the contamination of local watersheds. A walking path with signage teaches students about science and the community, enhances accessibility and safety of the site, and educates visitors about the region’s mining history and the environment.
Montgomery County
  • Merck & Co.: Merck Pennsylvania West Point Regional Waste Diversion and Recycling Initiative—Merck standardized its facility services and established various waste reduction services to improve waste diversion. In one year, the company recycled 1,896 tons of nonhazardous materials; reused 190 tons of nonhazardous materials; sent 1,417 tons of non-hazardous waste for energy recovery; and diverted 204 tons of compost from the landfill.
  • Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership: Jenkintown Creek Restoration—The collaborative partnership aims to improve water quality along the 3.7-mile Jenkintown Creek. The restoration project resulted in four raingardens, a 75-foot bioretention feature, bioswale and wetland enhancements, streambank stabilization, and 3,775 herbaceous plants and 1,260 trees planted. More than 1,000 volunteers and students participated in learning about stormwater runoff and the benefits of green infrastructure.
  • Upper Moreland School District: Alternative Fuel Propane Infrastructure and Bus Fleet—The school district converted its school bus fleet to propane and installed fueling infrastructure to support not only its own use, but also the use of neighboring government organizations. The total buses will displace 50,000 gallons of diesel and 10,000 gallons of gasoline annually. This fuel source switch will save taxpayers $256,766 annually and will prevent 596 metric tons of carbon dioxide from polluting the atmosphere.
Monroe County
  • Tobyhanna Army Depot: Sustainability at Tobyhanna Army Depot—Through a focused environmental review, the depot developed a sustainability plan with innovative solutions to minimize waste, conserve energy, and reduce water consumption. LED lighting, solar walls, carports, energy-efficient heating, non-potable water reuse tanks, waste disposal plans, and a robust recycling program are the key elements to achieving a strong sustainability plan. The depot expects to save $532,042 in operating costs annually.
Philadelphia County
  • School District of Philadelphia: GreenFutures Sustainability Program—The GreenFutures program seeks to reduce energy consumption, increase waste diversion from landfills, increase school green space, and create healthy environments and living habits for students and communities district-wide. In one year the district saved over 1 million plastic water bottles by installing 786 hydration stations, implemented a student-led energy education program, completed a student summer solar installation program, constructed nine green schoolyards, provided recycling services, launched a compost program, and conducted indoor environmental quality assessments.
Potter County
  • Potter County Conservation District: Water Quality Protection and Education Initiative at Ludington Run and Beyond—The conservation district developed a comprehensive plan to improve water quality and habitat restoration to Ludington Run. Stream bedding materials are enhancing successful fish spawning, runoff carrying sediment and pollutants is discharging in a safe manner, and stream plantings are stabilizing the soil and reversing the trend of thermal pollution.
Westmoreland County
  • Loyalhanna Watershed Association: Integrating STEM and Environmental Education Programming at the Watershed Farm—Combing environmental education with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) courses, this program focuses on agriculture, soils, building design, water systems, and art in nature. In four months, more than 500 students have been educated and 60 teachers employed. The farm has more than 40 cattle, 1,700 native trees and shrubs, pollinator-friendly gardens, and honeybee hives
York County
  • Happy Hollow Farm: Riparian Buffer Project—The English family have applied their agricultural skills to installing riparian buffers along a creek on four acres of their farm. They’ve planted more than 80 species of native trees and shrubs, becoming a model for other landowners. The riparian buffer filters pollutants; provides food and habitat for wildlife; and produces nuts, berries, and syrup, which can provide $6,000 per acre in economic opportunities annually.