The Allegheny Front Rewind: Interview at GTECH

To celebrate The Allegheny Front's 20th anniversary, we've been looking back at some of the people, organizations and issues covered on the show over the last decades.This week, Kara Holsopple talks to the co-founder of a local environmental organization that's just a few years old, but credits The Allegheny Front--and Pittsburgh's environmental community--with its start.

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OPEN: To celebrate The Allegheny Front's 20th anniversary, we've been looking back at some of the people, organizations and issues covered on the show over the last decades.

This week, Kara Holsopple talks to the co-founder of a local environmental organization that's just a few years old, but credits The Allegheny Front--and Pittsburgh's environmental community--with its start.

AMBI city car and street sounds

HOLSOPPLE: It's noisy in the industrial part of the Larimer neighborhood in Pittsburgh where GTECH Strategies now calls home.(NAT SOUND CAR)

AMBI city car and street sounds out

Inside their new digs, it's more serene. That's where I caught up with Andrew Butcher. He's the CEO and a founder of the non profit. GTECH reclaims things no one is using--vacant land, vegetable oil waste-- and turns them into something more valuable--fields of sunflowers and biofuel. But sunflowers are just the beginning in engaging the surrounding communities and creating sustainable green jobs for residents. We talked about how the seed for GTECH was planted and is being cultivated:

HOLSOPLE: Is there a significance to this neighborhood?

BUTCHER: Yeah, definitely. The Larimer community is a place that we've been working for three years. We were growing out of our old space, and this space became available. People don't have to bring wheelbarrows downstairs, we have our equipment all in one place, there's a big storage shed out back. That just makes a huge difference in getting things done.

HOLSOPPLE: There's a legend that GTECH was started because of an inspiration from The Allegheny Front. I guess I'm really here to find out if that is true.

BUTCHER: Yes, the legend is true.

HOLSOPPLE: Tell me more about it.

BUTCHER: I moved to Pittsburgh five years ago, and when my then girlfriend, now wife, and I moved to Pittsburgh, we would listen to The Allegheny Front all the time. I came for a one year masters in Public Policy from The Heinz College. It was during my masters thesis where we were looking at green strategies to address vacant land that I just got sort of attuned with both the rich environmental history of the Pittsburgh region, and then people and organizations working to address it. So I think at the time there was a big story about Rebecca Flora and the Green Building Alliance, and at the time Court Gould and Sustainable Pittsburgh were launching new projects to address sustainable businesses. For me it was just listening to that story that got me thinking about--what does it take to really start a new enterprise in this region?

HOLSOPPLE: Is there a national model for the kind of work that you do here?

BUTCHER: There are a lot of impressive national models around land use, around renewable energy, or around green jobs and the green economy--our goal is to maximize the overlap between all of them.

HOLSOPPLE: Is there something specific about Pittsburgh that work here?

BUTChER: For one, I think there's a real culture that embraces the entrepreneurial spirit in Pittsburgh. One of the things that really drew me to Pittsburgh is that in some ways Pittsburgh hasn't been a destination of desire. Which means that it's also a very resourceful place, so the people that are here are very committed and very creative about how to address problems, and how to create opportunities out of those problems, And because there has been escalating levels of land vacancy, there have been escalating levels of people out of jobs, and there is state and national demand for renewable energy--in a lot of ways, Pittsburgh is kind of the perfect place to be doing GTECH's work.

HOLSOPPLE: How does GTECH fit into the landscape of environmental organizations in the area?

BUTCHER: I assume, as the youngest of five older sisters, that everyone already knows more than I do, and I need to be as active toward listening as possible. And I think just that very simple orientation has allowed us to work with organizations that have been around for 50, 60, a hundred years... I think we do a lot of connecting the dots. And not necessarily being reluctant to take action. In a lot of ways, four years ago when we started, when I was listening to Allegheny Front stories, I didn't know how hard it was to really address systemic problems, but at the same time, once you start trying, you actually realize how possible it is. Doesn't mean it's easy, but it's possible.

HOLSOPPLE:I've been talking with Andrew Butcher, CEO and Founding Principal of GTECH. Thank you.

BUTCHER: Thank you.

HOLSOPPLE: For The Allegheny Front Rewind, I'm Kara Holsopple.

OUTRO: To listen to more of our interview with Andrew Butcher at GTECH--including how sunflowers have come to be associated with their projects--check out our website www.alleghenyfront.org. and stay tuned to The Allegheny Front in the coming weeks for more about addressing vacant land in Pittsburgh.