In 2017 Rolling Pepperoni was named as Sustainable Pittsburgh’s most sustainable Micro-Business. I love bragging about this win, because we beat incredible businesses and received the greatest honor yet for Rolling Pepperoni at the podium among some of Pittsburgh’s most predominate businesses and community leaders. I love bragging about this win because I love bringing it all back to my friend Zaheen Hussain, Millvale’s Sustainability Coordinator. Zaheen is an incredible connector and guides Millvale community members to a greater level of sustainable accountability. Rolling Pepperoni never would have won the Sustainable Pittsburgh award if it wasn’t for Zaheen. He has so many unique and exciting ideas about sustainability for everyone.
1. What is sustainability to you?
Sustainability to me is an approach to life and our use of resources where we can maintain or improve our quality of life while preserving the same opportunity for future generations. That’s my short answer, hah!
When people think about sustainability, their mind often quickly goes to environmental sustainability. While environmental preservation and remediation are core to sustainability principles, it is only one aspect. When discussing sustainability, I reference triple bottom line practices. People, planet, profit. That’s to say that in order to maintain and improve our quality of life and keep balance in our world, we cannot just think about any one of those things, we have to consider at least all three.
My philosophy of sustainability is more about humanism than it is about traditional environmentalism. Humans are natural creatures of the earth as much as any other living thing we know to exist. The way I see it, what is good for people should inherently be good for the Earth, and what’s good for the Earth should be good for people.
In the 4.5 billion year history of the Earth, humans have existed for roughly 300,000 years. In the over 4 billion years before us, the Earth has experienced shocks unlike what humanity has ever experienced. Earth is a resilient planet. I share that to say that the Earth has been through far worse than what humanity is doing to it today, and has come out of it just fine. The question is, will humans change environmental conditions so much so that we will work our way out of our only home planet? I hope not, and that is what we work to prevent in our field.
2. According to Sustainable by Design, sustainability is the socio-ecological pursuit of a common ideal. An ideal is by definition unattainable in a given time and space. However, by persistently and dynamically approaching it, the process results in a sustainable system. As Sustainability Coordinator, do you have unattainable goals and how often are you reevaluating?
In the pursuit of knowledge and through the building of experience, we are constantly learning more about sustainability strategies that work and ones that do not. Additionally, as we live in the age of information, we have the ability to look upward and outward, backward and forward, farther than we have ever been able to before through historical analysis and modeling technology. We are also able to communicate across the world faster than we have ever been able to in the history of humanity. That means not only are we able to learn more and learn faster than ever, it also means we have the privilege of having clear lines of communication with like-minded communities who are also constantly learning best practices that we can then adjust to our community and adopt.
The Millvale Ecodistrict Pivot Plan has set a bold long term vision for Millvale’s sustainable economic development goals. The Ecodistrict Plan however is less about the goals and more about the incremental strategies that can help the community achieve those goals, step by step. With extensive research done ahead of time, all of the strategies selected as a community and an organization are grounded in reality, as we work towards the ideals put forward by Millvalians.
In order to remain relevant in the everchanging times, we have baked into our process a 2-3 year evaluation cycle so that we as a community are constantly revisiting our goals, what we have accomplished, and what we hope to accomplish next, both short term and long term. If at that time we see that there are even clearer strategies that can help us navigate towards the bold vision, we recalibrate. The practice of evaluating our progress and strategies in these cycles helps keep our plan up to date with modern thinking.
3. You helped to create the Millvale EcoDistrict Plan, which has been awarded nationally. Millvale has remarkably bad air and water with high lead levels. Is it these prior issues that make planning for a better future so obvious or have you created a plan with new, dynamic ideas?
It’s no secret that Millvale as a community has a number of challenges and opportunities from which it seeks to emerge stronger. Our legacy issues like polluted air and water are not only challenges here in Millvale, but they are also challenges throughout parts of Appalachia, and the nation as a whole.
These challenges have definitely served as a catalyst for the groundswell of grassroots activism that led to the Ecodistrict Plan here in Millvale. Part of the reason Millvale has come to be seen as a national leader is because there has been a surge in powerful, grassroots leadership. It’s after the floods of 2004 and 2007 that the community really looked inward and saw that the ways of the past were not working in the present, and so things had to change in order to move into the future. The urgency of the situation brought people together from all across the political spectrum to think together as a community of visionaries because the shocks of a changing environment were not an abstract occurrence impacting someone else somewhere else. Those impacts were being felt here and now.
So to answer your question, it is indeed the prior issues that make planning for a better future so obvious AND we have created a plan with new, dynamic ideas so that we can be proactive about the changes we anticipate for the future, like an increasing population and burgeoning housing costs.
4. Is there a picturesque dream of a more sustainable world that you’re working towards?
Whether I’m looking out the window of my room or the vast vistas of the American West, I’m always blown away by the beauty that exists in the world around us. That beauty existed before humans could put together words to describe it and that beauty will exist long after humans no longer occupy Earth.
Right now the world of humanity is unsustainable because in the pursuit of the comforts of daily life, we hurt others, and in doing so, we hurt ourselves. Whether through the overuse of fossil fuels, the over consumption of our resources, or the violent methods we as a society employ in order to access resources, ultimately, we have created a world around us that is rapidly changing into one that we will not be able to inhabit. My picturesque dream for a more sustainable world is to help people realize the beauty that exists on every square inch of our home, and then together work towards preserving it.
5. What are some tips to living a more sustainable life?
First and foremost, be happy! Take care of yourself! Then look around and think about how our actions impact what is around us. Are your actions having a possible negative impact? If so, think about what might reduce or reverse that negative impact. And then, check out the I Am Sutstainable Pittsburgh Challenge! There are hundreds of tips that help people take small actions towards a more healthy and sustainable lifestyle. Don’t feel like you have to do everything! Starting small, like turning off lights when you’re not in a room, or eating locally grown foods are small, easy things that can help you get on your way!
6. How can an individual help sustainability goals around Pittsburgh and the world?!
There are many ways to help! I love volunteering with organizations like Tree Pittsburgh or 412 Food Rescue. You can organize community clean-ups for your block with your neighbors, or attend community meetings to see what people are up to in your neck of the woods.
The thing about sustainability is that it is only achieved through true collective action, and truly, every little thing counts. Even if it doesn’t feel like your small action is making in impact, the small actions of the billions of people around the world all can add up to something highly impactful.